TI: Today there was a report from Orangebloods.com that said there's been informal contact between the Big 12 and Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Miami. Your response?
PHILLIPS: "There's no substance with regard to a report like that."
TI: So there's been no contact?
PHILLIPS: "There's no substance to it."
TI: Last summer there was reporting and speculation about Clemson jumping to the SEC, and you said at the time it was ridiculous and nothing more than rumors. Same story this time around with the Big 12?
PHILLIPS: "The thing with Florida State, that obviously came up with the comments made out of Florida. I guess we were in Amelia Island this time last week. So this is something that's reared its head by virtue of those comments, and then subsequently the president as well as the athletic director made their comments. And there's a lot of conjecture.
"The thing about it is - in the ACC, for example - we've got colleagues and friends all across the country that you always talk to. So I just don't want things to be misconstrued."
TI: You have colleagues and friends --
PHILLIPS: "We all do in the league. We're not just isolated talking only to people in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But this is something that's interesting that reared its head that was unaware it was going to rear its head."
TI: You have some pretty close ties with Big 12 folks from your Southwest Conference and Big 12 days. Have you spoken with Chuck Neinas (interim Big 12 commissioner) recently?
PHILLIPS: "I'm not going to get into who I talk with and who I don't talk with."
TI: In the past, when talking about coaching searches or salaries or whatever, you've talked about benchmarking and metrics and surveying the marketplace. Is there anyone at Clemson who has studied the marketplace with regard to Clemson's positioning in the ACC versus other conferences?
PHILLIPS: "When you say positioning, what do you mean?"
TI: Possibilities as far as what Clemson is making now versus what it could make in other conferences. Various analyses, I guess you could say.
PHILLIPS: "First of all, with regard to conference contracts, that's one of the questions out there is what exactly is in the ACC contract. We don't have a contract in our office here. The conference offices keep those contracts. They're not subject to FOIA. You can determine where you are by looking at tax returns. They've got the final tax return. But it doesn't give you the specific provisions of the contract. So you can do some analysis to see where financially you may be relative to the conference distribution of another university by looking at the tax returns. But that doesn't give you the complete picture, the provisions and how they're getting to what they're getting to and what's all included in it. Because distribution is more than just the TV contract. It's championship game, it's tournament, it's an assortment of things.
"So you do look at those things. Katie (Hill) certainly looks at those things. She's got an excellent background with regard to what the SEC does as far as her working at Arkansas and handling the financials of the athletic department there, working with the SEC. And those of us that have had ties with other universities, you can pick up the phone and call a colleague and say, 'What do y'all get here?' But that's a one-on-one kind of thing."
TI: What kind of conversations have taken place at Clemson since Friday's news that the SEC and Big 12 released the news of their bowl game?
PHILLIPS: "Conversations with who?"
TI: Conversations between you and trustees, President Barker. It seems that the news got a lot of people's attention and people are uneasy.
PHILLIPS: "Well it did. It's been less than a week, hasn't it?"
PHILLIPS: "When things like this occur, I know there's a lot of reaction. But sometimes you simply don't have all the information to react. I don't know a lot of what occurred, why the chair of the board at Florida State felt compelled to make the statements that he made. I have seen the written statements from the president at Florida State, and I've heard what the athletic director, Randy Spetman, has said with regard to the position they're in.
"I've had requests - and I think this will be a good exercise - I've had requests, 'OK, let's get all the conference contracts and go through all the provisions and let's do an analysis.' Which I think is a very good recommendation. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But first of all you've got to get access to the contract if you can. Now how do you go about doing that? I'm not real sure. Because as a general rule, if the contract was on a college campus you could FOIA and get it. And then it's going to be - you're going to have to have an attorney sit down and go provision by provision to really understand the differences and the nuances in the contracts, because they're not all written the same, so you can better understand the numbers. But you can't do that in three or four days. You simply can't do that."
TI: Beyond the numbers and the analysis and all that, it seems the essence of the SEC/Big 12 bowl news was that you had two power conferences aligning themselves with each other and people now say it's the "Big Four" and the ACC is on the outside looking in. I'm just wondering what kind of conversations have been taking place here since the announcement in reaction to that kind of perception, whether it's legitimate or not.
PHILLIPS: "Sure. And that's a fair question. First of all, when you're in a conference, you want the conference to be successful. You want to take every action that you can to help the conference be successful. And you want to be a really good team member of the conference. And that's what we're trying to do.
"By the same token, not only Clemson University but every university is going to look out for their best interests. And the first part of that equation is, you want to do everything in your power for your conference that you're affiliated with to be very successful. And that's what we want to see happen here. But again, every university - doesn't matter who, whether in this league or any other league - every other university is going to operate and look and ask the question: 'What's in our best interest?' And that's not just Clemson. That's everybody. The Fighting Irish over there (pointing toward Bourret, a Notre Dame graduate), they've had a lot of opportunities. But I think they go through the same analysis: 'What's in the best interest of Notre Dame?'
