By Lauren Brownlow, WRALSportsFan columnist/reporter
ACC commissioner John Swofford will retire in June 2021, the league announced today in a release.
The ACC has had just four commissioners since its inception in 1953, and Swofford will leave his post as the longest-tenured commissioner, having served 24 years in the role.
Swofford presided over the league’s transition into the modern era of college athletics, expanding the league from nine to eventually 15 members. The ACC now has the “largest geographical footprint and population” among the Power 5 leagues, per the ACC’s release, which also added: “Expansion allowed the league to secure its future through the grant of media rights, creation of the ACC Football Championship Game, an invaluable partnership with the Orange Bowl, and joining with ESPN in August 2019 to establish the ACC Network, which provides fans exceptional access to live events via a comprehensive, multi-platform network.”
Swofford took over the position as commissioner in 1997 after having served as North Carolina’s athletic director previously. Swofford, a native of North Wilkesboro, went to UNC as a Morehead Scholar and played quarterback for the Tar Heels as well.
After his football playing days were over, Swofford got a Master’s degree in Athletics Administration at Ohio University and took his first job in sports at the University of Virginia, working under Gene Corrigan, who would also go on to be an ACC commissioner. Gene’s son, Boo, is now NC State’s athletic director.
Swofford was named UNC’s athletic director in 1980 and stayed in that role for 17 years before taking the ACC’s head job. At North Carolina, the teams he oversaw won more ACC and NCAA championships than under any other athletic director in ACC history, the release says. UNC had gone without a national title in any sport when Swofford took over in 1957 and won at least one every year of Swofford’s tenure, finishing with 17.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of the ACC for over five decades and my respect and appreciation for those associated with the league throughout its history is immeasurable,” Swofford said, according to the release. “Having been an ACC student-athlete, athletics director and commissioner has been an absolute honor. There are immediate challenges that face not only college athletics, but our entire country, and I will continue to do my very best to help guide the conference in these unprecedented times through the remainder of my tenure. Nora and I have been planning for this to be my last year for some time and I look forward to enjoying the remarkable friendships and memories I’ve been blessed with long after I leave this chair.”
Swofford not only orchestrated ACC expansion, but he also helped with the concept of the College Football Playoff and even played a role in starting the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in basketball. The ACC’s release states his accomplishments over the last 23 years as putting the ACC “at the forefront of college athletics”, having won 92 national team titles in 19 of the league’s 27 sports.
UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams praised Swofford for his work as commissioner.
“John Swofford is the best commissioner I ever worked with in 32 years as a head coach,” Williams said. “He truly has the best interests of student-athletes on his mind at every moment. He cares about people – whether they are players, coaches, administrators or student managers – he’s a people person. Wanda and I wish John and Nora a great retirement and hope they have a lot of fun from the very first day.
“I’ve known John since we were in college together, and worked with him when he began his administrative career in athletics as the business manager and I was an assistant with Coach Smith. He is genuinely a great individual and one I am very happy to call a close friend.”
Kent Syverud, Chancellor of Syracuse University and the Chair of the ACC Board of Directors, praised Commissioner Swofford’s character and service.
“John Swofford, in his historic tenure, has come to embody the very best of the ACC,” Syracuse University Chancellor and Chair of the ACC Board of Directors Kent Syverud said in the release. “The Conference has been dramatically enhanced in every way during the last quarter century, especially in its balance of academics and athletics. All 15 Presidents of the Conference, like their universities, are deeply grateful to John for his transformative leadership.”
The release also states that Swofford will serve in his role as commissioner until a replacement is named and assist in the transition.