John Swofford's 24th year as ACC commissioner will be he last, as he announced Thursday of his intention to retire following the 2020-21 school year.
The longest-tenured commissioner in ACC history, the 71-year-old Swofford oversaw the league's growth, going from nine members in 2003 to 15 in its present structure. He has been in place since 1997.
After a lengthy stay in the Big East, Pitt joined the ACC in 2013, a little less than two years after the Swofford inquired about the school's interest in joining.
By adding Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame in all sports except football that year, Swofford extended the ACC's reach, which he believed would help stabilize the conference during a turbulent time in the college sports landscape. The move brought stability to the league and helped ensure it would maintain a spot among the Power 5, which also consists of the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
Louisville was added in 2014, further extending its scope.
"For the University of Pittsburgh, John’s leadership has been very special. By shepherding Pitt into the ACC during the conference realignment, John gave the university an outstanding home to compete and collaborate within the storied Atlantic Coast Conference," Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher said. "As a new Chancellor coming in during this incredible period of collegiate athletics, I am grateful for John’s steady, welcoming support for Pitt."
Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College also were added during Swofford's tenure. That came in 2005.
Among Swofford's other achievements were establishing the ACC championship game in football and the addition of the ACC Network, which helped the conference close the financial gap between it and other Power 5 conferences.
"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," Swofford said in a statement. "Having been an ACC student-athlete, athletics director and commissioner has been an absolute honor. 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. Nora and I have been planning for this to be my last year for some time and I look forward to enjoying the remarkable friendships and memories I’ve been blessed with long after I leave this chair."
Swofford plans to stay in the position until a successor is hired, and he plans to assist in the transition.
His impact can be felt outside of the conference's borders. He helped the formation of the College Football Playoff and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a popular staple of the college basketball season.
"The class with which Commissioner Swofford lead our conference was beyond reproach," Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said in a statement. "As a member of the ACC, he made us all feel part of the ACC family. John dedicated his career to higher education in the ACC and positively impacted so many people’s lives, including mine. He made all our athletic departments better because of his thoughtful, authentic and servant leadership style."
A former defensive back and quarterback at North Carolina, Swofford returned to his alma mater in 1980 to become athletic director. During his time there, UNC teams won 17 NCAA championships.
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