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ACC Kickoff notebook: While not a fan of it, Dabo Swinney says playoff expansion is ‘inevitable’



Dabo Swinney
Dabo Swinney talks to reporters at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte on July 22, 2021. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Clemson has been a mainstay in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have appeared in it six times; each year since 2015.

So, Tigers’ head coach Dabo Swinney knows a thing or two about what it takes to make the playoff, to compete with other playoff-caliber teams and to win a championship.

And Swinney – a two-time national champion now entering his 13th season at Clemson – has made it clear previously that he’s no fan of expanding the playoff from four teams to 12. But at this point, he thinks the horse is out of the barn on the topic, or the toothpaste is out of the tube, or whatever other metaphor is appropriate.

Point is, Swinney says, playoff expansion is happening. So, what now?

The Clemson coach’s focus is on the players and the bowl system.

“My (opinion) doesn’t mean anything because that train’s left the station. I think sitting around and talking about what this coach thinks or that coach is a waste of time at this point,” Swinney said. “I think the conversation needs to be: How do we get it right for the player, end of the day? How do we save the bowls?”

Swinney was among the group of several ACC head coaches that attended a presentation on expanding the playoff from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick this week in Charlotte. Swinney said Swarbrick did a “phenomenal job,” but he wasn’t swayed.

“It doesn’t change my stance at all,” Swinney said. “I think if we’re going to expand, I think you should talk about the season as well. Maybe you go to 11 games instead of asking these guys to play more… People say, It’s just one more game. To me, that is a total lack of appreciation for what it takes to win a game, to prepare for a game, to play in a game of that magnitude.”

In June, the College Football Playoff approved a feasibility study that concentrated on tripling the playoff field. That came after a group that included Swarbrick, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and nine others heard a presentation on expansion. Swarbrick is also on the four-person committee that came up with the expansion proposal.

“I think expansion is going to be inevitable,” Swinney said. “Money’s driving that. I assume that’s what the fans want. But I think most importantly what do the players want.”

Here are some other notes and quotes from around the ACC from its Kickoff event this week in Charlotte:

Miami’s D’Eriq King on working with Florida State’s McKenzie Milton on NIL opportunities: “I think business is business. I’ve been knowing McKenzie for six, seven years now, back when he was in high school, then at UCF when I was at Houston. We’ve been in the same conference. Had a relationship. Obviously, Florida State is our rival. But like I said, business is business. We both thought it was a good idea to partner with Dreamfield, co-found the company. It’s really to help as many guys as we can. The whole platform is for everybody else to make a lot of money.”

Mack Brown tells a quick Ricky Williams story: “When we went to Texas, the previous team was 4-7. Ricky said, ‘The Heisman is not important.’ Well, HeismanRickyWilliams was his email, so it was kind of important, I think. I kind of noticed that as he told me it wasn’t important. So, what we found is that Ricky was the best player on our team, so he was really our best defensive player because we weren’t any good on defense, but as long as he stayed on field and ran the ball, we didn’t have to go out there on defense, so it helped us.”

And here’s Brown on managing a potential Heisman campaign for UNC quarterback Sam Howell: “There’s that fine line with Colt McCoy and Vince Young. When you’re winning a game, how long do you keep them in for stats for the Heisman and when do you pull him out for safety and trying to get a backup quarterback ready to play? It’s a delicate path that you have to follow to try to figure out how to playing all that work. Sam is so good. He’s about winning, knows we have to have another quarterback to go in the future. We’ll navigate that with him. Whether it’s name, image and likeness, the awards you’re going to get, it’s about your ball, it’s not about your brand. If we play well, if Sam is going to play great, if we play well enough as a team around him, and we have a chance to win a lot of games, he’ll be right in the mix of that Heisman thing regardless of what we say or do. If we don’t play well as a team, it will drift away.”

Duke’s David Cutcliffe on why he’s a fan of returning to divisional play in the ACC: “I’ve been part of division play in the Southeastern Conference. I think it creates more excitement for the player to have the opportunity to win a division championship so you get into November where college football gets really serious, where champions are determined. You’re going to end up having five or six teams in the hunt for an opportunity to be an ACC champion with division play. I think it’s the better way to go. It’s no different than you’d see in professional sports. You’re trying to win your division. So, I think it’s much more player-friendly than the other way.”

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren on the Wolfpack’s baseball team being removed from the College World Series: “It was heartbreaking to watch… It’s an opportunity to learn for our team. We’re going to talk about it when we get together collectively. Our guys have seen it. We’ve talked one-on-one with several of the players. Like everyone, my job is to help these young men grow, help these guys compete, put them in the best places they can be, and keep them as safe as I can keep them. At the same time, it’s not my job to make medical decisions for our football team. All I can do is educate them, get them around the people that can help them make great choices. That’s what I’m trying to do. Where we’re at numbers-wise, we’re going to be in a good place.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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