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ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips Weighs in on Vaccines, NIL, Notre Dame at ACC Kickoff




CHARLOTTE, N.C. – During a lengthy opening statement and question-and-answer session Wednesday morning at the Westin in downtown Charlotte, first-year ACC commissioner Jim Phillips weighed on several hot-button issues in college athletics, including COVID-19 vaccinations and Name, Image and Likeness opportunities for student-athletes.

Phillips said he met with ACC athletic directors on Tuesday and that “over half” of the ACC’s football teams are above the required 85% vaccinated threshold while a few other teams are “on the cusp” of that mark.

“We all feel like that’s a reasonable target across the ACC,” Phillips said.

The newly hired commissioner added that the conference is going to wait a couple of weeks before deciding on cancellations vs. forfeits; if it happens that a team can’t play a game this fall because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“There’s no question that there will be a higher probability for students to play if they’re vaccinated,” Phillips said. “If you’re vaccinated, it’s going to take you out of contact-tracing issues and such.

“I believe in being vaccinated. I have a family of healthcare workers that have been on the front lines… It’s such a personal decision. Student-athletes have to figure out what’s best for them.”

Six of the ACC’s 14 football schools – and Notre Dame – require students to be vaccinated. The six are Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest and Syracuse. Pitt is among the eight schools that do not require vaccinations. The Panthers are scheduled to play four ACC teams that require vaccinations and four that do not.

In his first full year as commissioner of a Power 5 conference, Phillips not only has to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects on the sport, but also student-athletes getting paid through Name, Image and Likeness, commonly referred to as simply NIL.

So far, Phillips feels like ACC schools and student athletes have navigated the uncharted waters of NIL pretty well.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our 15 schools and how they navigated this uncharted territory,” Phillips said. “There’s been constant education going on our campuses… The success stories are many.”

Still, Phillips feels like college sports would be better off with more oversight and guidelines regarding NIL on a nationwide level.

“We have some real challenges ahead if we don’t get national legislation. I think there’s incredible opportunities for our student athletes coming, but we need a national standard,” Phillips said. “Not having a national standard will cause major disruption. We have to have some help on antitrust.

“Within our 15 schools, there’s an unevenness to what student-athletes can do. We need federal help. I think we’ll get it, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Phillips pointed out that, of the 10 states that have an ACC school in them, four states have NIL legislation, two states have directives and four states follow NCAA guidelines.

When asked about Mark Emmert’s leadership of the NCAA, Phillips said, “This is the right time to have a complete holistic review of the NCAA; leadership, structure, what we want to do moving forward. The timing is right.”

Emmert, 68, who has been president of the NCAA since 2010, was paid a $2.9 million salary in the 2019-20 athletic season.

On a hyper-local level within the ACC, Phillips was asked about the potential of Notre Dame joining the ACC as a football member. The Irish already compete in every other sport in the conference, and played football in the ACC last season amidst the pandemic.

“I think we all got a glimpse of what it would be like to have Notre Dame in the conference this past fall. That was a really beautiful and beneficial relationship for Notre Dame and the ACC,” Phillips said. “They had the chance to play a fantastic schedule, they had a chance to vie for a national championship and compete in the CFP. So, we have a real-life example of what that could look like.”

With the college football playoff expanding to 12 teams, Notre Dame finds itself in an interesting situation. If it were in a conference like the ACC and won it outright, they would receive an automatic bid to the playoff. But as an independent, even if the Irish go undefeated in a regular season, the best it can hope for is an at-large bid.

But joining the ACC would mean that Notre Dame wouldn’t be able to play annual games against rivals like USC, Stanford and Navy. Last year was the first time since 1927 that the Irish and Midshipmen didn’t play.

“They value independence greatly and I respect that,” Phillips said. “The old quip is, Notre Dame loves two things: one is being Catholic, the second is independence. Sometimes those things get in reverse order.”

Notre Dame’s logo was seen on ACC signage at the conference’s kickoff event Wednesday. The Irish will play five ACC teams this season in Florida State, Virginia Tech, UNC, Virginia and Georgia Tech.

“They know the ACC’s interest. It’s been less than bashful,” Phillips said. “You always have to be ready to add… We’ll see where this goes.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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