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Today, I am happy to share our Community Interview with friend-of-the-newsletter, David Hale of ESPN. If you would like to be featured in a future Extra Points Community Interview, please fill out this quick form.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Reader Tyler asks:
How do you see the Jim Phillips era at the ACC being different from the previous administration? Are fans likely to notice any changes?
Hale: One word is at the top of Phillips' to-do list, and it's a big one: Revenue.
How much can be done in the near term to at least keep the ACC's revenue gap (it was the lowest payout of any P5 league for 2018-19) from widening is a big question, and odds are, the answer is, not much. I wouldn't be shocked to see the league move away from divisions or even move to a nine-game conference schedule in the next couple years, if only to create a deeper inventory of money games for TV networks. Still, from the feedback I've heard, that's not likely to make a major dent in the overall numbers.
When I talk to football coaches and a lot of ADs though, the thing I keep hearing is that they want Phillips to make a harder push to rebrand the league as a football conference than John Swofford was ever willing to do. Swofford, for all his successes, always tried to straddle the fence, because there are a lot of power brokers who are still basketball-first thinkers. But the reality is the overwhelming percentage of money comes from football, and Phillips needs to have the whole league thinking that way. It's going to be a big challenge.
Reader Evan asks:
Do you think Notre Dame's one year stint in the ACC will just be a funny historical footnote, or a sign of potentially bigger things between the two parties?
Hale” As I've dug around on the ACC's revenue gap with the Big Ten and SEC, one thing I've been told again and again by ADs both in and outside the league is that there's really little chance of a significant shift in money unless something massive happens.
Notre Dame joining the ACC full time would fit that bill.
A few very positive things happened for Notre Dame in 2020. First, the Irish played a full ACC schedule and the world didn't end. Second, the Irish made the College Football Playoff and had numerous high-profile league games. Third, the TV revenue the Irish will get from the season will be more than it had been getting before under their NBC contract. All of those things point to a good rationale for joining a league full-time when the NBC deal is up after the 2025 season.
But it's still Notre Dame we're talking about, and while the TV money might be better as part of a conference, the big-money donors aren't going to like the idea. Moreover, if money becomes the only driving force, Notre Dame could just as easily work to rid itself of its ACC tie-in and land in the Big Ten, which would return a good bit more money.
A number of ACC folks I've spoken with expressed frustration that Swofford didn't use his leverage in 2020 to force Notre Dame's hand. I'm not sure it would've mattered. The Irish still were holding more cards, big picture. In the end, I think the most likely path for Notre Dame to come on board full time would be a larger-scale shakeup in college football -- one that could see a playoff expansion that offered auto-bids to conference champs and/or significant realignment in which the ACC also worked to add Texas, Oklahoma or another big-name brand.
Reader Charles asks:
It was pretty easy to make fun of UNC for hiring Mack Brown, but by all indications, it's worked out really well, even when other retreads haven't. What did we miss? What did both parties do well that has allowed this hire to be successful?
Hale: The idea of head coach as CEO is probably a bit overdone, but there's something to be said about having a distinct vision and being capable of convincing others to buy into that vision.
The Venn diagram of skills between being a great coordinator and a great head coach really doesn't have much overlap, and even the guys who were successful at smaller schools aren't always prepared for the increased media scrutiny, the pressure of recruiting, dealing with a host of big-money boosters. I think too few schools are thinking about the skills necessary to succeed under their specific circumstances, and instead, just ask what the next hot name is.
And all of that underscores why Mack was such a good hire (and, admittedly, I was one of the ones laughing at the time). Mack knows UNC, knows what moves the needle, knows how to play the politics there with high school coaches to donors, and more than anything, he's a wonderful salesman. He has a vision, and he makes everyone around him think they're a key part of that vision. It's a rare skill, and he's genuinely great at it.
Reader Dan asks:
What's The Simpsons episode with the most quotable material that still holds up?
Hale: My favorite episode of all time is "Homie the Clown" and I quote it liberally, from "Who am I clowning? I have no business being a clown. I'm leaving the clowning business to all the other clowns in the clowning business" to "That's it, you've held me back long enough... I'm going to clown college!" to "I'm seeing double here! Four Krusties!" and I admittedly use these quotes at times when they may not be entirely appropriate, but they still make me laugh. However, the two lines I probably quote the most (and also that drive my wife crazy) are...
Whenever someone answers their own question: "Well, there's your answer, Fish Bulb" from In Marge We Trust and...
Whenever someone asks for something they could've done themselves: "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas" from Hurricane Neddy.
Oh, and of course, "My cat's breath smells like cat food." That's a catch-all. Works for all occasions.
