ACC commissioner John Swofford engineered the league's growth to include Notre Dame

The Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford addresses the media during a press conference at the Blue Zone in Kenan Stadium, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2012, Chapel Hill, NC. The Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents has unanimously voted to accept the University of Notre Dame as a new member. The Irish will compete as full members in all conference sponsored sports with the exception of football which will play five games annually against league programs. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/ (Sara D. Davis, Daily Press / September 12, 2012)

"It was enormously difficult for me to be in that position," says Dick Baddour, Swofford's friend and successor as UNC's athletic director. "It was important to him to have North Carolina stand with him, but credit to John, he showed no signs of resentment toward (our) position."

Finally, with two votes separated by more than three months, the ACC added Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami. Syracuse was jilted — temporarily.

The expansion was so messy that Thomas Hearn, then Wake Forest's president, posted a letter-of-apology online.

"The Godsend of it all, in my opinion, was Virginia Tech," Swofford says. "In a lot of ways, Virginia Tech should have been in the ACC a long time ago. I think there was a period there where we were so focused on new markets that the obvious didn't hit us in the face the way it should have, the obvious being that Virginia Tech belonged in the ACC.

"And Virginia Tech has been a great addition to the ACC. I think it's been good for Virginia Tech … and I think it's been good for the state of Virginia. It was the right thing to have happened when you take a step back and look at things."

Among Swofford's first post-expansion initiatives was amending the ACC's bylaws. Any future conference growth would be more deliberate and confidential.

"It was critical we get to the point where we not have these public courtships," Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage says. "There are too many sensitivities. … The change allowed the conference to move ahead much more discreetly and expeditiously, an absolute must."


Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick recalls a conversation with Swofford shortly after talks between the school and the ACC turned serious this spring.

"How will we handle leaks?" Swarbrick asked Swofford.

"There won't be any leaks," Swofford said.

"This is Notre Dame," Swarbrick gently reminded Swofford. "Everything about us leaks."

"There won't be any leaks," Swofford repeated firmly.

Indeed, news of Notre Dame's move to the ACC didn't break until less than three hours before the official announcement Sept. 12.

"We found a process that was more appropriate and effective," Swofford says.

The process mirrored its conductor, a grandfather of two whose athletic appearance belies his 63 years.

Swofford isn't law-school polished like Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive. He's not new-aged trendy like the Pacific 12's Larry Scott, or overtly forceful like the Big Ten's Jim Delany, the latter a classmate at North Carolina.

"He just gets the job done," says Steve Hogan, who runs the ACC-affiliated Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. "He's not talking a whole lot about it, or tipping any cards. It's just, in the end, he finds a way to carve out a place for the ACC to be successful."

In short, Swofford's been underestimated.

While conferences such as the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten expanded amid great fanfare, Swofford went stealth. Nary a word linking Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC hit the media until less than 24 hours before the unveiling.