Back to March 2008 home page 

Personnel file - March 2008: sports

John Swofford, Commissioner
Atlantic Coast Conference, Greensboro

Some critics called John Swofford greedy. Others labeled the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference a fool. Leaders at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill questioned whether his expansion plan would hurt their student-athletes, as administrators piously insist on calling them. That had to sting someone who likes to believe that he works for the good of the kids.

But 2½ years after the league’s addition of Boston College and 3½ after bringing aboard University of Miami and Virginia Tech, expansion looks like a success; complaints, at least, have quieted. The league entered two big media markets — New England and South Florida — and muscled up for negotiations with broadcasters. Administrators insist that a carefully crafted schedule prevents athletes from missing too many classes. “There’s no question that we’re in a much stronger position — in the marketplace, competitively in all sports and from a revenue standpoint,” says Swofford, who has been the ACC commissioner since July 1997, when he took the job after 17 years as athletic director at Carolina.

Looking back, he understands his critics’ concerns. They worried about the league’s record of combining Top 25 sports with academic excellence, which few schools can do. Boston College fit but seemed too far away. Miami, however, was distant from the Carolinian core of the conference and dogged by a reputation as a party school. “The surprise to many people was how far the University of Miami had come academically,” Swofford says. U.S. News & World Report ranks it 52nd in the nation, ahead of ACC charter members Clemson and Maryland.

Swofford, 59, says that he little minded the sometimes tetchy debate that led to expansion. Playing diplomat is part of his job. “This isn’t a dictatorship. You’re constantly working with 12 institutions and their presidents, faculty, athletic directors and coaches. You have to spend a lot of time and energy putting yourself in other people’s shoes.”