Vaccinations, playoff, Comcast, NCAA highlight Phillips' first ACC address
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five months after taking the job, new Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips made his first first public address to the conference media Wednesday morning at ACC Kickoff.
And while it was an hourlong session packed with important information and updates, Phillips said the conference's official stance on several topics -- including new COVID-19 policies and the proposed College Football Playoff expansion -- won't be announced until the coming days.
Here is a look at some of the major topics discussed and the latest information on each:
On vaccinations, COVID-19 protocols
With the COVID-19 pandemic seeing another surge nationally, Phillips said that more than half of the ACC's member schools have reached vaccination levels of at least 85 percent on their football rosters. And he added that several other schools are close to reaching that level.
"We all feel like that's a reasonable target across the ACC," Phillips said.
But he added that each school will have to come up with its own vaccination and testing policies.
While saying that he "respects" the idea that getting vaccinated is a personal decision, Phillips said it's clear that teams will have a better chance of playing games this fall if coaches and players get vaccinated. He said players who are vaccinated will not be subject to contact tracing.
"As it relates to vaccines and any policies or mandates, those decisions will remain at the discretion of each member institution," Phillips said. "Personally, I believe that vaccinations are critical to the protection of all and helping to achieve the goal of eliminating the COVID-19 virus and its variants. But I also deeply respect that getting vaccinated is a personal choice. As we approach the fall seasons, there's no question that increasing the number of vaccinations will provide the best chance for our student-athletes and teams to compete. ...
"It would break my heart, as it did this summer, for any of our student-athletes or coaches who continue to work so hard on their sports to have to miss a game due to a positive test or contact tracing."
While other conferences have suggested that teams will have to forfeit games if their players experience COVID outbreaks this season -- as opposed to last fall when many games were rescheduled -- Phillips said the ACC is still formulating its decision.
He said the league's coaches and administrators are still receiving updates from health officials, particularly about the delta variant, and he expects the conference to make a formal policy announcement in the coming weeks.
"We all really want to wait a couple more weeks or so," Phillips said. "I think there's some more information that we're going to be able to gather. I think we'll understand the variant a little bit. ... We will be transparent when that decision is made and let everybody know."
Phillips noted that seven of the ACC's schools actually will have mandated vaccines for all students, not just athletes, this fall.
On College Football Playoff Expansion
Another major topic discussed by Phillips was the proposed expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams.
He said the ACC coaches will receive a presentation from the playoff committee today and that the conference will take an "educated" position in the coming weeks.
Phillips said the ACC will take input from players, coaches and administrators when making any recommendations. He acknowledged that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stated earlier this week that his players don't want to play a longer season, but he added that it will be important to recognize the potential benefits of an expanded playoff.
"I don't want anybody to foreclose either good or bad on the playoff," he said. "We're still learning about the playoff. The football coaches today are going to get to CFP presentation. ... I asked them (the coaches) to do a few things: Get together and talk about it and discuss how they feel about it ... length of season, health and safety issues, what does it do to the regular season, all of those things.
"But as importantly, talk to the student-athletes, get a feel and read. I saw Coach Swinney's press statements yesterday. I've seen Coach Brown (UNC coach Mack Brown also expressed concerns). I've talked to both of them regularly. I'll see them here later today and tomorrow. Those are real concerns. I think we have to be open-minded to it. It doesn't mean we're going to support it."
On Comcast and the ACC Network
A subject that is extremely important to Florida State fans in the Tallahassee area is whether the ACC Network will land a carriage deal with cable giant Comcast, and Phillips indicated there is hope on the horizon.
Phillips said reaching a deal with Comcast has been one of his "top priorities" since coming on board, and he added that new deals with that provider and others could be reached in the coming months.
"Distribution is critical for us," Phillips said. "When I visited those 15 [ACC schools in the spring], that was kind of the cry of all of our schools, is how do we get distribution wider. I think we have a great plan coming up. A lot of the carriers and providers, including Comcast, renewals are coming up this late summer and into the fall. I think we're making tremendous progress with them.
"Those frustrations are real. We'll never be the conference that we need to be until we get some of those issues taken care of. I think we have a great strategy. It's been top of point every conversation we've had with our TV partners. They understand it. They get it. So we're hopeful to make a big dent in the distribution piece coming up.
On that note, Phillips made it clear that football has to be the driving force for the ACC 365 days a year.
"As I've stated since my first day as ACC commissioner, football must be No. 1 priority for us, for all of us, our schools, the league, ACC Network, our partners, coaches," he said. "We've been collaborating for months to ensure that ACC football has the mindset of 24/7, 365, and we're working together to further elevate football in the ACC. We're just getting started.
"That commitment to football will not be at the expense of our other 26 sponsored sports. You don't have to deemphasize any sport simply to provide additional resources to others or concentrate on football."
On the future of the NCAA
On the heels of comments made this past week by embattled NCAA President Mark Emmert, Phillips said the "time is right" to examine the long-term viability and effectiveness of college athletics' governing institution.
He added that conferences and institutions will have an active role in any decisions while acknowledging that, "change is coming."
"This is the right time to have a complete holistic review of the NCAA -- leadership, structure, what do we want to do moving forward," Phillips said. "There have been so many things that have happened in our space here that the timing is right. No predetermined outcomes. Let's take a look."
On Name, Image and Likeness
Phillips said he is happy that student-athletes now have the ability to earn money from their name, image and likeness, but he reiterated the need for national legislation.
As it currently stands, many schools and states are operating under different guidelines. He said NIL can't be allowed to result in a "recruiting advantage" for any particular schools or conferences.
"I think there's incredibility opportunities for our student-athletes coming," Phillips said. "But we need a national standard. ... Not having a national standard will cause major disruptions.
"We need federal help, and I think that we'll get it. But I hope it's sooner rather than later."
Phillips also discussed the possibility of Notre Dame eventually joining the ACC, the transfer portal and more. Complete updates from Phillips' press conference