ACC commissioner John Swofford engineered the league's growth to include Notre Dame

The Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford addresses the media during a press conference at the Blue Zone in Kenan Stadium, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2012, Chapel Hill, NC. The Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents has unanimously voted to accept the University of Notre Dame as a new member. The Irish will compete as full members in all conference sponsored sports with the exception of football which will play five games annually against league programs. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/ (Sara D. Davis, Daily Press / September 12, 2012)

ACC commissioner John Swofford was portrayed as a modern-day Nero at the fiddle. The conference’s presidents were mocked for their joint statement of solidarity.

No matter what Swofford did or CEOs said, the ACC was on life support.

The Big Ten was going to pilfer some combination of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State were SEC-bound, with Florida State and Clemson headed to the Big 12.

The chatter was loud, it was incessant, and it was fueled by media, fans and rival leagues.

No matter that it was shallow, ill-informed and just plain wrong. Only one event could silence the speculation: a grant of media rights.

Monday, the presidents of the ACC’s 15 current and future members announced they have signed such a document, assuring the conference stability through at least 2027, affirming Swofford’s stealth leadership and bringing some sanity to the national realignment craze.

“It is one of the great days in the history of our conference as it shows the highest level of commitment — not by words, but by actions,” Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement.

“A milestone agreement,” Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said.

“Monumental,” echoed Duke athletic director Kevin White, while his North Carolina counterpart, Bubba Cunningham, used “strong and definitive.”

These men, not given to exaggeration, are right, and here’s why:

 A grant of rights binds each school’s share of conference media revenue to the league for the term of the agreement. Moreover, a departing school brings no media value to its new conference home.

For example, the ACC deal is effective immediately and runs through the 2026-27 academic year. Multiply those 14 years times the $20 million-plus each school will receive annually from the conference’s partnership with ESPN, and you get almost $300 million that an institution would forfeit by departing.

The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pacific 12 have similar arrangements.

The ACC’s $20 million-plus per-school projection is about $3 million more than the contract the league and ESPN brokered a year ago. This reflects the conference’s addition of Notre Dame for sports other than football, and the Fighting Irish’s agreement to play five football games annually against ACC opponents.

And more money likely is in the pipeline as the conference and ESPN continue exploring the creation of an ACC cable channel similar to the Big Ten Network.

“I think this is a signal that there’s an opportunity,” Littlepage said, “and there’s probably increasing interest on the part of our TV partners to see what the possibilities are. They can look at the next (14) years and know with certainty who is in the ACC.”

Uncertainty began nearly a year ago when the chairman of Florida State’s Board of Trustees blistered the ACC’s new ESPN contract as inadequate. Although his points of contention were largely inaccurate, media pronounced the Seminoles as good as gone.

In November, Maryland blindsided the conference by bolting for the Big Ten. Yet even as the ACC replaced the Terps with powerful Louisville, and even as the conference’s presidents issued a statement of solidarity, ACC-bashing remained en vogue.

Littlepage dealt with the fallout frequently as media continued to report that Virginia was pondering a move to for the Big Ten.

“My answer was always the same: ‘There’s no merit,’” Littlepage said, “and it was almost a feeling of nobody believes (me). Once credibility was being questioned … it was difficult and it was frustrating. …