CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ever since the ACC Network debuted in 2019, frustrated Comcast cable customers have been pining for the channel.
Their long wait may soon be over.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday that he is hopeful that Comcast (Xfinity) cable will add the ACC Network to its channel lineup before the upcoming college football season.
That would be ideal timing, especially for Virginia Tech fans with Comcast cable. Phillips announced Wednesday that the Hokies’ Oct. 9 home football game with Notre Dame will be among the games on the ACC Network this season.
Phillips, who was hired as the ACC’s new commissioner in December, held a news conference Wednesday to kick off the ACC’s annual football media days.
The ESPN-owned ACC Network is carried by Cox cable, Shentel cable, Citizens cable, Suddenlink cable, the Dish Network satellite service, the DirecTV satellite service, Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV, among others.
But ESPN has never been able to strike a deal with Comcast.
“It’s one of the top priorities I have,” Phillips said. “I’ve been to Bristol [the Connecticut city that is home to ESPN]; we had some great conversations.
“Distribution is critical for us. When I visited those 15 [ACC] institutions, that was kind of the cry of all our schools, is, ‘How do we get distribution wider?’ I think we have a great plan coming up.
“Those frustrations are real, and we’ll never be the conference that we need to be until we get some of those issues taken care of. I think we have a great strategy. It’s been a talking point [in] every conversation that we’ve had with our TV partners.
“We’re hopeful to make a big dent in the distribution piece coming up.”
Comcast’s overall deal to carry all Disney-owned channels (such as the ACC Network, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and the Disney Channel) is drawing to a close. In the negotiations for a new deal, Disney/ESPN could simply tell Comcast it must add the ACC Network as part of a new overall deal.
“A lot of the carriers and providers, including Comcast, [have] renewals coming up this late summer, into the fall, and I think we’re making tremendous progress with them,” said Phillips, who formerly served as Northwestern’s athletic director.
Comcast cable has customers in Botetourt, Montgomery, Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Henry, Pulaski, Patrick, Smyth, Rockbridge and Wythe counties, as well as in Salem, Martinsville, Buena Vista, Galax and Lexington.
Also Wednesday, Phillips called for a “complete, holistic review” of the NCAA, including its leadership and structure.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said last week that with athletes now able to make money off their name, image and likeness, and with the Supreme Court having recently ruled against the NCAA on another matter regarding benefits for athletes, it is time to rethink and perhaps decentralize college sports.
“When I look at what we really are super reliant on from an [NCAA headquarters in] Indianapolis perspective, … do we have a good governance structure? [It’s] one size fits all,” Phillips said. “Is the [Division I] Council working? … Again, all sizes, shapes within 351 [Division I schools].
“We’ve had a couple issues this year with [inequity in NCAA women’s basketball and softball] championships, … so an assessment there [is needed].
“Enforcement — I’m getting ready to go in August with one of our schools [North Carolina State] to Indianapolis. Some of those student-athletes on that team that will be subjected to whatever penalties potentially could be handed down were in middle school [when rules violations occurred]. So timeliness, fairness in the system [are issues].
“President [Mark] Emmert has kind of called for it, kind of a recalibration of the NCAA. I think we should take him up on that. … Let’s spend the next eight, 12 months figuring this thing out.”
Phillips also weighed in on the name, image and likeness issue. Athletes are now free to strike NIL deals, and Phillips said the ACC supports that change. But he wants Congress to pass NIL legislation so there is a uniform law.
“We have some real challenges ahead if we don’t get national legislation,” Phillips said.
“Not having a national standard will cause major disruption. You are already seeing across the country the wide-ranging disparity at times, depending on what state you’re in, what people are able to do.
“It can’t be a recruiting advantage. … We need federal help.”
When it comes to how the coronavirus pandemic might affect the upcoming football season, Phillips said the ACC has not yet decided whether or not games will be rescheduled this year if a team is unable to play a certain game for COVID-19 reasons.
The ACC and other leagues rescheduled games last year. But Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that the SEC won’t postpone games this season and that teams might have to forfeit games if they can’t play.
“We [in the ACC] all really wanted to wait a couple more weeks or so [to make a decision],” Phillips said. “We’ll understand the variant a little bit.”
Phillips said seven ACC schools (including Virginia Tech and UVa) are mandating that students be vaccinated in order to attend classes in the fall.
Vaccinated players won’t have to go through contact tracing — a plus for their teams.
“Vaccinations are critical to the protection of all … but I also deeply respect that getting vaccinated is a personal choice,” Phillips said. “Increasing the number of vaccinations will provide the best chance for our student-athletes and teams to compete.”
Phillips said more than half of the ACC football teams have met the 85% threshold for vaccinations, which could result in fewer COVID-19 restrictions on those squads.
UVa athletic director Carla Williams said Wednesday that 90% of all UVa athletes are vaccinated. Virginia Tech declined to reveal a percentage.