ACC commissioner says conference is on good trajectory, but good start in football ‘important’

After an offseason filled with questions about the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference, commissioner Jim Phillips told ESPN on Wednesday that he feels “really, really good about the trajectory” of the league.

Changing the narrative surrounding the conference begins Thursday night, when Pitt hosts West Virginia in a renewal of the Backyard Brawl rivalry. With ESPN College GameDay on-site, the game begins a weekend where the ACC will be showcased nationally with 12 games across five days — including another marquee Power 5 nonconference matchup on Sunday night between Florida State and LSU.

The ACC traditionally has scheduled tough nonconference games over the first three weeks of the season, but with the ACC going 1-10 in Week 1 against Power 5 nonconference opponents since 2018, it has set in motion a narrative about the conference as a whole that is hard to break.

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Phillips understands what it means to get wins in these national spotlight games.

“I’m proud of how we’ve looked at scheduling. It creates a narrative that is hard to put a value on, especially early in the season,” Phillips told ESPN in a phone interview. “You start — fairly or unfairly — to be molded into what they think your season can be and the type of team you have, so it’s important for us to get off to a good start. I hope that we will.

“If we don’t, it won’t mean that we don’t have a bunch of really good teams. But it certainly gets you off on a fast start and puts you in position to create the narrative about your programs [if you win], and the success that you may have throughout the year.”

Much has been made about the ACC’s place in the Power 5 hierarchy, especially after realignment moves made by the Big Ten and SEC over the past year. The ACC is currently working on ways to enhance revenue streams.

Said Phillips multiple times: “We’re going to look at all options that could further strengthen our conference.”

The Big Ten recently signed a seven-year media rights deal worth more than $7 billion, and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren did not rule out “perpetual and future growth” in an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports.”

“I continue to believe the ACC is strong, and among the very best all-around conferences in the nation,” Phillips told ESPN. “I’m confident in our desire of staying together. I know that there’s a lot of rumors and speculation. We all understand people want answers and certainty. But we’re really aligned right now, and we feel like we got some really good solutions to address some of the revenue gap. But it can’t be at the expense of all of these things that we’re doing.

“I know that there’s been an awful lot of talk about the dollars that have come out from this latest television deal, and congratulations to the Big Ten. But in the end, it’s more than just dollars, and I think we’ve proven over a long period of time, how successful we’ve been able to be both in the classroom and competitively. “I feel really, really good about the trajectory that we’re on.”

Multiple ACC sources told ESPN that they felt the discussions about uneven revenue distribution have gained some momentum.

“It’s all on the table and being discussed,” Phillips confirmed.

What certainly will help the league is for its national name brands to perform early at a high level, including Florida State (vs. LSU), Pitt (West Virginia and Tennessee) and Miami (vs. Texas A&M in Week 3).

It’s also about getting back to the discussion about actual football games. Phillips will be in Pittsburgh for Thursday’s game, and he will be busy traveling to more games over the weekend, which culminates with Clemson playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“We’re all trying to have moments where we can forget about all of the issues that are on our plate, and that we’re dealing with both professionally and personally and in our world, and it’s about as pure of a 3- or 3½-hour experience as you can have,” Phillips said. “So I know everyone’s looking forward to it. I certainly am.”