ACC winter meetings preview

ACC winter meetings begin today and run through Friday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The football coaches don’t participate; it’s just for athletic directors and faculty representatives. Louisville, which officially joins the conference on July 1, will be in attendance while Maryland, although still invited to the meetings, will not. These meetings are typically less agenda-based and more free-flowing discussions about current topics -- and there are plenty of hot topics surrounding the NCAA and college football.

There will also be discussions about branding and marketing plans for the future, and ACC officials will receive updates and presentations from their television partners. While there might not necessarily be many things actually voted on this week, here are a few issues that should prompt some discussion:

Conference autonomy and stipends: At the NCAA convention earlier this month, an unofficial straw poll of hundreds of delegates showed that 58 percent of athletic decision-makers favor Division I athletics moving toward a model that would grant more autonomy to the Power Five -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. Should that occur -- as many seem to think it will -- stipends for players could become an option in the ACC. According to USA Today, Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, chair of the Division I Board of Directors, said the goal remains to have change enacted by the end of the summer. What kind of an effect, though, will Northwestern's recent movement to unionize have on all of this? That was huge news this week, and if it catches on, the NCAA's entire game could change.

Pittsburgh athletics director Steve Pederson said it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen across the collegiate landscape, but that there is a greater push for change across the country.

“The conversation is much more intense than it’s been,” Pederson said. “The conversation is much more focused on leading to results than it has been in the past. Some of these issues have been debated for a long time, but they’ve generally been more debated. Now we’re at a point where everybody seems to have agreed there needs to be changes. Now we’ll see what change actually comes about. That’s what everybody is anxious about: Is there something real here, and are we going to get everybody moving in the right direction? Everybody has been pretty collegial in trying to get to this point, and that’s the way it should be, but at some point we have to start moving this forward.”

Scheduling: When ISN'T this a topic of debate? About five minutes after joining the ACC, Syracuse athletics director Daryl Gross was already trying to change the ACC schedule to a nine-game format. He's not the only one who considers it a real possibility. Georgia Tech athletics director Mike Bobinski told the AJC that the conference and ESPN are expected to have an update on where things stand in regards to a possible ACC channel. Bobinski said "it wouldn't be the worst thing" to play nine league games, but it's already been opposed once. That doesn't mean it won't be seriously considered again.

“We’ve always been in favor of more conference games,” Pederson said. “… We remain in favor of playing nine conference games and we could do it. The more you play people in your conference, the better it is for everybody. We’ll continue to have good discussions about that, and ultimately, what I’ve always hoped is we’ll do what’s in the best interest of the league, all the way around for everybody.”

The ACC title game: Commissioner John Swofford has said that if the conferences are given more autonomy, the ACC would reconsider how it handles its title game. That doesn't mean that the ACC would immediately scrap its divisions, or even change them. Instead, it means that the ACC would have more options in its scheduling. Division realignment hasn’t really gotten much traction in past meetings, in spite of much public debate over it.