Beyond the ACCtion: 'Access' Is The Key Word At ACC Football Kickoff

July 22, 2012

Steve Phillips, Associate Director of Communications for the Atlantic Coast Conference, takes you Beyond the ACCtion in Greensboro for the 2012 ACC Kickoff - the league's annual football media event.

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – A glance at the calendar shows six weeks remaining until the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference football season.

But for the league’s head coaches, select student-athletes and the media, the kickoff literally occurs this weekend.

The 2012 ACC Football Kickoff is being held today and Monday at Grandover Resort, and the 41st version promises to be the most heavily attended and most informative yet.

In terms of media access, it is difficult to top what the two-day event has to offer. In addition to interviews with the head coach and two student-athletes from each of the ACC’s 12 schools, media in attendance will partake in numerous photo opportunities, ACC Commissioner John Swofford’s annual Football Forum and informational sessions with Doug Rhoads, the ACC’s Coordinator of Football Officials.

Throw in the annual Skeeter Francis Golf Outing on Monday morning, and it comes as little surprise that when it comes to conference events, the ACC Football kickoff is topped only by the ACC Football Championship Game and the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in terms of credentialed media. A total of 365 media credentials had been issued as of Friday. Add bowl game representatives, sponsors and other assorted VIPs, plus ACC staff members, and the expected attendance swells to well over 500.

And by Monday night, the start of the ACC football preseason will have been covered from every conceivable angle.

Thanks to live streaming of comments from players and coaches via theACC.com (Sunday and Monday) and live conversations with head coaches and Commissioner Swofford aboard the ESPN College Football Bus (Monday afternoon), viewers will be provided with immediate insight. ESPN commentators scheduled to attend include Matt Millen, Jesse Palmer and Joe Schad.

Schad, who covers preseason football media events nationwide, is appreciative of the structured yet relaxed feel of the ACC Kickoff.

“I enjoy that I get a chance to visit with coaches and players in casual settings such as outdoor dinners,” Schad said. “And the fact that North Carolina is beautiful makes it a pleasure to visit. “

Raycom Sports producer Rob Reichley also cited the accessibility of the coaches and players during the Kickoff as the network prepares for its weekly coverage during the season.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a ‘friendlier’ atmosphere, but you get a chance to interact with the players and coaches more,” Reichley said. “You get the chance to sit with them at a meal or maybe to play golf – I played with Coach (Tom) O’Brien (of NC State) last year. The coaches and players are just more accessible than in some other conferences where you basically don’t see them except when they come in for their interviews.”

Though Raycom travels to each of the ACC’s 12 campuses prior to the start of the season, Reichley said the ACC Kickoff is invaluable for gathering preseason material.

“Even though we visit each of the schools, the timing doesn’t always work out to where you get everything you need,” Reichley said. “This provides another opportunity to gather material we will use for our preseason show in August, as well as on into the season.”

The ACC Digital Network (ACCDN) debuted last fall and will be making its first Kickoff appearance. ACCDN’s coverage plans include roundtable discussions with student-athletes and ACC coaches Frank Spaziani (Boston College), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), David Cutcliffe (Duke), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Al Golden (Miami) and Mike London (Virginia).

“This is a great opportunity for us,” said ACCDN executive producer Andy Siegel. “We are going to be sitting down with coaches and getting a rare opportunity to hear their thoughts as they are interacting with each other and some of their perspectives on the game as a whole, the conference as a whole, the sport and the world as a whole.

“So rarely do we catch these guys out of their element, and this gives them an opportunity to enjoy each others’ company and to speak to each other and to ACC fans, but not in sound-bite form. We want it to be free-flowing and enjoyable.”

ACCDN’s student-athlete roundtable discussions will feature two groups of three quarterbacks (Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington, North Carolina’s Bryn Renner and Wake Forest’s Tanner Price; Florida State’s EJ Manuel, NC State’s Mike Glennon and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas) and one group of defensive linemen (Clemson’s Mallichia Goodman, Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins and Maryland’s Joe Vellano).

“These are men that are peers of each other and play sports at the highest level, but they are also young men who are student athletes and all that entrails,” Siegel said. “We are hoping to strike a balance where they will be able to talk and share their experiences. We’re hoping they will ignore the cameras and really engage each other.”

Siegel said that the roundtable discussions will be available on ACCDN closer to actual start of the season.

“We will try to strategically place them as we get closer to our countdown of ‘The 12 Days of ACC Football,’ ” Siegel said. “We want to take some time to put our special production elements into them and make them as good as they can possibly be.”

But with host Jeff Fischel and former Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner providing the talent, ACCDN’s on-the-spot weekend coverage won’t be lacking.

“We’re going to be producing nothing short of 24 pieces of original content between Saturday and Monday – and that’s at a minimum,” Siegel vowed. “And the amount of material we are going to bring back for later use … I think it’s unprecedented.”

Live coverage will also abound from “radio row,” which this year has grown to 16 broadcast outlets representing most of the conference’s geographic footprint. And has been the custom in recent years, instantaneous coverage will also be provided from all corners via Facebook, Twitter and countless website bloggers.

Several local television stations will roll into Grandover before sunrise on Monday for live morning show interviews with several head coaches, Commissioner Swofford and ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Kelly. Plans call for the first interviews to hit the airwaves at 5:15 a.m.

Newspapers from throughout the ACC area will also be attendance. Many writers are Kickoff veterans, such as Charlottesville Daily Progress columnist Jerry Ratcliffe, who is attending the event for the 36th consecutive year.

“Many times I’ve been able to squirrel away material for use later on (in the season),’ Ratcliffe said. “For instance, when Frank Spaziani was named Boston College’s coach a few years ago and they were going to play Virginia for the first time in three or four years, I sat down and talked to Spaz about what it was like during his days (as an assistant) at Virginia and what he learned under George Welsh.

“I was able to write a nice feature story on him the week Virginia played BC, which was fairly late in the season, as I recall. A lot of times you can get stuff like that and use it for a feature story or a column later in the year. It might mean more to your readers then than it would immediately after the kickoff.”

Ratcliffe said such stories would not be possible without the aforementioned access the ACC Football Kickoff provides.

“A lot of these guys’ schedules are so busy once the season starts, the only access you may get with them is through the (ACC) teleconference,” Ratcliffe said. “But usually that is only about 10 minutes, and there may be national writers asking questions about topics that have no interest to your local readers. You may be only able to get one question in, and it’s hard to write a story off that. (The Kickoff) is kind of crucial, really, if you’re trying to do something more.”

There is only one downside in Ratcliffe’s view. He knows he will leave Monday night with volumes of interviews to transcribe.

“Between the commissioner, the coaches and the players, at least eight hours – and maybe even double that,” Ratcliffe said. “Every writer’s worst nightmare is transcribing. But it’s worth it.”