"Ultimately, with regard to issues that arise, you are a team player. You want to do everything you can for your conference to be successful. But you can't just look at things without understanding that you're ultimately going to have to work in the best interests of your institution. And that's not only Clemson University. That's everybody."
TI: What is the best interest of Clemson University?
PHILLIPS: "The best interest is football has got to be strong. Got to be very strong. And we've got to have a place at the table as these playoff discussions are going forward. It's very important that we be at the table."
TI: At the table meaning the ACC champion needs to be protected?
PHILLIPS: "I'm just saying that the ACC needs to be a strong and viable part of any and every discussion dealing with the BCS and playoffs."
TI: What is your confidence right now that will be the case?
PHILLIPS: "Well that's conjecture. I don't want to get into that. I'm not trying to avoid the question - well I guess maybe I am. But what I am confident of at this juncture is the ACC, they're going to be looking and turning every stone they can. Because they reacted to the SEC and Big 12 situation, and this is not one of those situations where you sit back and say, 'Well, that's a pretty good idea,' and then not do anything about it. We've got to be proactive."
TI: We picked up some information that there was a teleconference among ACC athletics directors shortly after Friday's announcement from the SEC and Big 12. Is that accurate?
PHILLIPS: "Yes. I was in an IPTAY Board meeting and I got the message that there was a conference call, so I left the IPTAY meeting and took part in it."
TI: Can you share details about the teleconference?
PHILLIPS: "No, I really can't comment on what was said other than - the essence is, the league is committed to doing what needs to be done to be a strong and viable member of this coalition."
TI: I don't know if you've talked to trustees or anything like that over the last few days. But if you have, what's the level of concern you're hearing from some of the higher-ups at Clemson?
PHILLIPS: "I think anytime you look at the landscape and you feel like it's going to impact your program, you bet there's concern. And I share that concern."
TI: What concerns you the most?
PHILLIPS: "What concerns me the most is to ensure that our program is in a position where it will be a strong and viable member and have every opportunity for our teams to compete for a national championship if we merit it. And again, you're going back to asking the question about the conference's reaction to the SEC/Big 12 alignment: Their reaction was the same: We've got to do what we need to do for football to be strong and be at this table. And don't ask me what that is, because I'm not sure what that is right now. If I did, that's what we'd be doing right now."
TI: And that's the ACC's responsibility, right?
PHILLIPS: "No. I think it's all of our responsibility. I think we all need to be pushing this to get it to where, again, we don't lose our opportunity to compete at the very highest level in the country -- and again, if merited, have an opportunity to win football national championships in the ACC. "
TI: When you, in your mind, come up with the biggest reasons that the ACC is in the predicament it's in now, how much do you put on lack of achievement on the field, and how much do you put on the ACC's alleged lack of emphasis on football?
PHILLIPS: "It's a performance issue. And I think Dabo said it best at the conference meeting. I think he put things in perspective. Because the conversation was going something like, 'We start off with a disadvantage because we don't get the early preseason hype and rankings. So they stay up there and we move up a little bit here.' And Dabo said, 'Well, before we fell off toward the end (in 2011), when we were 8-0 I think we were fifth in the BCS. We were in the hunt. We had a chance very possibly to play for a national championship this past year.' And that's what we're saying is, we've always got to be part of this configuration where if your team puts you in a position to have a chance to play for the national championship, we need to have a great shot at being able to do that.
"And that's why football is so doggone important. And the ACC recognizes that. Now keep in mind - now this is just a percent that I heard based upon a question that was asked - but in this TV contract, football counts for right at 80 percent. So that's how important it is. And then the other thing that came up at the meeting is that in the contract - and I haven't seen the provisions, but this is what we've reported out - but there's five-year and 10-year look-ins so that at the end of five years, we have an opportunity to step back and say, 'OK, this is what we've done, this is the bowl game we participated in, and if we had someone in the national championship game.' And it's going to enhance your value in that contract. And that's a great opportunity. In 10 years, you've got the same thing.
"But it's performance. And again, going back to Dabo's example, had we finished out like we started, we'd have had a great shot to play for the national championship."
TI: But if we're talking a few years down the road, if Florida State isn't here, you take them out of the strength-of-schedule equation. You also might not have a second attractive non-conference opponent because of the nine-game ACC schedule. Just saying the schedule strength might not be what it was last year.
PHILLIPS: "Well you always have to look at your strength of schedule. And that's what we tried here. That's why we're keeping the Georgia game. We've always tried to schedule attractive non-conference games in addition to South Carolina. We had Georgia coming up, we had Ole Miss, we've got Oklahoma State. No, we understand that our schedule has got to be good and solid and strong.
"But at the end of the day - we can sit here and cut it and slice it any way you want to - but we understand football has got to be very strong. There's a significant commitment historically and culturally and financially to football at Clemson University. We've got to do everything we can to protect it."
TI: If football is so important to the ACC, how did they add the nine-game conference schedule?
PHILLIPS: "I'm not going to get into that. I can't answer that."
