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Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson on NCAA leadership and NIL

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ACC Media Days Football

'You have everybody in silos making decisions that are best for their silo that isn't in the best interest of college football as a whole,' Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson says of conference realignment.

CHARLOTTE — Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson needed only minimal prodding to discuss the college sports landscape, particularly amid the disruptions his sport is leading.

He chuckled at a question, then paused to gather steam for his response.

“I didn’t want to go there,” he told journalists Wednesday at the ACC Kickoff, “but I’m going to go there.”

Count Clawson, the Demon Deacons’ ninth-year leader, among those who see a leadership void in the NCAA, specifically for football, and also among coaches who see other football programs using name, image and likeness legislation as pay-for-play.

“It would be nice if at some point that we had a commissioner or we had a leadership board that was making decisions that are good to grow the entire game of college football and not just have it isolated to a handful of conferences or a handful of institutions,” Clawson said.

He wasn’t finding fault with, for example, commissioners of the Southeastern or Big Ten conferences, which are emerging as college sports’ two powerhouse leagues because of the amount of money TV networks are willing to pay to broadcast their games.

“Your job is to protect your institution and your athletics department,” said Clawson, the ACC’s coach of the year in 2021 after guiding Wake Forest to an 11-3 record and a Gator Bowl victory. “The problem is there’s no oversight or no leadership that’s doing what’s best for the whole game. They’re eliminating people, and it’s going to be denying access, and I don’t think that’s good for the health overall of college football.”

The Big Ten Conference recently announced the additions of Southern California and UCLA from the Pac-12 Conference, effective in 2024. Those moves come one summer after Oklahoma and Texas announced plans to leave the Big 12 Conference to go to the SEC as soon as 2024.

Now other leagues, including the ACC, are trying to determine how to close the gap in revenues, driven by TV networks, generated by the Big Ten and SEC.

Clawson’s points, echoing some of ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips’ thoughts earlier in the morning, suggest that college sports has left leagues and universities to fend for themselves.

“You have everybody in silos making decisions that are best for their silo that isn’t in the best interest of college football as a whole,” Clawson said. “And it would be great if the people who are in charge of the conferences, in charge of the institutions, can get together somehow and say, ‘Hey, there’s a way of growing this thing all together that’s going to be good for everybody.’ The NFL did that. That’s why in the NFL, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers get the same revenue from media. In baseball, that hasn’t happened. What the NFL has done has benefited everybody there.”

The Top Hat Collective, not affiliated with Wake Forest, helps Demon Deacons athletes and with name, image and likeness opportunities and is funded by fans, sponsors and supporters. But now the NCAA is tasked with regulating such collectives so that they are not used as payments for recruits to attend or for athletes to continue attending a university.

Clawson appears skeptical of how NIL, which became effective in July 2021, is being managed elsewhere.

“With NIL, there’s rules, and there’s a spirit of the rules,” Clawson said. “And, obviously, the way it’s being executed right now wasn’t the way it was intended.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a recruiting inducement,” he added. “And that’s exactly what it’s become. They were very straightforward that this is what it’s for, this is not what it’s for. And clearly people are using it to recruit people. And they’re not being shy about promoting that.

“When teams announce collectives that are going to pay every player on the team X amount of money, and they’re not shy about broadcasting that, that was never the intent of it. And if that’s the direction we’re going, then fine, just tell us and say, ‘Those are the rules,’ so we’re all playing on a level playing field.

“At Wake Forest, we’re going to focus on our model. And that’s always been recruit, retain, develop. The value of our degree, I think, keeps people there. I’d like to think the culture of our program, that we have suffered a lot less losses in the transfer portal than most schools. If you look at it nationally, we’re still in the very low end of players who have left. And part of it is that they value the degree they’re going to get, and they enjoy their experience.”

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