Thursday, March 12, 2009

Q&A: ACC commissioner John Swofford

The 2009 ACC Tournament opened Thursday with four first-round games in a Georgia Dome that was about 10,000 fans short of being sold out in Atlanta. Here’s what ACC commissioner John Swofford had to say in an exclusive interview about the tournament, the ACC football championship and other topics.

Q: The tournament is not a sellout. On the other hand, the economy is in a difficult situation and you still get more revenue, I would presume (at the Georgia Dome), than you would in Greensboro. Can you break that down for me?

Swofford: It really relates to being in a dome at the same time we're in a down economy unlike anything any of us have seen before. It's that combination. If we were in Greensboro or Charlotte or any of the other venues we've played the tournament in, we would be over capacity in those buildings. I think it relates directly to the combination of big building, down economy.

Q: Do you know about how many tournament books you've sold?

Swofford: We’re going to be around 26,000, 27,000. Somewhere right in that area.

Q: And it was set up for 36,000?

Swofford: Yes, 36,000, and that was based on the last time we were here in 2001, when we basically averaged 36,000. It was the most any conference tournament has ever had in college basketball. It was a remarkable turnout in the first time we'd been in the dome. And it was a huge success.

But I really think you have to call this a success, too, considering where we are at this given time and the numbers compared to our normal numbers.

Q: Have you run into a situation where folks who've never had an opportunity to come are able to come, and has that been a good thing for you?

Swofford: Yes, we have had some of that, and both from some degree an institutional level and also locally here as well. And that's always good, because it helps build for the future and gives them a flavor of the ACC Tournament.

Q: You've still got another one coming up here in a few years. Is it still your plan to go forward with that?

Swofford: Yes. We'll evaluate it after this is over with, the capacity. In a dome you can cut capacities off at various places. And we'll evaluate it at that time and may look at it in terms of having to cut some more when we come back as well.

Q: Selection Sunday is coming up. Is that always one of your most nervous days of the year?

Swofford: In a sense. You just hope that the league is treated fairly. That's all any of us in any conference can ask for. Usually that’s the case.

The committee has a very difficult job that I think gets tougher every year in terms of trying to evaluate where teams are, and I'm sure they'll do a great job this year as they usually do. We've had a terrific year, I think, competitively, within the league this year with a lot of good teams. And hopefully that will be reflected Sunday when the selections come out.

Q: (Wake Forest athletics director) Ron Wellman is going on the (selection) committee next year. Is that a good thing for the ACC?

Swofford: It’s a good thing for the ACC. I think it's a good thing for college basketball and the committee. I think Ron will do a terrific job. He's very interested in doing it. I think he's a terrific selection representing not only our conference but college basketball.

Q: There are a couple rumors out there. One is that you're looking at adjusting the divisions for football, (in terms of) which teams are in which division. Is there any thought of that?

Swofford: You used the right term, "rumor." It hasn't been discussed.

Q: How about the football championship game? Are you looking at the possibility of holding it at home sites (rather than neutral sites) in the future?

Swofford: We'll see. We're in Tampa (in 2009) and in Charlotte the next two years. At that point we'll have a decent history to evaluate. And being on campus at that point will be something that we haven't done. As we develop and grow that game, we'll just have to see what works best for our conference.

Q: That (home sites) an option you might consider?

Swofford: It's always an option. It was an option from the beginning, and it's an option we would consider if we needed to consider it. It may be that the game comes to Charlotte, finds a terrific home and is really well adopted and works for us, where we stay.

I think we'll just have to wait. ... Every conference is a little different. We're Boston to Miami and a mix of comparatively small, private schools with major state universities, and that game is very important to us as a conference as it grows and matures and develops its own history. And I think all of us are really looking forward to being in Charlotte with the game.

Hopefully it will be a huge success there, and we would hope that it would be for a lot of reasons. It will be the first time we've actually had it in the geographic center, which makes a lot of sense in terms of driveability for the majority of the schools, not all the schools. And in difficult economic times, that matters.

And hopefully Charlotte as a college football community will truly adopt the game and support the game itself. You look at the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which has been probably the most positive start-up bowl game in recent years, and we think that's a good sign.

Q: What are your other big economic concerns going forward?

Swofford: It’s far reaching both at the institutional level as well as at the conference level. You want to do everything you can to maximize your revenue for the schools. In the next 12-15 months, our television deals will be renegotiated for the future. And hopefully they will go well, even though we're in a very difficult economic period related to those kinds of negotiations.

And at the same time, I think we're like everyone else, trying to look at ways to reduce costs.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about the ACC Tournament?

Swofford: My favorite thing is the quality of the competition, the quality of the teams on the floor and the individual players that are out there on the floor. We've had a lot of great players and teams come through this league, and this year has been, I think, a very special one competitively. To see that all in one place is just a real joy. And the other aspect of it is to see fans enjoy exactly what I was talking about.

-- Ken Tysiac