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With Florida State, Clemson in fold, and new TV deal, Swofford has ACC on track

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Swofford says he didn't have to talk Florida State off the ledge. (AP)  
Swofford says he didn't have to talk Florida State off the ledge. (AP)  

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For a man whose conference was supposed to be on death's door just a few months ago, ACC commissioner John Swofford seemed pretty relaxed when I sat down with him on Sunday.

"We feel very good about where we are right now," said Swofford, who's in his 16th year as commissioner. "We knew that when all the work was done we would be one of the top-tier conferences. And that is exactly where we are."

When the SEC and the Big 12 announced earlier this year they had formed a postseason alliance (the Champions Bowl), the college football intelligentsia declared there were now only four elite conferences in the sport: the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. The ACC, went the narrative, would be moved out of the main dining room to the kids' table. The Big East, God bless 'em, would be eating in the kitchen.

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There was talk the ACC would never, ever get a team in college football's new four-team playoff, which begins after the 2014 regular season. Then came the unrelenting speculation that football powers Florida State and Clemson were considering jumping ship for more money and more prestige in the Big 12.

"There was a while there where people were saying that we were in trouble, but all the time we knew it wasn't true," Swofford said. "We had to clear up some misinformation out there and then there were steps we had to take to make sure we still had our seat at the table. All of that has been done and been done very effectively."

Swofford believes his conference is in very good shape moving forward for several reasons:

  The ACC extended its TV contract with ESPN through the 2026-27 season. The ACC got a raise of almost $80 million per year on the previous contract. Is it SEC or Big Ten money? No, but it's enough for everyone to live very comfortably.

  The ACC signed a 12-year agreement to continue sending its champion to the Orange Bowl. If its champion is in the four-team playoff, the league's No. 2 team will go to South Florida.

  The hurdles have now been cleared for Pittsburgh and Syracuse to officially join the ACC on July 1, 2013.

  After all the buzz about Clemson and Florida State, Swofford went to their respective campuses to answer any and all questions about the future of the conference. Since then the talk of either team bolting for the Big 12 has died down considerably.

Clemson has publicly sworn its allegiance to the ACC and Florida State found a way to balance its budget and calm down some talkative members of the board of trustees.

Asked Sunday if he was confident Florida State and Clemson will remain in the ACC, Swofford said, "Totally."

"Some people thought we were talking people off the ledge, and that simply wasn't the case," Swofford said. "It was simply a matter of getting all of the facts to the right people."

Swofford also addressed a number of other topics during our visit on the first day of ACC media days:

  The fact that the ACC is 3-12 all-time in BCS bowl games: "I've made no secret of the fact that we have to perform better when we have these kinds of opportunities. We can talk all we want about how good our conference is. But at the end of the day there is only one way to remedy the situation. You have to prove it on the field." Swofford is a former quarterback at North Carolina.

  The Orange Bowl still has to decide who will oppose the ACC on New Year's Day in the new deal. Don't be surprised if Notre Dame is in the mix. "We are hearing it could be a small pool or teams or a large pool of teams. I'm confident it is going to be a quality opponent."

  The constant rumors that Notre Dame will eventually become a member of the ACC: "I really can't speak to that at all. My sense is that Notre Dame is very comfortable with its status as an independent in football."

  The four team playoff: "I think we got it just right. Eight teams was never going to be an option because of concerns about the regular season. There was no way that we could stick with the status quo. Four teams gives us something different, something exciting. It gives four teams instead of two a chance to play for the national championship. It's good for the ACC and it's good for college football. One of the best parts about it is that we're reclaiming New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. If we made a mistake in the BCS it was getting away from those days.

  Two damaging headlines leading up to ACC media days:

North Carolina has vacated the records of its all-time wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks, who played despite being academically ineligible in 2008. This continues the string of bad headlines at UNC that began exactly one year ago Wednesday, when Butch Davis was fired.

Yahoo Sports reported this week that current Miami (Fla.) coach Al Golden had a former equipment manager with connections to controversial booster Nevin Shapiro, who did "off the books" recruiting for the Hurricanes. Golden, who will be here on Monday, has denied the report.

"These are not headlines that you want, but when they happen you address the issues and our conference has done that," Swofford said. "We have a long and good record in the area of compliance. We're not perfect but the record speaks for itself."

The Tony Barnhart Show airs on Aug. 28 on The CBS Sports Television Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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