May 21, 2024

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — In his first time addressing the media since the Atlantic Coast Conference voted in early September to add California, Stanford and SMU, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday he has “never been more bullish” about the health of the league.

“I’ve never been more confident in the league than what we just went through over the last three or four months,” Phillips said at the ACC Tipoff. “Where is the health of the league? The league is healthy. The league is healthy. At the end of the day, my job is to run the ACC and make sure it’s as healthy for the next 70 years as it’s been the last 70 years. I cannot control individual feelings on campuses, but we have addressed head-on anything that our campuses have indicated. I feel great. I really do. I can’t say that I felt that way a year ago.”

It was a tumultuous summer for the ACC, with Florida State making it clear it would consider leaving the ACC due to the league’s revenue distribution model. FSU president Richard McCullough told his board of trustees in early August that “FSU will have to at some point consider very seriously leaving the ACC unless there were a radical change to the revenue distribution.”

After the Big Ten and Big 12 made moves to bolster their respective memberships and in turn decimate the Pac-12, the ACC picked up the two most viable remaining pieces of the Pac-12 in Cal and Stanford and also poached SMU from the AAC. The three schools will join for the 2024-25 year.

“I cannot control individual decisions on campus, and we can’t,” Phillips said. “We have absolutely listened. I’ve tried to be a really good listener. It hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. We’ve been proactive. The distribution of dollars with success initiative is part of what I’m hearing, and maybe a majority of what I’m hearing from some of the schools that have been vocal about it. Getting to 18 protects the ACC, now and into the future. Schools will ultimately make the decisions that they want.”

The men’s basketball coaches in the league were on board with the ACC’s additions while also remaining wary of what else there is to come in college realignment.

“We had to do something as a league to ensure our stability,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “How much more alignment changes will there be? I’m guessing it’s not over. There’s going to be some other moves happening. This year, next year or in the next five.”

“You knew there was a chance of it happening,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “No matter what, there’s a part of you that has to take a step back and really embrace it. It’s different. And different doesn’t mean it’s not right. … Doing nothing was not the answer. The ACC had to do something. I was pleased by it.

“For anybody to think this is the end of realignment, you’re fooling yourself. I don’t feel that way at all. We can be as good as any conference. I’m well aware that most likely down the road there are changes to be made.”

Virginia coach Tony Bennett coached in the Pac-10 at Washington State, so he has a stronger familiarity with two of the schools entering the ACC.

“This is more of a football decision, viewership and money,” Bennett said. “You’re sticking your head in the sand if you can’t acknowledge that. Everybody is trying to figure [things] out. NIL, transfer portal, [realignment], everything is an experiment and how are you going to do it. But because I was in the league, I respect those institutions, but I certainly wonder how this will all play out. There’s some stuff I sure hope they’ve thought through and gone through.”

Bennett said he wasn’t worried about the stability of the ACC moving forward, but he said there are unanswered questions when it comes to realignment.

“I’m not worried about Virginia and its basketball program, but you do wonder how long you’re going to be in this place or that place. No matter what anybody says, it’s what happens,” he said.

“You can project, you can forecast, ‘Oh, we’re fine.’ But I’m sure that’s what a lot of the Pac-12 schools thought. That didn’t quite happen that way.”

Phillips also said Wednesday that all 18 teams in the new-look ACC might not play in the postseason conference tournaments in either men’s or women’s basketball.

“I don’t know that we would invite 18 teams to an ACC men’s or women’s basketball championship,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re going to do — we’ll do what the membership wants. I don’t feel like that’s something that we should do. I’ve told them that. I’m not speaking out of turn. I think you’ve got to earn your way to play in I think the most prestigious postseason basketball tournaments in the country, and if you don’t get to a certain threshold, then you just don’t make it that year … I’m not overly interested in adding one additional day. But we’ll listen to the membership and see what they have to say.”

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