Now in his 23rd year as Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner, John Swofford continues to make a dramatic impact on the ACC and throughout college athletics. As the ACC’s longest-tenured Commissioner, Swofford has been part of the conference for more than five decades as a student-athlete and administrator.
A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and a two-year all-state quarterback at Wilkes Central High, Swofford remains the only player to have his number retired by the school after earning Most Valuable Player honors in football, basketball and track.
After being recruited by numerous schools to play football, Swofford attended the University of North Carolina on a Morehead Scholarship as part of head coach Bill Dooley’s first recruiting class. In addition to earning a spot on the ACC Academic Honor Roll as a student-athlete, he started at quarterback as a sophomore and part of his junior year, and then finished his career as a defensive back for UNC’s 1971 ACC Championship team. He played in the Peach Bowl as a junior and the Gator Bowl as a senior.
Swofford received his Master’s in Athletics Administration from Ohio University. His first job in college athletics came at the University of Virginia — where he worked under future ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan — before returning to North Carolina. In 1980, at the age of 31, Swofford was named the athletics director at his alma mater. He held that post for 17 years, a period in which North Carolina claimed more ACC and NCAA Championships than during any athletics director’s tenure in ACC history, and claimed the 1994 Sears Directors’ Cup, awarded to the top overall athletics program in the nation. Swofford also hired six head coaches that went on to win national championships — five at North Carolina and football coach Mack Brown at the University of Texas. In 1981, he hired the first African American head coach in the ACC, track and field coach Hubert West.
As Commissioner, Swofford has successfully guided the ACC through turbulent times in college athletics and has led the league’s expansion from nine to 15 schools. Under his leadership, the ACC has remained at the forefront of college athletics, winning 91 national titles during his 22 years as Commissioner.
Under the leadership of Swofford, the ACC has received unprecedented levels of national television exposure. One of most significant initiatives in conference history, the launch of ACC Network on August 22, 2019, is a partnership between ESPN and the ACC. The 20-year collaboration, which began with the inception of ACC Network Extra in the fall of 2016, will provide ACC fans exceptional access to live events via a comprehensive, multi-platform network, while extending the conference’s existing rights agreement with ESPN as the conference’s exclusive worldwide rights holder through 2036.
In May 2019, the inaugural ACC Mental Health and Wellness Summit was held to explore strategies and best practices for mental health care for student-athletes at each institution. The summit also identified ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness and promote access to mental health services.
Approved in January of 2015, Swofford was a leading advocate for NCAA legislation that allows Autonomy 5 conferences to better address the needs of their institutions, athletic programs and student-athletes. In April of 2013, Swofford and the leadership of the ACC’s member institutions spearheaded a grant of rights agreement that helped stabilize the college athletic landscape and further secured the league’s position as one of the nation’s premier conferences.
Swofford oversaw the creation of the ACC Football Championship Game and played a key role in the evolution of the postseason structure to today’s College Football Playoff. The ACC Bowl affiliations have been tremendously enhanced under his watch.
He was instrumental in starting the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, now an early-season staple for both men’s and women’s college basketball. He created the ACC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in 1999 and launched the ACC Community Outreach Program.
Swofford is a member of four Halls of Fame — the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame; the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame; the Chick-fil-A Bowl Hall of Fame; and the Wilkes County Hall of Fame. He has been awarded the Corbett Award, which is the highest administrative honor given nationally to a collegiate athletics administrator. Swofford has received the Homer Rice Award from the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association and is a recipient of the Ohio University Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2011, he also received one of Greensboro’s Father of the Year Awards.
Swofford and his wife, Nora, reside in Greensboro, North Carolina. Together, they have three children — Autumn and her husband, Sherman Wooden, who have three children, Maya, Lyla and Lincoln; Chad and his wife, Caitlyn, who have one child, Owen; and Amie and her husband, Mike Caudle, who have two children, Emerson and Colson.
Full Name: John Douglas Swofford
Hometown: North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Wife: Nora Swofford
Children: Autumn (husband Sherman Wooden), Chad (wife Caitlyn), Amie (husband Mike Caudle)
Grandchildren: Maya, Lyla, Lincoln, Emerson, Owen, Colson
High School: Wilkes Central High School, 1967, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
College: University of North Carolina, 1971
Morehead Scholarship Recipient • BA in Industrial Relations
Graduate: Ohio University, 1973 • MEd. in Athletics Administration
• Two-time All-State QB and three-sport MVP at Wilkes Central High School
• North Carolina varsity football team QB and DB
• Peach Bowl, 1970
• Gator Bowl, 1971
• ACC Champions, 1971
• ACC Academic Honor Roll, 1970-71
Athletic Administration Experience
• Ticket Manager/Asst. to the Director of Athletic Facilities and Finance, University of Virginia
• Assistant Athletics Director and Business Manager, University of North Carolina
• Assistant Executive Vice-President of the Educational Foundation, University of North Carolina
• Director of Athletics, University of North Carolina
• Commissioner, Atlantic Coast Conference
Membership on Boards & Committees
• National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Board, 2016-present
• National Sports Media Association Honorary Board, 2009-present
• North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Advisory Board, 2008-present
• Wyndham Championship Board of Directors, 2002-present
• Greensboro Sports Commission Board of Directors, 1997-present
• NCAA Men’s College Basketball Officiating, LLC Board, 2010-2012
• College Football Officiating, LLC Board of Managers, 2008-2012
• National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee, 2002-2012
• Sports Business Journal’s Sports Business Awards Committee, 2011
• BCS Coordinator, 2000-01, 2008-09
• IA Collegiate Commissioners’ Association (Chair), 2005-07
• NCAA Football Board of Directors (President), 2004-05
• NCAA Executive Committee, 1995-97
• NCAA Division I Championship Committee (Chair), 1995-97
• NCAA Special Committee to Study a DI-A Football Championship, 1994-95
• President of NACDA, 1993-94
• NCAA Special Events Committee, 1987-91
• NCAA Communications Committee (Chair), 1987-89
• NCAA Football Television Committee 1982-86; (Chair), 1984-86
Honors & Awards
• Sports Business Journal’s Top 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business, 2019
• Triad Power Player, 2018 and 2019 (recognized by the Triad Sports Business Journal)
• Corbett Award, 2011 (presented annually by NACDA as the highest honor in collegiate athletics administration)
• Achievement in Business Award, 2011 (presented annually by Ohio University’s College of Business)
• Father of the Year, 2011 (recognized by the Greater Greensboro Area Father’s Day Council)
• North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, 2009
• Homer Rice Award, 2005 (presented by the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association)
• Horizon Award, 2004 (presented by the Atlanta Sports Council recognizing the National Sports Business Executive of the Year)
• Chick-fil-A Bowl Hall of Fame, 2003
• Fifth most influential person in U.S. sports by The Sporting News, 2003
• Outstanding American Award by the Triangle Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame, 2002
• North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame, 2002
• Ohio University’s Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumnus Award, 1984