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ACC’s Jim Phillips on FSU-Louisville football, Charlotte’s shot at basketball tourney

Jim Phillips has a sweeping view from his office on the 12th floor of the Legacy Union’s Bank of America tower, a view that includes Bank of America Stadium itself.

The ACC commissioner and his staff of about 50 people are now ensconced in their new headquarters in Charlotte. At 8 p.m. Saturday, at that stadium one block away, the ACC football championship will be contested: This year it pits 12-0 Florida State vs. 10-2 Louisville.

That game is only one strand, though, in the rope that is tying the ACC and the city of Charlotte closer together.

“You have to be an owner in your own city,” Phillips said in an interview as we sat in that office Wednesday. “An owner with championships. An owner with bowl games. You can’t be a renter in your own city. You have to own.”

In other words, more ACC championships will be contested in Charlotte — not just the championship football game, which will be played here every year through at least 2030.

The men’s basketball tournament, always a crown jewel for the league, hasn’t been played in Charlotte since 2019. The 2024 tournament is already slated for Washington, D.C.

But 2025 and forward are up for grabs, and Phillips said he would like to make an announcement in December in which the ACC will award the next “3-5 years” worth of men’s basketball tournaments to various cities.

Charlotte is widely considered to be the favorite for the 2025 men’s basketball tournament. Greensboro is also heavily in the mix in the next cycle.

And although Phillips wouldn’t guarantee that Charlotte is getting the 2025 men’s tournament, he did say: “It’s important for Charlotte to absolutely be part of the rotation in the future of ACC basketball, for men and for women. So we will do that. ... You have to have a home base to me, and a place that you rotate out of occasionally. ... Listening to the membership, meaning that our presidents and athletic directors and coaches, they really like Charlotte and they like North Carolina.”

Charlotte also will be in line for various other ACC championships in the future, perhaps like baseball or soccer or lacrosse.

“There are nearly 100,000 alums ACC alums in the Charlotte area,” Phillips pointed out, adding that figure is higher than the number of ACC alums in either the Research Triangle or the Triad.

As for the outcome of Saturday night’s football game, Phillips is steadfastly neutral.

It would undoubtedly be better for the league as a whole, though, for Florida State to win and then advance as one of four teams in the College Football Playoff. Louisville is likely headed for the Orange Bowl, win or lose.

The crowd for Saturday night won’t be as big as it has been in some years. The ACC championship game has averaged nearly 70,000 fans per game when played in Charlotte and has sold out five times in the Queen City.

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips secures his speech following his address to the media during the ACC Men’s Tip-Off event at the Hilton Charlotte Uptown Hotel on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 in Charlotte, NC.
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips secures his speech following his address to the media during the ACC Men’s Tip-Off event at the Hilton Charlotte Uptown Hotel on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 in Charlotte, NC.

Tallahassee, though, is 440 miles from Charlotte, and Louisville is 470. Having N.C. State, UNC, Duke, Virginia Tech, or Clemson in the game would have helped the attendance. All five schools have campuses much closer to Charlotte, and all finished .500 or better in league play but sustained a couple of key losses at the wrong time.

Although Phillips said he hadn’t heard a projected attendance for this year’s title game, I’ve heard from reliable sources that there will be far more FSU fans than Louisville fans in the crowd, and that the game will be fortunate if it draws 50,000 people.

Phillips, of course, is bullish on the matchup, as college commissioners are wont to be.

“They’ve earned the right,” Phillips said of FSU and Louisville. “They’ve both had terrific seasons, in the conference and non-conference. I mean, you have two top-15 teams (FSU is No. 4 and Louisville is No. 15 in the latest AP poll).”

Phillips works constantly on keeping the conference united in these uncertain times. Florida State and Clemson have made noise about possibly leaving, although Phillips said he’s “very confident” both will stay. The ACC will expand from 15 to 18 teams for the 2024-25 school year, with SMU, California and Stanford making the “Atlantic Coast Conference” label a misnomer.

As someone who grew up on ACC basketball in the 1970s and 1980s and remembers all the words to the “Sail with the Pilot” jingle, I’m not fond of these additions.

But, said Phillips of today’s conference climate: “You either stand still and you get absorbed, or you move forward, and you absorb. So I think it’s going to work out very well.

“Listen,” Phillips continued, “there’s a traditionalist in all of us. I wish we could play football just every Saturday afternoon and never play it any other day of the week. Right? But that’s just the evolution of college sports. And I really feel good about where the ACC is headed.”