By Lauren Brownlow, WRALSportsFan columnist/reporter
Nearly six weeks to the day since he stood out on the court at the Greensboro Coliseum to announce the cancellation of the ACC Tournament – on a day when sports nationwide were nearly all canceled or postponed – ACC commissioner John Swofford joined the Adam Gold Show to talk about what life has been like since.
“It was stunning at the time with the rapidity of the way things occurred while our basketball tournaments were going on, and then the immediate finality of the conference tournaments and then followed closely by the NCAA Tournament being canceled. Those are the types of things that no one really thinks that much about or ever particularly anticipates happening, regardless of how much crisis training you may go through or try to prepare for,” Swofford said.
“That’s where that word ‘unprecedented’ comes in because that’s the word to certainly describe it. You’re going from full tilt to all of a sudden nothing happening competitively and then on top of that, your whole normal work process in terms of communicating with the people that you communicate with on a daily basis, that’s totally disrupted. You’re going through a whole new way of doing business, so to speak, in a very different world and learning how to communicate in a different way.”
Now, Swofford and the other major-conference commissioners are trying to figure out a way forward in a world where there are very few answers – not just in college sports, but in the world as a whole.
“Any time you have a whole lot more questions than you have answers and you can’t see a single path forward or even maybe two or three – there are more than that that you could have to have to confront – it’s a very challenging world in sports and in college athletics, but it’s a much bigger issue than our world of college athletics, obviously. And consequently, a lot of decisions that will be made outside of college athletics will affect those decisions that we will make within college athletics. Not only is there no clear path to exactly what those decisions will be, there’s no clear path to when those decisions can be made,” Swofford said.
But Swofford did want to add that there is one certainty: the world itself will be back, and so will college athletics. How it will look, he doesn’t know and no one does yet. But it will be back.
The question of when is impossible to answer. It seemed as if without campuses reopening to students, a return to playing college sports would be impossible. But Swofford seemed to indicate that is not necessarily the case.
“I think it depends somewhat on how one would define are campuses being reopened. We’re different than professional sports in the sense that we’re a part of higher education and a part of campus life and intercollegiate athletics are tied to campuses and student support and alumni support and those constituencies being a big part of it. Our athletes are students. So all of that is intertwined,” Swofford said.
“What does it mean when we say a campus has reopened? That may mean different things at different campuses. It may mean everybody’s back on campus. It may mean certain segments of the student population is back on campus. It may mean classes are still done in a way that’s not in the classroom itself physically. So even that question becomes a little more complicated than you see it at first. But our whole thought process is that intercollegiate athletics are tied to campus life, are tied to students – or some reasonable segment of the students – being there and being a part of it.”
All kinds of scenarios – many of which have been well-documented – are being considered. For the season to be able to start on time in some capacity, Swofford said they’re eying mid-July in terms of a date by which if the players aren’t back together in some way preparing for a season, they couldn’t start on time. He said he and the other Power 5 commissioners speak to each other every day.
How much time a team needs to prepare for a season, though, is really the only part of this that the commissioners control at all.
“There are just a lot of decision-makers that come into play here that are outside of college athletics and to a degree, even outside of higher education – whether it’s the governors, and we have different rollouts, so to speak, in different states. Our league, as an example, is in 10 different states, so that could be a complicating factor,” Swofford said. “Ultimately, do you have to shorten the season? Do you play it into the second semester and further into the basketball season?
“But it starts with the virus itself, science, the medical community, governors – there are just a lot of decisions that have to be made before we make our decision in intercollegiate athletics and in higher education. We just have to be ready for the various alternatives that could come into play when we are able to play. The breadth of the potential timelines that we’re trying to deal with and trying to assess all the implications of those timelines is extraordinarily broad right now. And along with that, of course, the financial implications – particularly from the sport of football, which are very significant in the business model of intercollegiate athletics – that’s extremely important going forward, but it obviously has to be secondary to the health and safety of the players and the campus community and the fans that would be coming to the game.”
Swofford has spent a lot of time with his wife Nora in Greensboro, and talks to his grandchildren as regularly as they can.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a spouse that I love very much and also like very much and like being around her. We spend as much time as we can and we’re enjoying the time together. So all those things you listed come into play. We’re walking a lot too, which is a good thing, and talking about things sometimes we haven’t had the time to talk about,” Swofford said. “We’re spending a lot of time getting on our computers and screens and seeing our grandkids. … . They live elsewhere. But thank goodness for the technology that exists today in terms of staying connected to the people that we love. So at least we can see them and converse with them on that basis, and so we spend a lot of time doing that as well.”
But business does still go on as usual, of course – and Swofford talked about the increasing likelihood that athletes will be able to profit off of their own name, image and likeness.
The Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group is expected to submit recommendations on how to the NCAA on how to move forward by Friday, and the Board of Governors will add its own changes before anything is finalized. With everything that’s going on, though, Swofford said it might be a slower process than some think. The recommendations will be just a starting point.
“I think that A. it will happen and B. I think it will have parameters when it’s said and done. It’ll be an adjustment for everybody involved. My guess is what comes out (Friday) or whenever it comes out through the board will be a starting point for a lot of reaction and input back into the system,” Swofford said. “My guess is – and I don’t absolutely know this – but my guess is once that input is there and over a period of time, and considering the circumstances of the world right now, that it’s likely to come into play not this coming year but the following year. Again, that would be my guess.”