By R.L. Bynum

CHARLOTTE — As the ACC forges ahead toward what everybody hopes will be a normal football season, Commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday at the ACC Kickoff that more than half of the league’s football programs have reached an 85% vaccination rate, with other programs close.

UNC coach Mack Brown said that the Tar Heels’ program has not yet reached that level.

“We’re not at 85% for herd immunity with the entire team yet,” Brown said. “We’re getting close. We have encouraged everybody to get it.

“Some, as we know, across our country and our world do not want to get it,” he said. “We understand that. That’s fair. Our job is to educate; their job is to make personal decisions. That’s the way we do for the NFL; that’s the way we do with everyone in our program.”

The Southeastern Conference has said that any school in its league that can’t play a scheduled league game because of COVID-19 protocols will forfeit and that there will be no postponements. Phillips says that the ACC won’t determine how the league will handle that situation for a couple of weeks.

“I think there’s some more information that we’re going to be able to gather. I think we’ll understand the variant a little bit,” Phillips said. “It’s really the recommendation of our medical group along with our ADs and our presidents. There’s direct alignment that, at least this week, we didn’t need to make that kind of statement. It will be forthcoming. We certainly will be transparent when that decision is made and let everybody know.”

He is hoping, though, that those situations don’t come up.

“It would break my heart, as it did in the summer, for any of our teams to miss a game because of positive tests,” Phillips said, referring to the COVID-19 issues that forced N.C. State’s baseball team to exit the College World Series.

“I believe that vaccinations are critical to the protection of all, and the key to eliminating COVID-19,” Phillips said. “But I also deeply respect that getting vaccinated is a personal choice.”

Phillips said that vaccinations and all COVID-19 policies will remain at the discretion of each school.

Wednesday was the first of two days of the first ACC Kickoff press gathering in two years. It was the first ACC press availability in any sport that wasn’t held over Zoom since the day that the 2019 ACC basketball tournament ended prematurely.

A big difference is that the commissioner’s address was from Phillips, the former athletics director at Northwestern, and not longtime commissioner John Swofford.

Among the topics Phillips covered:

— After one season of Notre Dame playing football in the league, Phillips said he wasn’t sure what the chances were that the Irish would join the league permanently in the sport. Interestingly, the Notre Dame logo was behind Phillips but, obviously, the Irish head coach and players aren’t in Charlotte.

“Notre Dame knows that the ACC has interest but presently has made it clear that they value independent status in football,” he said.

— Phillips said that there needs to be a national standard on players’ rights to benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) but said that college sports must address anti-trust concerns before reaching a national NIL plan.

“I think there’s incredible opportunities for our student-athletes coming,” he said. “But we need a national standard. Everyone expects us to play a national competition schedule. We go all over the 50 states. Not having a national standard will cause major disruption. You are already seeing across the country the wide-ranging disparity at times, depending on what state you’re in, what people are able to do.”

— Phillips said it’s time to take a look at NCAA governance with no predetermined outcomes.

“This is the right time to have a complete, holistic review of the NCAA leadership and structure and what we want to do moving forward,” Phillips said.

— The ACC Network still doesn’t have a carriage deal with the Comcast cable system, which is a source of frustration for many fans. This will only increase with the announcement Wednesday that the Boston College at Clemson game on Oct. 2 and the Notre Dame at Virginia Tech game on Oct. 9 will air on ACC Network.

“This is something that we are working diligently on and we understand, as a conference, that we can only go far with the current situation,” Phillips said, adding that the league will “never be the conference we hope to be” without resolving distribution issues.

— The MVP of the ACC’s football championship game will be given the John D. Swofford Award, named after the league’s longtime commissioner.

ACC pool photo by Grant Halverson

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