- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2012

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Almost inevitably, the subject of Notre Dame — effectively assumed to be a possible linchpin of any further college athletics realignment beyond the instability of the past two years — arose at ACC commissioner John Swofford’s forum with reporters Sunday.

Would, the question went, the Fighting Irish ever join the east coast league.

“I couldn’t hear the question,” Swofford deadpanned after a pause, prompting laughter.

No, college football’s issues wouldn’t be solved as the ACC opened its annual kickoff event. There would be no answers to what, if anything, would change the sport’s landscape.

One thing, at least to Swofford, seemed sure. After the recent flux and incessant external background noise, his conference remained stable.

“That’s never been an issue in my mind,” Swofford said. “You’re looking at a league that has a group of schools that are together for all the right reasons.”

In front of Swofford were helmets for all 12 schools, a group that will grow next July with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. In a decade, the ACC will have gone from a distinctly regional league to one contiguously stretching from Massachusetts to Florida.

Not that it was the quietest few months. Rumors sprung up on a seemingly weekly basis during the spring about possible discontent at Clemson and Florida State, two of the conference’s most potent football contributors.

Swofford was invited to speak to Clemson’s board of trustees last week, the first time in his 15-year tenure he said he spoke with the full board of a school.

“In a word, totally,” Swofford said of his certainty of the commitment of his league’s schools. “I had a great visit with Clemson, as you always do when you go to Clemson because they’re terrific people.”

The shower of warm and fuzzy feelings aside, there is still the matter of the conference’s on-field product. Even with a long-term tie-in assured with the Orange Bowl, the league’s collective 2-13 record in Bowl Championship Series games is not easily forgotten.

Frequent clunkers in regular-season games have done little to cause that reputation to dissipate.

“We just need to take advantage of the opportunities and win games,” Swofford said. “You win games or enough of them — you’re not going to win all of them — but you win your share of them, it’s not even a point of conversation.”

Until the season opens late last month, the conversation will remain fixated on off-the-field matters. Swofford indicated it was unlikely the conference would revisit its decision to move to a nine-game league schedule in football next year, a choice that limits the wiggle room in nonconference scheduling for schools that both have an annual rival and require the revenue of six or seven home games.

Swofford said several scenarios for an Orange Bowl partner are being discussed, with the hope for an announcement in the “not-too-distant future.” And he said the ACC will not assist Pittsburgh and Syracuse with their exit fees from the Big East; both schools announced last week they would pay $7.5 million apiece to depart their old league a year early.

And as for Notre Dame and any other possible expansion? On a day Swofford touted the long-term cohesion of his conference, there wasn’t a hint of more changes on the way.

“Our focus at the moment is totally on 14 and making that work in the best possible way,” Swofford said.

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