Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford is retiring after the 2020-21 academic year, ending his tenure after 24 years.
The ACC announced Thursday that Swofford will continue as commissioner until his successor is in place and assist with the transition. Swofford said in a statement he and his wife, Nora, had been planning for “some time” for this be his final year.
Swofford, 71, has been commissioner of the ACC since 1997, the longest run in that position in the history of the 67-year-old conference.
The former North Carolina athletic director took over a nine-team, basketball-centric league. In the years that followed, Swofford directed the conference through multiple waves of expansion. The ACC grew to 12 teams and added a football championship game by 2005 and ultimately reached 15 schools in 10 states by 2013, with the addition of Notre Dame.
“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,” said Swofford, who also attended North Carolina and played football for the Tar Heels. “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.”
The conference also launched a television network last August, a project that Swofford spent years pursuing as the league hoped to close a growing financial gap with its Power Five conference peers.
He played a pivotal role in the development of the College Football Playoff, and was an early supporter for an expanded postseason to crown a champion along with late former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.
Five years before massive realignment swept across college, Swofford and the ACC moved to fortify the conference. The additions of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech pushed the ACC to 12 teams by 2005, but also damaged the rival Big East.
The league again lured teams out of the Big East, bringing in Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame in all ACC sponsored sports except football.
Those teams began league competition in 2013 to push the ACC to 15 teams. The ACC replaced Maryland – which announced in 2012 that it would leave for the Big Ten – with the addition of Louisville for the 2014-15 season.
With a conference footprint that spanned nearly the entire East Coast, the ACC Network became a viable option.
The network was part of an extended media deal with ESPN that runs through the 2035-36 season and included a grant-of-rights that helps bind conference members financially and protects the league from future realignment. Though uncertain times, Swofford helped the ACC find stability.
During Swofford’s tenure, the ACC won 92 team national championships in 19 of the league’s 27 sponsored sports. That included eight national men’s basketball championships between Duke, UNC, Maryland and Virginia, as well as four football national titles split between Florida State and Clemson.