TI: If football is so important to the ACC, how did they not take West Virginia last year?
PHILLIPS: "You need to ask the commissioner."
TI: We spoke with David Wilkins last week, and he said if Clemson "gets any direct overtures from any conference, Clemson is going to take it up and consider it and do what's best for Clemson." Is that pretty much the message you're projecting?
PHILLIPS: "Well, I wasn't aware the chairman had made a statement like that or made that statement. But again, at the end of the day, every university - not just Clemson University - they're always going to work in their best interest. That's the way it is. And it's not only athletically, but it's academically as well. There are certain things that drive universities, and again, at the end of the day, regardless of the circumstance you find yourself in, at the end of the day, universities are going to step back and say, 'OK, what's in the best interest?'"
TI: Was the nine-game ACC schedule voted on?
PHILLIPS: "It was. There were discussions on it. But when it was voted on, there were probably ramifications that weren't fully discussed."
TI: What does the SEC/Big 12 alliance mean for the ACC's bowl prospects? The ACC has already lost the Gator Bowl. Have you thought about that?
PHILLIPS: "What they've done is a good, strategic move to protect their champion if their champion is not in the playoffs, or aligned your top-level schools from the year. So strategically, it's a good move.
"With regard to the ACC, I suspect that there's already conversations taking place similar to an alignment such as that. But beyond that, I can't tell you what those conversations may be right now. That'd be commissioner to commissioner. But again, the situation is not one where you say, 'Well, that's a pretty good move,' and not do anything about it. On some of these things, there's got to be some counterpunching done - and must be done."
TI: Clemson fans, as you might expect, are pretty consumed by this Big 12 stuff. How much of your recent days have been spent thinking about this stuff?
PHILLIPS: "I don't think you could not think about the stuff when you have leadership of another university in your league indicate that they have an interest in going somewhere. And I think it certainly caught the attention of the conference membership. But there's not a whole lot further that can really be said that I haven't already said. Because the bottom line is this: We're in the Atlantic Coast Conference. We want to do everything we can for it to be successful. But at the end of the day, Clemson University has got to look out for its best interest. And really, it's not just Clemson. It's every team in the league. But I'm just speaking as the athletic director at Clemson that we have to look at our best interests. And it's no different, again - Notre Dame, there's a reason they do what they do. And there's a reason other universities do what they do. Because every university wants to be successful, and if there's an impediment to success then you've got to address it."
TI: Was Florida State's dissatisfaction news to you when you heard it?
PHILLIPS: "Yes it was."
TI: Were you surprised?
PHILLIPS: "Yeah, certainly I was surprised."
TI: Clemson seems to be in a very good financial situation with its reserves. No such problems here compared to Florida State and it's $2.4 million budget shortfalls?
PHILLIPS: "We don't have the same issues as Florida State, in that regard."
TI: In what regard do you have the same issues?
PHILLIPS: "That we want to be as good as we can be."
TI: This is Florida State's business, so maybe it's outside of your realm and you don't want to talk about it. But a lot of people look at them and say, "My gosh, $2.4 million in the hole? How does that happen?" Any idea how that happened?
PHILLIPS: "They have a very good following. I don't know the ins and outs of what has occurred at Florida State. It'd be conjecture."
TI: I'm guessing you favor the champs-only model for a playoff?
PHILLIPS: "I like it because it certainly makes your regular season very, very relevant. But now whether the champs-only will pass through, I suspect it probably won't. I think you're probably going to have the hybrid where you select at least one team that might not be the champion."
TI: With regard to the ACC's seat at the table, how important is the seat at the table with regard to deciding how to divvy up all the money that will come from the playoff?
PHILLIPS: "They touched on that at the conference meeting, but there wasn't any financials presented because they don't have the financials just yet. And Bill Hancock with the BCS, he came down and presented what the discussions have been thus far. And of course, John Swofford is a member of that group that's putting it together."
TI: But it seems the big question centers on how the money will be divided.
PHILLIPS: "Well, your participating schools are going to get the greater part of it. And that's why you need to be successful and be a factor in the race. There will be some revenues that will be shared with the other conferences, but the key is you've got to have the opportunity to be in those playoffs."
TI: What do you say to fans who say the ACC is not serious about football, and Clemson needs to go to the Big 12?
PHILLIPS: "I'm not going to comment on that."
TI: You were up for the Big 12 commissioner job five, six years ago, correct?
PHILLIPS: "I was asked if I wanted to be part of that process and I elected not to."
PHILLIPS: "Family is here. Great place to live. And I continue to believe there's a great opportunity here. We're very happy here."
TI: Has Clemson formally notified the ACC that you are exploring options with other conferences?
PHILLIPS: "I haven't said that. I said every school including Clemson will operate in their best interest. There's nothing to report."
TI: There was a report that said Clemson and Florida State formally notified the ACC that they planned to explore options with other conferences.
PHILLIPS: "I'm not aware of that report."
TI: So that hasn't happened?
PHILLIPS: "No, it has not happened. And I'm not aware of that report."