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Wake Forest's John Currie discusses what's ahead in college athletics amid more realignment

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Athletics Director John Currie of Wake Forest said he wasn’t surprised to find out UCLA and Southern Cal jumped from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.

The ACC’s sky is not falling.

That’s the message that John Currie, the athletics director at Wake Forest, conveyed in a long interview earlier this week about the shuffling among conferences that’s gone on this summer in college athletics.

Another summer of realignment has UCLA and USC agreeing to jump from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, which set off a firestorm of possible ramifications to the SEC, Pac-12, the Big 12 and the ACC.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Power Five conferences dictated the pecking order in college football. The latest shuffling gives the Big Ten and the SEC a leg up on every other conference.

That doesn’t mean the ACC isn’t in good position to be that third conference among the big dogs.

Currie, who has been an athletics director for 13 years and has been at Wake Forest since 2019, was also AD at Kansas State and Tennessee.

Currie, who was attending The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention in Las Vegas earlier this week, picked up his award along with the 27 other AD’s who were honored for the 2021-22 academic year. The awards are given to ADs in seven divisions (NCAA FBS, FCS, Division I-AAA, II, III, NAIA/Other Four-Year Institutions and Junior College/Community college), and also winning was Boo Corrigan of N.C. State.

Here’s what Currie had to say about what’s happening with college athletics.

Q: What was you initial reaction when you heard UCLA and Southern Cal were joining the Big Ten?

A: “I was on a flight back from the convention, and I saw that in a tweet. And to be candid, I wasn’t surprised. But this is my 13th summer as an athletics director and this is the seventh summer that I’ve dealt with some kind of conference alignment issue. This has been going on for a long time, and the nature of the (TV) contracts, with the Pac-12 and the Big 12 expiring soon, I was not surprised.”

Q: Where do you see college athletics heading, especially in football?

A: “On the one hand, the experience and the opportunity and the value of college football for the student-athletes have never been greater. Certainty in the last 12 months as we’ve entered into the (name, image, likeness) era we’ve seen a shift in the way the model has changed. There are some questions, but this is still a part of higher education in the United States and for those that choose to play college football at the highest level these are all significant things. I don’t know how it will all work out but there is another stage of evolution that we are experiencing.”

Q: Where does the ACC go from here? There’s been so many scenarios and speculation about what’s next.

A: “I believe the ACC is in a really good position. There is the news with the two schools leaving the Pac-12, but the ACC has a lot of strategic advantages that benefit us right now. We have this great opportunity under the leadership of our commissioner, Jim Phillips, and our board of directors, and I just think this is a great opportunity.”

Q: I understand the 15 AD’s in the ACC meet on a regular basis to discuss a lot of conference issues. What was the takeaway from the latest news about realignment?

A: “We meet on a regular basis as does the board of directors, so that communication has continued. We’ve had some good dialogue. ... Throughout the history of our conference (which started in 1953) — and for certainly Wake Forest — there were always times that the sky was falling and it was all going to collapse. But we are in a great position as a conference, and every time the ACC has been able to get stronger. And where we sit with the ACC Network and where it sits and with everything else we’ve got a dynamic commissioner with strong values who has a great vision. We also have a strong commitment to each other and we want to continue to grow that.”

Q: The grant-of-rights contract that all ACC members are under stipulates that schools that leave before 2036 will have a $100 million or more buyout to leave. That is an obvious plus for the conference as it tries to stay together and possibly expand.

A: “That is a big part of all of this. That’s part of what gives us a great opportunity as this all evolves. The fact that it will be 14 years until that grant-of-rights expires, that gives us a big advantage. Our schools (which includes Notre Dame except for football) came together and elected to do that, and that happened because it’s a strong conference and we are in a very populated area here on the East Coast. There are a lot of positive variables that come together. And we’ve seen a lot of our schools step up their level of investment in football including Wake Forest. ... When we read articles about the demise of the ACC, it’s people throwing stuff out in the air with no regard to what the real facts are within the environment.”

Q: One report from Sports Illustrated says the ACC and the Pac-12 are in discussions with ESPN to form a TV deal that could bring the two conferences together as a way to combat what the Big 10 and SEC has done. What do you think of this possibility?

A: “I wouldn’t make any comment about what we may or may not be doing as a conference. What I will say is I trust our commissioner, and he’s been great with working with the chancellors and the presidents and the athletic directors on strategy. And, again, the ACC has a tremendous advantage. We have a lot of great schools, and the ACC has the best academic conference in the country, and that matters.”

Q: Are you at all worried about Wake Forest, which has one of the smallest enrollments and alumni bases in the Power Five, getting squeezed out?

A: “I’m not worried at all. Going back to 1953 and all those times Wake was going to get squeezed out. Now, here we are in 2022 with the best football program in the state coming off 11 wins last year and we have unbelievable facilities. We have as good of on-campus facilities as anybody in the country.”

Q: How do you continue to keep Wake Forest in the conversation? Is it about consistency in each and every program or does none of that matter at this point as college athletics is seemingly headed to two mega conferences?

A: “The Atlantic Coast Conference is one of the elite conferences in the country. Certainly, the Big Ten and the SEC have established significant positions from a financial standpoint, but there are a lot of ways to win ball games other than spend more money than everybody else. If it was all about the money the same teams would win every year. And certainly there are dominant schools in college athletics but when you look at the ACC I think there are only three or four schools in the lifetime of the championship game that haven’t been in that game. That’s pretty good balance.”

Q: I’m sure you’ve received questions from coaches, alumni and probably staff members at Wake Forest about all of this. Do you have a standard answer or is the word ‘fluid’ the best word to describe the future?

A: “What I would say is be very careful about internet speculation about this and that. So much of it is based upon supposition, inaccuracies and just plain wrong facts. This is a lot more complicated than getting out a map and coloring it in based upon where schools are located. I’m pretty numb to this because I’ve dealt with this for so long from the years in the Big 12 and when I was at Tennessee. It’s sort of like a coaching search because it’s great theatre to speculate about it and play that board game Stratego. It’s not Stratego, and it’s not a fantasy game. There are so many assumptions that are made that just aren’t true.

“So I would caution people to not be swept up with some of this doomsday proclamation of this school’s going to go here and this school’s going to go there. We’ve got a great league with a great commitment and a great partner with ESPN and we are going to continue to grow as a conference to give our student-athletes the best experience there. And I’ll say our focus is let’s get ready for our opening (Thursday) night against VMI on Sept. 1.”




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