Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said Thursday that while the conference is anticipating having a relatively normal football season, it also is financially planning for a series of scenarios amid the coronavirus pandemic that not only include having no football season, but also having no sports at all this upcoming school year.
Swofford also said he believes it will not be necessary for all of the ACC schools’ programs to be operational for the conference to conduct fall sports competition, that testing of athletes will be a critical component of the resumption of team training on campus and that uniform protocols within the conference concerning the frequency and timing of testing will be a goal before the resumption of competition.
Speaking via teleconference after the conclusion of the ACC’s annual spring meetings, Swofford also touched on matters not related to the pandemic, including recent proposals within the NCAA that would significantly broaden athletes’ ability to make money from their name, image and likeness (NIL).
He said that loosening on NIL rules “is something that has a place in college athletics” but that within the conference, ‘there’s great concern about going too far with it and creating more problems than we solve.”
Swofford said the conference’s scenarios for the upcoming school year also cover having an abbreviated football season and having no football season but then having a basketball season.
“I would emphasize that we are going into this year with the anticipation of playing (football and other fall sports) at this point in time,” Swofford said. “Most all of our institutions have indicated that they intend to open in various fashions as we go into the fall. But there’s a lot that can happen between now and then.
“But I think you’ll find our campuses moving forward athletically to try to be ready in every way, shape and form to open the fall sports season and then if we’re not able to do that, when that time comes, be prepared to do it in whatever abbreviated fashion we can do so.”
Asked whether he can see the ACC functioning if some schools and/or some athletics programs are up and running and some are not, Swofford said: “I think probably so. I don’t know what the threshold is on that. We haven’t really reached a point of having that discussion. I’m sure we will in due time as to whether it’s three-fourths or two-thirds or 50 percent or whatever it might be.
“But I don’t think some schools not being able to compete necessarily keeps a majority of the schools who could compete from competing. It’s premature to answer that question fully at this point.”
Swofford did emphasize the importance of testing and conference schools having at least similar testing protocols, and he announced that, as other conferences have done, the ACC has appointed a medical advisory panel comprising professionals from each of the conferences’ schools.
He added that college sports will be able to learn from potential efforts of professional sports leagues to resume play this summer, and that he and the commissioners of the Power Five conferences had a “lengthy” call with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials last week.
Swofford said he didn’t know what testing would cost, but “we’re working on it.”
“I think testing is going to be critical for us to get back to bring our student-athletes back together and train and prepare for a season and then play a season,” Swofford said.
He said he hopes the conference’s schools can agree on a baseline regarding how often to test athletes and when to test them.
“That’s one of the reasons we felt it was important to put this (medical advisory) group together,” Swofford said. “I think there will be a great deal of comfort if you know that the people you are competing against are following the same, or very similar, protocols in terms of maintaining the health and safety issues on a daily basis as well as on a gameday. So, that would be the goal.”
Swofford also added his voice to the debate over whether it will be appropriate for college sports to begin in the fall if students are not taking classes on campus.
“If the students are back and in session – and there are different definitions of what’s ‘open’ in today’s world – but if campuses are back and generally operating and teaching in whatever way,” Swofford said, “I think that certainly improves the likelihood that games are being played, whether it’s with fans or whether it’s without fans.”
Pressed specifically on whether he could foresee football games being played without students physically being on campus, Swofford said: “That seems foreign to me, personally, because we’re part of an educational setting and intercollegiate athletics are students playing sports. … But we’ll have to wait and see. It’s another unanswered question right now.”