Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED E ven if John Swofford never intended to add another chapter to his al- ready impressive legacy dur- ing the closing months of his 24-year career as ACC Com- missioner, the COVID-19 pan- demic left him no choice. Ready to ride into the sunset upon retirement this spring, Swofford instead dove into the final and greatest challenge of his tenure. • Swofford nailed it in July when he negotiated and reached an agreement that would boost his league's pro- file and provide Notre Dame a lifeline by inviting the Irish into the ACC for one season as an honorary football member. • And after adding Notre Dame for 2020, Swofford nailed it when he replaced the two- division (Coastal and Atlantic) standings format that deter- mines the ACC Championship Game participants with one that reserved those spots for the two conference teams among its 15 football members with the best league records. • Not done yet, Swofford nailed it again in August when he unveiled an aggressive but workable scheduling plan that included flexibility through a couple of built-in bye-week dates to reschedule inevitable COVID-19 postponements. • And finally, Swofford nailed it on Dec. 1 when he announced the cancellation of seemingly meaning- less makeup games on Dec. 12 for Notre Dame at Wake Forest and for Clemson at Florida State. Swofford did suffer some blowback from the University of Miami over the final of his decisions. University reps complained that canceling those games for Notre Dame and Clemson was preferential treatment because Miami still had to play North Car- olina on Dec. 12 to fill out its nine- game regular season while the other two teams in the running for an ACC Championship Game berth enjoyed an unexpected bye that weekend. That complaint became moot after the Hurricanes (7-2) were handed their second league loss of the season in a 62-26 drubbing by North Caro- lina, a beatdown that made Notre Dame (10-0) and Clemson (9-1) the two outright ACC title game partici- pants — no tiebreakers needed. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey also piled on, complaining that Swof- ford's cancellation of two regular- season games for the ACC's top two teams was nothing more than invest- ment insurance to shield then-No. 2 Notre Dame and then-No. 3 Clem- son from a potential upset that likely would've dropped one or both from College Football Playoff consideration. "It begs one question," Sankey said to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, "if the [ACC's] two most highly ranked teams were, for instance, [ranked] five and six in the CFP rankings, would this decision have been made?" Clemson head coach Dabo Swin- ney was quick to pour cold water on the hot takes from Sankey and the Miami reps, arguing that if a six-win Ohio State team was playoff eligible and worthy, then two ACC teams that played 11 games — and there- fore survived almost twice as many on- and off-field risks as the Buck- eyes faced this season — both built stronger playoff profiles, despite myriad lobbying and postur- ing from other conferences. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren became so anxious and frantic trying to cram the Buckeyes into the four-team CFP mix after opening his foot- ball season six weeks after the ACC started play, he amended the preseason requirement of playing at least six regular- season games to be eligible for the conference championship game to five games. Ohio State (6-0) benefited from the move, won the Big Te n C h a m p i o n s h i p , a n d earned a playoff invite with five fewer games played and four fewer games won com- pared to 10-1 Notre Dame and Clemson. To suggest that Swofford didn't weigh his decision to cancel the final regular-season games for Notre Dame and Clemson without a nothing-to-gain everything-to-lose viewpoint would be naive. Asking coaches and players from the league's two best teams to leave their COVID bubbles the week before the ACC Championship to travel and play in "who-cares" games — Notre Dame and Clemson were each listed as more than four-touchdown favor- ites — was a risk Swofford wisely decided wasn't worth taking. And because of Swofford's fore- sight in the preseason, a workable plan in-season, and some smart de- cisions for the postseason, COVID- ravaged Wake Forest was the only league team to play fewer than nine league games, and the ACC qualified two teams in the CFP for the first time in conference history. All of this serves as a fitting sendoff after Swofford handled this unpre- dictable 2020 football season better than any conference commissioner in the country, and for providing Notre Dame a path to its second playoff ap- pearance in three seasons. ✦ Leadership Kept ACC Football On Track In 2020 UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Less than a year before his retirement, veteran ACC commissioner John Swofford faced his toughest challenges and made all the right calls. PHOTO COURTESY THEACC.COM

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