If this is how Jim Phillips operates in the ACC, the Big Ten shouldn't want him as commissioner
With Kevin Warren officially taking over as president of the Chicago Bears on April 17, the Big Ten is still searching for its next commissioner.
No announcement has been made yet. But any shortlist of candidates invariably includes ACC commissioner Jim Phillips. Phillips has experience in the league, serving as Northwestern’s athletic director for 13 years before taking over atop the ACC.
But given his recent tact and excuse-making in defending his current league, I’m not so sure that’s the type of leadership the B1G should be looking for in the rough-and-tumble coming decade.
Phillips, you see, is up in arms over the Big Ten and SEC getting more teams into the NCAA Tournament than the ACC for the second straight season.
Rather than admitting the product could use an upgrade — the ACC had 5 teams with 13 wins or fewer last year and 3 teams with 11 wins or fewer this season — Phillips insists the problem is “narrative.”
“We have to portray ourselves in a different way,” Phillips told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson. “And maybe it’s our scheduling, maybe it’s our providing information back to the committee, but we’re going to be aggressive in how we look at it — but we’re also going to be proactive.
“We feel the narrative hasn’t been quite right the last 2 years. We’re going to try to do something about that in the offseason.”
Phillips is adamant that the selection committee relies too much on … data.
“We’re paying too much attention to the NET,” Phillips said. “I’m just not there on that.”
He thinks that the “eye test” should be the primary standard.
“In the end, the greatest thing we have in that committee is the eye test,” Phillips said. “And I think that’s been ignored. Go sit down and watch these games and watch who the best players are.”
Of the 15 players to be named AP or National Association of Basketball Coaches all-Americans, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot was the lone representative from the ACC. He was 3rd team on both.
Sounds like the committee did watch who and where the best players were. Not enough of them are in the ACC right now, which is a far cry from historical standards.
The only reason Phillips isn’t sold on NET is because it doesn’t benefit his teams. He’d undoubtedly be singing its praises if that wasn’t the case.
North Carolina went 1-9 against Quad 1 teams this year, which is why the Tar Heels were rightfully left out of the tournament. Clemson was a far better 4-4 against Quad 1, but doomed by its 4 losses to Quad 3 and 4 opponents.
Want to make the Tournament? Don’t lose to a 10-21 Loyola Chicago team by 18 damn points.
Granted, that Clemson loss was in December.
And in Phillips’ mind, that means it shouldn’t really count.
“So much is put into that early season,” Phillips lamented. “The rosters aren’t the same as they’ve been in the past. Teams don’t look the same in November, December as they do in February and March, so this idea the conference cannibalizes each other, we’re going to have to really look at the nonconference.
“I’m not sure you can take as much merit from a game in November as you can late in the year. There’s a process going on for us as conferences and individual schools and with the committee.
“This new day of college basketball is really present, and the influx of roster changes really does differentiate between a team that’s returning 7 or 8 in the fall versus somebody that has 7 or 8 new players that’s going to look quite different at the end of the year.”
Does he really think the ACC is the only league breaking in new rosters early in the season? Everyone is working from the same disadvantage.
In fact, the 2 teams he felt were wrongfully left out of the tournament were quite experienced.
For example, the bad Loyola team that stomped Clemson was 253rd nationally in minutes continuity from last season. The Tigers, on the other hand, were 140th.
And the entire reason North Carolina was the preseason No. 1 was because it had so many players returning. The Tar Heels brought back 69.2% of last year’s minutes, which ranked 15th in the country.
To put Carolina’s 4-game losing streak in late November and early December under the umbrella of “breaking in new players” is a bigger load of crap than the one Jeff Goldblum encountered in Jurassic Park.
March success masks ACC issues
Phillips is able to hide behind this nonsense because ACC teams produce in March. The league’s bottom is a wet paper bag, but its best teams still pack a punch.
A year ago, 3 of the 5 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament reached the Elite Eight, with Duke and North Carolina meeting in the Final Four.
This season, Miami is keeping the illusion of superiority alive with its own Final Four run.
But the Hurricanes were also the only ACC team to get to the second weekend — same number as the Ivy League and Conference USA.
And, of course, the Big Ten.
Which is precisely why the B1G doesn’t need Phillips coming in and making excuses for what’s been happening to the league in March. It needs a leader who will figure out how to change that luck.
In the mid-2010s, SEC basketball outside of Kentucky stunk. There was even a Twitter hashtag, #SECBasketballFever, that would pop up any time SEC teams lost to low-major opponents in the non-conference schedule. Which was quite often.
Rather than resting on the laurels of Kentucky’s success and using it to prop other SEC teams into the Tourney, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as a basketball consultant in 2016.
The SEC went from 3 teams in the 2016 Tournament to 5 teams in 2017 to 8 in 2018. There have never been fewer than 6 SEC teams in the tournament since.
They didn’t change the narrative. They changed the product.
If Phillips was proactive, he would be concerned about how a brand name like Louisville could finish a season with 4 wins. Or that Florida State only won 2 games in its non-conference schedule. That Notre Dame went 3-17 in the ACC. Or that Syracuse dropped off so precipitously the past couple years that Jim Boeheim was unceremoniously shoved out the door into the Central New York cold.
Rather than bitching about NET, maybe try getting better at the system.
Phillips instead chooses to be reactive and defensive. He can hide behind ACC teams having postseason success. Frame it as big meanies picking on the ACC while ignoring the actual issue.
A conference is only as strong as its weakest links. And for most of its history, the ACC hasn’t had any. But it does now. Its commissioner just won’t admit it.
There’s a reason the West Coast Conference as a whole isn’t measured by Gonzaga’s success alone. And that no one is using Florida Atlantic’s run as a referendum to place more Conference USA teams in the Tourney.
For the Big Ten, the message should ring loud and clear.
Let Phillips stay in the ACC. Better leadership can be found.