Big challenges the theme as 'ACC Kickoff' preseason media days begin

Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Big challenges the theme as 'ACC Kickoff' preseason media days begin
Speaking to open the media days, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips referenced Northwestern's growing hazing scandal.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "ACC Kickoff" preseason media days began Tuesday, but the shadow of a Big Ten hazing scandal hung over the proceedings.

Speaking to open the media days, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips referenced Northwestern's growing hazing scandal, which has led to multiple lawsuits and the firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"This is a very difficult time for the Northwestern community, and my heart goes out to any person who carries the burden of mistreatment or who has been harmed in any way," Phillips said Tuesday. "During my 30-year career in college athletics, my highest priority has always been the health and safety of student-athletes."

Phillips was athletics director there from 2008-21 and is a defendant in three lawsuits along with other university leaders in their oversight roles.

Phillips largely reiterated parts of his statement from last week denying that he "condoned or tolerated inappropriate conduct and didn't comment further.

Back to ACC matters, the league has spent the past year facing questions about its financial picture, enough to raise uncertainty about the long-term future of the league itself.

Still, Phillips figured recent blunt conversations among schools about what's ahead have helped.

Earlier this year, Florida State athletic director Michael Alford went public in talking about revenue concerns when it comes to falling behind the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences. By May, the league held spring meetings with questions about whether schools might be looking for an exit to another league.

Phillips said the league benefitted from increased trust rooted in the "honesty and candor" from those meetings. He also said league schools are now having scheduled weekly meetings in what has been a more frequent dialogue.

"It helps to have a moment like (spring meetings) that forces you to have maybe some more difficult conversations that you maybe haven't had in the past," Phillips told The Associated Press. "We haven't maybe avoided some of those conversations. But when you go through what we've gone through, it was time to fully disclose where folks felt they were, how they felt about the conference, what's worrying them, what they think we can do to address some of those concerns. And to me, it was very healthy overall."

According to tax documents, the ACC distributed an average of nearly $39.5 million per school for full members (Notre Dame receives a partial share as a football independent) in the 2021-22 season compared to $49.9 million for the SEC and $47.9 million for the Big Ten.

The grant-of-rights provision included in the current ESPN deal - signed in 2016 to ultimately launch the ACC Network - offers a significant obstacle to any movement with the league controlling media rights for all ACC schools for another 13 years. The ACC has since announced a change to its revenue distribution model to allow teams to earn more money for postseason success. The specifics of that plan have not been released.

As for actual talk about the game itself, several teams discussed their prospects for the season.


Brent Key grew accustomed to the days as an assistant coach with Georgia Tech players popping into his office, plopping down on the couch and venting a bit.

Now that he's the Yellow Jackets head coach? Not so much.

"All of a sudden, I get named head coach and it's like my door's locked," Key quipped. "It's like, 'We ain't coming in there.'"

The hope is the familiarity that comes with being an alum - or in Key's case, interim coach through much of last season - might help get things moving quickly.

A former Georgia Tech offensive lineman who graduated in 2001, Key took over last year for fired coach Geoff Collins in September after coaching the line for three-plus seasons. Key went on to lead the team to a 4-4 finish, including road wins against No. 24 Pittsburgh and No. 13 North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets won just three games in each of the previous three seasons.

And he's keeping it simple: "That's my job: graduate players and win, bottom line."

"He's kind of been acting like the head guy even last year, that's how we looked at him when he was promoted to interim coach," defensive back LaMiles Brooks said. "Now that he has the job, it's kind of the same thing. It's really about building upon what he established last season."


It's a similar situation at Louisville, where Jeff Brohm is back at his alma mater, too, and eager to provide a spark to a middling program now competing in a division-less league.

"In today's age of college athletics, it's about winning now," Brohm said Tuesday.

He had spent three years at Western Kentucky (2014-16) and the past six at Purdue, including a nine-win season in 2021 and a trip to last year's Big Ten championship game. The former Cardinals quarterback (1989-93) still ranks among the program leaders in career touchdown passes, total offense and passing yards while having his No. 11 jersey honored by the program.

The coaching staff includes his brother Brian, another Cardinals former quarterback.

Jeff Brohm returned when Scott Satterfield left after a sometimes-bumpy tenure to take over at Cincinnati. The current Cardinals have checked out the tape from his playing days.

"I've seen several highlights of Coach Brohm when he played at Louisville," offensive lineman Bryan Hudson said. "There's a lot of excitement, a lot of new energy around the building with him being back. It's been a lot of fun."

That history is a strong selling point for Brohm. He knows the buzz that comes with his return to the program where he made his name as a college player.

There is no doubt he feels a little extra pressure to avoid letting people down.

"I think it's beneficial that the fan base knows that I'm invested in the program myself, that it's going to mean something to me," Brohm said. "I didn't have to come back, but I wanted to. And I wanted to help elevate the program the best I could. Because of that, there's excitement now. And of course, with that, you've got to build on that. ... So we've got to do our part."


Syracuse's Oronde Gadsden II showed the size, mobility and hands to became an all-ACC performer in his first season at tight end - even if he'd rather be known as a position-less hybrid player.

His coach sees something else: a callback to versatile NBA talents like retired legend Magic Johnson or recent No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Victor Wembanyama.

"Magic Johnson was a point guard, right?" coach Dino Babers said. "How tall was he? ... Get him the ball. If he can dribble the ball, dribble the ball down (court). They got (Wembanyama) that's 7-foot-2 now that supposedly can dribble the ball down. They just picked him No. 1. Don't make him a center, let him dribble the ball.

"Oronde's like that. He's different, so stop. He'll do something. Let's not make him be something, one thing, when he's multiple things."

Gadsden led all tight ends nationally with 969 yards receiving on 61 catches with six touchdowns.


The ACC Kickoff resumes Wednesday with a second wave of teams: Duke, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech.