ACC Football Kickoff Notebook: Duke and UNC

Jul. 22, 2013 @ 12:02 AM

As Haydn “Fats” Thomas’ name became a regular part of Triangle sports fans’ conversations this summer, Duke’s football staff took steps to ensure there we no negative issues with the Durham-based party planner and the Blue Devils.

Thomas is a convicted felon who is tied to rental cars that North Carolina basketball star P.J. Hairston was driving when he was twice stopped and ticketed by police. That situation has raised legal and NCAA issues for the Tar Heels that have yet to be resolved.

Former Duke running back Desmond Scott, a Durham native and former Hillside High School star, has been loosely tied to Thomas as they were included on joint Twitter messages. Scott also has a cousin who works in the party planning industry.

So Duke’s staff, led by head coach David Cutcliffe, held a team meeting with the football team to gauge any involvement the players may have had with Thomas, from attending the parties the company he works for, Kiss Entertainment, plans to developing a relationship with him that’s similar to Hairston’s.

Duke quarterback Anthony Boone was among about half of the players who had a similar reaction.

“I had never heard of him,” Boone said Sunday at the ACC Football Kickoff. “I was the guy who was like, ‘Who’s Fats? Who is that?’ I got up to speed on who this guy is.”

The goal of the meeting was awareness, reminding the players to be careful about the relationships they maintain and the places they go.

Boone said he’s never been to any of the parties and he’s confident his teammates will make the right decisions.

“It’s one of those things where some guys have got to be mature and be smart enough to stay away from those things,” Boone said. “Coach Cut does a good job of getting guys with character. The guys who we thought had character but didn’t aren’t here. We really don’t have those kinds of problems.”

DUKE-UNC SCHEDULING

Duke and North Carolina traditionally end the ACC regular-season basketball schedule in both men’s and women’s play by facing off against each other.

In football that’s also been the case, with the notable exception of last year’s 33-30 Duke win on Oct. 20 at Wallace Wade Stadium.

With all the changes in college athletics, discussions are underway which could determine if the Duke-UNC football game will be a Thanksgiving weekend fixture or find a place on another part of the football calendar.

On Sunday, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said one of the subjects league officials are mulling in light of the expansion to 15 schools is how to deal with special rivalry games.

Several ACC teams have games with traditional rivals from the SEC that are played on Thanksgiving weekend. Those include Florida-Florida State, Georgia Tech-Georgia and South Carolina-Clemson.

In most cases, Duke-UNC is played the same weekend as those games. That could continue, but there’s a chance it won’t.

“I don’t know that they would all be non-conference games, but we are having some good discussions about having traditional season-ending games,” Swofford said. “Some would be non-conference, some would be conference. So those discussions are going on, yes, for the future.”

One complication is how to determine which rivalry game works for each school. N.C. State, from the Atlantic Division, and UNC of the Coastal Division are annual divisional crossover opponents. There is logic to having that game be the regular-season ending matchup while Duke would play its annual crossover opponent, Wake Forest.

Or the crossover weekend could be set up in a different month, which would allow for UNC and Duke to play Thanksgiving weekend.

Swofford said the five games Notre Dame has agreed to play against ACC teams each season is another factor to consider.

“There’s some natural flow to all of our football scheduling right now in the sense that we’re incorporating the five games a year that our teams will be playing against Notre Dame,” Swofford said, “and it shouldn’t be too terribly long before we have who’s playing whom in what years through that entire cycle.”

ALL-IN OR HALF-IN?

While Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski may not be comfortable with Notre Dame entering the ACC but not playing football in the league, Swofford said Sunday that opinion is not shared by most in the league.

Last year, Swofford brokered the deal that brought Notre Dame in the ACC in all sports the league sponsors except football. The Irish will play five games against ACC teams each season, starting in 2014, but they’ll keep their independence and their lucrative exclusive television deal with NBC.

Speaking to the New York Post earlier this month, Krzyzewski said that deal doesn’t sit well with him.

“I think you can’t do something for one that you’re not willing to do for all in these type of situations,” Krzyzewski said “I would never have accepted personally them coming in and not being totally in.

“Why don’t Duke and North Carolina do something different in basketball? I mean it’s not right. I’m happy that they’re part of it I’m just not happy the way that they’re apart of it. They (Notre Dame) add value but, just being old-fashioned, (if) we’re playing cards, we all get five cards. That’s why they were never a member of the Big Ten.”

On Sunday, Swofford said the deal is good for the ACC and reminded everyone that the league presidents voted unanimously to add the Irish under these conditions.

“I’m really pleased, and I know the vast majority of people in our league are very pleased that Notre Dame is a part of the ACC family,” Swofford said. “Under the conditions that they’re currently under, and certainly if they ever make the decision to join football-wise during that period of time, they would be welcome with open arms.”

COMING AND GOING

Syracuse and Pittsburgh made their debuts at the ACC Kickoff event, while Maryland was making its final appearance.

Terrapins cornerback Dexter McDougle said the team is prepared to deal with hostile receptions from opposing fans.

“Already last year when we would go to stadiums, we would get booed,” McDougle said. “You would hear the chanting: “ACC, ACC.” I can only imagine what it will be like this year — it will probably be like that times 10. But we’ll be ready for it.”

McDougle said he was as shocked as anyone when the Terrapins, one of the ACC’s founding members, announced it was moving to the Big 10 starting in 2014.

“I’m just focusing on leaving the ACC with a bang,” McDougle said.