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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The ACC has plenty to brag about, but it has much to be embarrassed about as well.
The ACC is coming off a 2016-17 school year that was highlighted by Clemson winning the College Football Playoff national championship; Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy; and North Carolina winning the NCAA men 's basketball championship.
"We're enjoying unprecedented success," ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday in a news conference at the league's football media days at a Charlotte hotel. "The past year certainly is one of the league's most successful years and possibly the most successful year that our league has ever had."
But the league's reputation has suffered some hits in the past year for sagas ranging from the "WakeyLeaks" football scandal to the escorts that were hired for Louisville men's basketball recruits to the ongoing investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina.
"It's a world of more and more pressure to win," Swofford said when asked about those incidents. "There are human beings that are in all of these roles and unfortunately, us human beings make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes they're little ones. Sometimes they're big ones. It'd be nice not to have any of those."
How does the league try to pursue success without suffering such damage to its image?
"The first thing you do is consistently and constantly talk about the importance of balance of academics, athletics and integrity," Swofford said. "Those are the foundation blocks of this league. They have been for many, many years. That hasn't changed. And when any of us fall short in regard to that, then it's a disappointment without question."
In December, the ACC fined Louisville and Virginia Tech $25,000 apiece for their roles in "WakeyLeaks." An investigation revealed those two schools and Army received football game plan information from then-Wake Forest radio analyst Tommy Elrod. Virginia Tech got the information in 2014, Louisville in 2016 and Army in both years. Louisville suspended offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway for its bowl game last season for receiving the information. Georgia fined Hokies-turned-Bulldogs assistant Shane Beamer for receiving the information while he was at Virginia Tech.
Last month, the NCAA put the Louisville men's basketball program on probation over the hiring of escorts to hold sex parties and strip for some Louisville players and recruits from 2010-14. Louisville (which joined the ACC in the summer of 2014) will lose some scholarships and will have to vacate some wins. Coach Rick Pitino was suspended for five games, although he has said he did not know what his then-director of basketball operations Andre McGee was up to.
The NCAA has been investigating North Carolina for years about irregular independent-study courses. The NCAA has charged UNC with lack of institutional control and other offenses.
Swofford said after his news conference Thursday that the ACC is not "going backwards" in its commitment to ethical behavior.
"You have individuals that get off track and make decisions you wish they hadn't made. It's not the whole league," Swofford said. "It's a particular institution that has a particular problem, and usually it's a particular individual."
How does Swofford make sure the message trickles down to every individual at every ACC school that although winning is important, member schools should not act unethically to try to beat each other, as in the case of "WakeyLeaks," or bring in strippers for recruits, as Louisville did?
"It's got to be a consistent message that never goes away, even when there's not a problem," Swofford said. "You have to rely on the institutions to get the message throughout their programs. Most of the time, our institutions have been very successful with that. Every now and then, you have situations you don't want to have - human beings stepping off the right track."
Swofford said that when a school has a problem, it eventually addresses its fellow ACC members to explain what happened and what is being done to correct it.
"That's really based on learning something from it and other schools learning how to avoid it," Swofford said.
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