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Jim Phillips on ACC Network, NIL, league HQ move

Commissioner Jim Phillips spoke to the media this week at the ACC’s Tip Off event in Charlotte, N.C. Below are some of his thoughts on the ACC Network distribution as well as name, image and likeness, college football expansion and the potential for the league’s headquarters to move from Greensboro, N.C.

ACC Network and Comcast

As part of the Comcast-Disney negotiations, the ACC Network has been added to some cable systems in 2021. But Comcast, which serves more homes in Florida than any other provider, still does not have a deal in place, leaving millions of FSU and Miami fans scrambling to find places to watch games for a third straight football season. Phillips as well as FSU administrators have said negotiations between Disney and Comcast officials are ongoing.

Phillips: Been one of the top priorities just coming in nine months ago or however long ago it’s been to try to get distribution. I heard it loud and clear when I went on those 15-campus visits. We have this tremendous network. It’s still in its infancy stage, a couple years old, but the distribution piece has been really important. We have locked arms with Disney and ESPN and the network and the conference in order to push forward. We’ve had some great wins this summer with MediaCom and NCTC, which provided some new distributors to carry the ACC Network. Then recently we were able to renew our deal with Altice. So we’re down to Comcast and I am really optimistic about where that’s going, but nothing of substance today. I just know we’re getting really close. But it’s got to be something that Comcast feels good about and our group feels good about, but really positive about. I would just say this: I had a chance recently to visit with Jimmy Pitaro and Burke Magnus, and they’ve been incredible from a Disney and ESPN standpoint. Again, I’m really optimistic that we’ll get to the right place.

Name, image and likeness

Phillips: Really proud of how our 15 schools have handled that, and I think you’re seeing some really great success stories across a variety of our membership, as well as a variety of sports. I feel really good about the educational piece to this. But I go back to what I also said in July here in Charlotte, and that is we have to have a national standard. You’re starting to see the inequities that are occurring because we don’t have a national standard, because we have now gone to a state-by-state, campus-by-campus type of model. That cannot continue, because the inequities are locally, whether it’s through various sports. I’m concerned about our Olympic sports and what is done for them or not done for them compared to the revenue-generating sports. Secondly, from a conference standpoint, your conferences are not the same. None of our conferences have the same rules based on because of where their state is or what institutionally they’ve decided. Third, nationally, if we’re going to continue to have National Championships and play a national schedule and do things across the entire country, you have to have a national standard, and I’m really — I’m very proud of the 15 ACC student-athletes and the 15 ACC SAC student advisory councils that came together to write that letter to Congress for help, for immediate help. What I said this summer was the sense of urgency will be over when July 1st comes, and that happened because people are seeing the success stories. But they’re not paying attention enough to what some of those inequities that have bubbled up since that time.

ACC headquarters could be moving

The ACC is exploring moving from its headquarters in Greensboro, N.C. It’s possible the league could find a larger market like Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta more advantageous to cultivating financial partnerships.

Phillips: Before I even joined the ACC family I had heard kind of inklings that maybe there was thought of maybe the conference may move, may not. You don’t know what’s true and what’s not so it’s all speculative. During that recruitment stage and interview stage it was talked about some with the presidents. First meeting I had with the ACC staff it was the first question that was asked by an ACC staff member. I had interviews with every ACC staff member. The majority of them asked me about it. I went to 15 campuses in the spring and was asked about it. Coming in I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about any of that. I really didn’t. But when I got to the end of my tour, I realized we needed to have an assessment of the whole entire ACC structure, staffing, external, how we were focused, all of those things. To exclude the location piece just would have been a disservice to what I was asked to do, and that’s lead an entire conference. This has also been through, again, a very transparent and very disciplined process. The first part of it, along with the evaluation of the structure and staffing and responsibilities, roles of the office that’s led by Jim Delany and Kevin Weiberg. They’ve been our consultant there. We felt like we needed a consultant that specialized in strictly location of organizations, of companies.

We hired Newmark, and we are in that first phase with them. The assessment right now is just of Greensboro, either staying where we’re at in Greensboro in the same building or another part of Greensboro. The presidents will decide if there is a phase 2, which would mean we would start to talk with other cities. I have not had one conversation with any city. I have not. And that’s the gospel. I have not. There have been inquiries and the rest of that. I think that taints a process. That’s unfair. We need to do this thing, again, very transparent. I know the history of May 1953. I know how much the ACC means to Greensboro. As I started to formulate my own ideas and listening, this was something that has to be done, and I really like the way that this is being handled right now.

Conference realignment

Phillips: It’s always best when it’s stabilized, so I hope it’s going to be over soon. I think we all will because we have to settle in. How are we able to build an NCAA constitution in the future of college athletics unless we can get some stability because maybe we’re creating a new model that will be outdated the moment we have additional membership change. I really do hope it settles down, and I think that it has and will. I’m hopeful. But it is part of the ecosystem of college athletics over 100 years, so it’s never going to stop completely. I would just probably finish there, that I really do — will do everything I can to get things settled down, and for us to look forward towards, again, refocusing on our student-athletes, refocusing on the future of college athletics, refocusing on the place that the NCAA is going to hold for college athletics and dive back into that access and afford built for a group of young men and women that may not have had access to college and for it to be affordable if it weren’t for this opportunity to play sports.

College athlete unionization

Phillips was Northwestern’s athletics director when the school’s athletes made an attempt to unionize. He was asked if his thoughts on unionizing have evolved.

Phillips: What I would say to you is my stance hasn’t changed. These are not employees, and this is not an employee/employer relationship. A lot has changed in the last six years since we went through that at Northwestern, and I’ll reiterate what I said before. I was proud of that group of student-athletes. I was. We asked them to be leaders on campus. We asked them to bring up issues that they are passionate about. We’re always supportive of that, and that has not changed over the last six years for me, and I know for the ACC. There’s a lot that has happened since that time: Unlimited meals, the ability to transfer, name image and likeness, the list goes on and on. So we’ve made some really good progress from that standpoint goes. Ultimately we’ll see where the NLRB goes with this, if this ends up being more than just a statement that came out a few weeks ago, and we’ll watch it. But in my heart and soul, I believe in the collegiate model. These are students first and foremost, and they play a sport. Again, there’s nothing in my beliefs that state that this is an employee-employer relationship.