Reader Caz asks:
Everybody knows about Cook-Out. What’s the ACC territory foodstuff that is worth celebrating that everybody doesn't know about?
Hale: Folks in ACC territory will be happy to tell you how great Publix subs are, but frankly, I'm not on that bandwagon. Too much bread. I grew up outside Philly and the rolls are everything. On the other hand, if we're talking supermarket options, Wegmans is creeping into ACC country, and it is the absolute best. Folks in Syracuse already know, but Wegmans recently opened its first location in Raleigh, and if there is a God, it'll at least make its way to Charlotte before too long.
A few others of note: Whataburger is a Texas thing, but the one in Tallahassee has served me well at 2 a.m. over the years. As a platinum member of the Wawa fan club, I'm legally barred from saying anything good about Sheetz or QT, but those both offer non-horrible highway options. And, of course, Waffle House is a staple.
The beauty of the ACC footprint, however, is its true diversity. You can get lobster rolls in Chestnut Hill, a Hot Brown with an ice-cold Ale 8 in Louisville, a half-dozen different kinds of BBQ (I'm anti-vinegar sauce but I'm not willing to die on that very violent hill) and a life-changing Cuban sandwich in Coral Gables. No other conference can boast that type of cuisine.
Extra Points Publisher Matt Brown asks:
It's easy to paint Dabo as some hopelessly out-of-touch Pinkerton. Hell, I've done that too….I’ve called him Jet Sweep Joel Osteen on Twitter more than once. You've covered him with more context than most national writers...is there something folks are missing about him when he talks about athlete rights or COVID or something that isn't coming across in interviews? Are we being unfair, or he is really like the quotes make him out to be?
Hale: I came to a realization about Dabo after Clemson's loss to Ohio State. In the aftermath of a wretched performance, he was still trying to paint a happy face on it. ("The good news is, a lot of people thought we wouldn't play this season at all," he said afterward.) Dabo is, at his absolute core, an optimist. I think he's genuinely incapable of dealing with a bad situation and not trying to find the good in it. And usually, that's a nice character trait. I think it's why people are drawn to him, why he recruits well, and why for years before Clemson was at the mountaintop, casual fans found him likable.
But the problem is, 2020 in particular, was not a time to find the good. People desperately wanted (needed?) Dabo to acknowledge the bad stuff. COVID couldn't be a thing you shrugged off (This Is Gonna End Real Soon). Racism and police brutality didn't have a silver lining ("Here's the good news... we all have a chance to learn from it.") We see the ways college athletes are exploited in the current system, and Dabo sees all the ways the system helped him change his life for the better.
So I don't think Dabo is a bad guy. I just think the world has changed a lot in the past five years, and his brand of blind optimism just doesn't fit in the context of riots and racism, and pandemics. I recently binged Ted Lasso, which is a wonderful show, and Ted is a tremendously likable character. But I remember thinking it seemed sort of forced that his wife wanted a divorce just because he was so upbeat -- the show searching for conflict to help define Ted as a three-dimensional human being.
The more I thought about it though, the more sense it made. We need acknowledgment of our suffering, and sadness, anger, and frustration aren't always bad things. They can be motivating, cleansing, and necessary. And that's where I think the perception of Dabo has shifted. He's still finding the silver linings while the rest of us are overwhelmed by genuinely facing these massive issues head-on.
Extra Points Publisher Matt Brown also asks:
What's something you've learned over the last two years of covering this sport that you didn't know before? What is still surprising you?
Hale: This past year has been eye-opening on a lot of levels, but two things really stood out. First, I hate Zoom. I miss people. The thing I love about this job is it affords me the chance to step into other people's lives for just a little bit and help tell their stories, and it's just not the same trying to do that via video or phone calls. The connections we make with people are just so much stronger when we're standing face to face. I genuinely cannot wait until that happens again.
But the bigger thing -- the thing that continues to surprise me -- is just how amazing the athletes I cover really are. We have a tendency to refer to them as "kids" because they're in college. I have a habit of viewing their lives through the prism of my own college experience (and I was a total screw-up). We see what they do on a football field or a basketball court, and we forget about all the things that matter to them when they're not playing their sport. Talking to the men and women who've made this past year work against all odds, who've stood up and spoken out about race and poverty and policing and mental health and dozens of other difficult topics... well, I'm routinely amazed and ashamed that I didn't give them more credit before.
We're lucky to get to do this, because I'm always learning something new from the folks I get to talk to. It's a great gig.
Finally, we’ll let y’all out of here on this one.
Reader Doug asks:
Why is Pitt?
Hale: Nietzsche says that "to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." Pitt fans have truly lived. Whether or not you survive is dependent on how meaningful you think it is to be angry drunk at 5 p.m. on a Saturday.
Hail to Pitt, baby.
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