ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, perhaps not surprisingly, hid behind a prepared statement to cut off questions from the media at the 2023 ACC Football Kickoff on the hazing scandal at Northwestern, where he served as athletics director for 13 years.
“This is a very difficult time for the Northwestern community, and my heart goes out to any person who carries the burden of mistreatment or who has been harmed in any way. During my 30-year career in college athletics, my highest priority has always been the health and safety of all student-athletes,” said Phillips, who was hired by the ACC for the commissioner job in December 2020, and took over as the commish the following February, after having served as director of athletics at Northwestern from 2008-2021.
“As you know, with this matter in litigation, I’m unable to share anything more at this time. I’m happy to address your questions about the ACC and ACC football,” Phillips said.
That was it.
The scandal at his last stop, meanwhile, seems to deepen with each passing day. It started with revelations about sexualized hazing involving the Northwestern football program that now, we’re being told, date to the late 1990s.
An investigation by the school into that led to the dismissal of Pat Fitzgerald, a star linebacker for the school in the 1990s who had been the head coach of the football program since 2006.
Phillips has been named in one of the lawsuits filed related to the football scandal, which you’d have to expect. It’s hard to imagine, with what we are coming to know about the extent of the hazing activities, that there wasn’t something in terms of information about what was going on that filtered its way to the top, and if it didn’t, blissful ignorance of what was going on inside the athletics department’s biggest and most important program wouldn’t be much of a defense.
And it’s not just football. A cheerleader filed a sexual harassment suit against the school in 2021, saying positions on the cheerleading team “were conditioned on pleasing and being groped by wealthy older men and intoxicated fans for the purpose of encouraging donations to the University and supporting Northwestern Football.”
Another suit has been filed by a volleyball player alleging that she was injured in early 2021 while engaging in a conditioning drill in forced on her as a punishment by coaches.
The school has also fired its baseball coach, Jim Foster, after a year on the job after an investigation into his tenure found that he had made racist statements and discouraged players from reporting their injuries.
Phillips didn’t hire Foster, and the volleyball suit involved something that took place a few weeks after he’d left Northwestern to take the ACC job, so you can’t hang those things on the commish.
But it would be fair to want to at least ask Phillips to address the toxicity in and around the football program dating back more than 20 years now.
He said in his prepared statement that he is “unable” to talk about Northwestern because of the pending litigation, which isn’t true at all.
Nothing about the pending litigation prevents him from talking.
His lawyers might be telling him that it’s not wise to talk, to put things on the record that he might have to address later on in a legal proceeding.
But aren’t we assuming there, if he’s being advised against talking on the record, that whatever he’d have to say could be, you know, bad for him?
His silence on the Northwestern issues, aside from his prepared statement in which he said, effectively, nothing, might speak volumes.