ACC Commissioner John Swofford will retire after the 2020-21 season, the conference announced Thursday.
Swofford, 71, will have served 24 years as head of ACC, the longest serving commissioner in league history.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of the ACC for more than five decades and my respect and appreciation for those associated with the league throughout its history is immeasurable,” Swofford said in a statement. “To have been an ACC student athlete, athletics director and commissioner has been an absolute honor. There are immediate challenges facing not only college athletics, but our entire country, and I will continue to do my best to help guide the conference in These times. unprecedented for the remainder of my term.
“Nora [Swofford’s wife] And I have been planning this to be my last year for some time and I look forward to enjoying the remarkable friendships and memories that I have been blessed with long after leaving this chair. “
Athletic directors were informed of the decision Thursday morning before ACC made the announcement public.
When Swofford was hired in April 1997, ACC was a nine-member league that was primarily known as a basketball conference. Over the course of his career, Swofford transformed the conference through multiple waves of expansion, first adding Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech in 2004-05.
In 2012, when nationwide expansion threatened ACC’s existence, Swofford set to work again to save the league. He made up for the loss of Maryland with the addition of Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse and kept the state of Florida in the conference despite speculation that he had an interest in joining the Big 12. But more than that, Swofford made all league members accept a rights agreement grant to secure the future of the conference and keep potential suitors away. The ACC also added Notre Dame in all sports except soccer, and organized a programming partnership between league teams and the Fighting Irish that also allowed the league to improve its bowl lineup.
All of this enabled ACC to secure a long-term television partnership with ESPN and create the ACC network, which launched last year. As it stands, ACC is a 15-member league and has the largest geographic presence of any conference in the country.
“John Swofford, in his historic term, has come to embody the best of ACC,” Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a statement. “The Conference has been dramatically improved in every way over the past quarter century, especially in its balance of academics and athletics. The 15 Conference Presidents, like their universities, are deeply grateful to John for his transformative leadership.”
Swofford was also instrumental in creating the College Football Playoff as one of the first proponents of a playoff system. He and then-SEC commissioner Mike Slive proposed a model plus one to expand BCS in 2008, but the plan was received with little support. Swofford never gave up, despite telling ESPN in 2014 that it was sometimes hard to believe they would ever make the playoffs.
“There were a few times in those discussions where you got a little bit worn out and wondered, ‘I don’t know if we can figure this out or not,'” Swofford said. “But we were walking away from him, and once we reasonably got into the conversations, we had a feeling that, ‘Look, we’ve gone too far. We have to figure this out. We’re leaving it up to the entire college football community. And that’s what took us. “
Since the playoff began in 2014, the ACC has had a team that makes the playoffs of four teams every year: Florida State in 2014 and Clemson every year since.
The ACC remains an inexhaustible source of basketball, but Swofford understood that football had to be amplified in a way that it was not when it came as commissioner. He urged athletic directors to invest in soccer, and there have been many accomplishments in the sport in the past seven years.
But the league is more than just basketball and soccer. In the past 23 years, the ACC has won 92 national team titles in 19 of the 27 sports sponsored by the league.
Swofford’s commitment to not only reinvent the conference, but to uphold all sports is profound. He grew up in the ACC country in North Carolina and played as a quarterback and defense for the Tar Heels, earning an ACC title in 1971. He served as the school’s athletic director for 17 years from 1980 before taking the ACC job. .
He also worked for Virginia as his first job in college athletics. She never had a job outside of the ACC footprint.