Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford strolled the regal halls of the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island this week like a man with not a care in the world.
And why shouldn’t he?
In a period of 10 months, the 64-year-old Swofford has changed the tide of not only his league, but that of an entire college athletic landscape. That wasn’t the case this time last year when a cloud of concern and anxiousness hung thick over these same spring meetings.
Conference realignment news overshadowed much of those meetings leaving Swofford to spend much of his time easing the concerns of school presidents and nervous athletic directors all the while reassuring everyone that good things were on the horizon for the league.
Swofford was able to look back over the past 12-months this week with a bit of a smile.
“League-wise, we’ve had a lot of good things happen over the past year,” Swofford said in a one-on-one interview with the Sentinel Tuesday.
“From the Orange Bowl agreement which was very important to our league and our status in the College Football Playoff system, which is on equal footing with any other major conference, to Pitt and Syracuse … to Notre Dame last fall and that agreement.”
There were defeats as well.
Maryland, a founding member of the ACC since 1953, announced that it was leaving the league in 2014 to join the Big Ten. It was only the second time in 60 years that the conference lost a member (South Carolina left the ACC in 1971).
Yet it was Swofford who led the charge several weeks later to add Louisville as a replacement, a move that looks like a home run for the ACC with the Cardinals recent run of success.
“You don’t like to lose a founding member and it doesn’t happen very often …” Swofford said. “But I think we moved on quickly from that in terms of Louisville as they are our next member and they have had a heck of a year, athletically.
“I would like to say I knew they were going to win the Sugar Bowl and the national championship in basketball and go to the Final Four in women’s basketball, but that would be a stretch,” Swofford said with a laugh.
All those moves alone would have been major accomplishments in and off themselves, but Swofford was far from done. For it was Swofford who was front and center last month when the league announced that all current and future members agreed to a grant of rights deal that all but guarantees stability in the conference at least for the next 14 years.
The move came out of the blue and led some in the media to compare Swofford to a ‘ninja’ for his stealth in making the deal.
The agreement will more than likely bring conference realignment to a halt at least amongst the Big Five power conferences
“Certainly it was a big positive for the ACC,” Swofford added. “Hopefully it’s a big positive from a national perspective because I believe people in general are ready for that [conference realignment] to slow down.
Certainly in terms of the current membership of the five power conferences, I guess if somebody wanted to grow further they could do so with teams from outside of the power conferences but I would be surprised if there would be any eminent movement within the five power conferences.”
The grant of rights provides the ACC with some stability, which opened the door for the league to begin discussions with its primary television partner, ESPN on whether a possible digital network similar to the one the SEC will debut in 2014 is viable commodity for the league.
Until then, Swofford looks back on a sea of change that his conference has ridden out over the past year.
“It is a lot of change … ,” Swofford said. “This job has been about managing change. Not only my job but I mean other commissioner’s jobs as well.”
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