A JERSEY GUY: ACC's Swofford Having a Very Good Year; Will It Be His Last?

Mark Blaudschun

NEW ORLEANS--It was the summer of 1969 and John Swofford was between his sophomore and junior years at the University of North Carolina.

Swofford, the youngest of four brothers, was a star, who came out of the Northwest corner of North Carolina as the quintessential jock from North Wilksboro.

He was an MVP in football, basketball and track and on an athletic scholarship as a quarterback at the University of North Carolina.

But at this point in his life, Swofford, whose athletic success would continue to blossom as an administrator--Athletic Director of North Carolina at 31, and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner since 1997-- was not a ROCK star

That title would apply to his older brother Bill, who was in the early stages of a musical career as a singer named Oliver (Bill's middle name), who had achieved success with such songs as Jean and Good Morning Starshine (Google it for more details).

"Bill offered me a job as sort of a roadie on his summer tour that year,''said Swofford on Sunday morning, after watching the final press conference of Clemson coach Dabo Sinney and LSU Coach Ed Orgeron before Monday nights CFP national championship game. "He was having a lot of success in the entertainment business, with two straight gold records.

"It was a great summer. Bill and I were close. We went everywhere from Carnegie Hall in New York City to the Montana State Fair and every place in between. It was an amazing education for me and it brings back a lot of great memories.''

Oliver's musical career faded and 20 years ago he passed away, but Swofford still carries tunes in his head, along with the memories.

"All of my brothers were good athletes and they all had musical talent,'' said Swofford. "One played the trombone, another (Bill) played the guitar and sang. By the time it got to me, all the musical talent in the family had been distributed. I sang in the shower.''

Swofford's talents were displayed in other areas. He still is the only athlete from North Wilksboro High to ever have his number retired.

And now, after 23 years on the job, he has emerged as the dean of the Power 5 conference commissioners, and is currently riding a streak, which has ACC teams as defending national champions in football (Clemson), men's basketball (Virginia) and men's lacrosse (Virginia), winter, spring, fall trifecta.

Swofford has been part of the process in which the ACC has morphed from a 9-team basketball dominated league into a 14 (15 in basketball) mega-conference.

"It was challenging,'' conceded Swofford, in talking about the ACC's growth from 9-teams. "We felt, as a league, we had to expand the footprint to be one of the more prominent conferences in the country.”

"If we didn't do it, we wouldn't be able to be where we wanted to be. We were a basketball-centric league, we had some success, but not nearly as many as in basketball. We had to get better in football and not damage basketball. I think it's fair to say we have been able to accomplish those things.''

Swofford concedes that the ACC's expansion and raiding (primarily from the Big East) was as much of a survival tactic as anything.

"We would have never been able to do that without expansion.'' he said.
"And quite frankly we may have lost some schools. We solidified the league and positioned the league for the long run. ''

The ACC's latest gem, a television network, began operations last summer.

"The ACC Network has exceeded our expectations at this point in time and it has continued to grow and expand'' said Swofford, who estimated that the addition of the ACC Network will put the ACC media payouts in the $36 million per team, per year range.

"That's the range,''conceded Swofford. ""All we can talk is the range, as we get past the first year. we will have better numbers."

Swofford said the ACC Network may be the final athletic television network ever created.

"The one who had the vision and had the league to put in effect was Jim (Former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany),'' said Swofford. "They sort of paved the way and it has evolved and developed and turned into something positive. The SEC had a successful launch. I put us in the success category launch as well.''

With success, comes exposure (linked with ESPN), which brings in revenue.

All good things according to Swofford, who is 71 and in the last year of a three year contract which pays him $3.5 million per year.

Will he make an announcement that he has had enough at the ACC basketball tournament in Greensboro, N.C. this spring?

Is Swofford's last rodeo, hopeful that the ACC can pull off another college football/basketball national championship daily double?

Swofford is not talking, but it certainly is a talking point.

But not now.

Now the conference is on the cusp of of another national championship and more exposure for the ACC.

"I think the best is yet to come,'' said Swofford, sounding both confident and hopeful, as well as satisfied.


Mark Blaudschun