Even with Florida State and Clemson among the top 10 this season, the league's football continues to lag nationally. Marquee non-conference victories are scarce, and there's no spinning the ACC's 2-13 record in BCS games.
The NCAA is probing apparent rules violations at Miami involving imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro, while athletes have been implicated in an academic fraud scandal at North Carolina.
Swofford acknowledges the pain the NCAA issues have, and likely will, cause. But he stands by the conference's history of compliance and academic achievement, not to mention on-the-field success.
ACC teams have won 58 national championships in the last 15 years, five in men's basketball and one in football. As measured by the Directors' Cup standings and NCAA graduation success rates, the conference's blend of athletics and academics is unsurpassed.
Entrenched in college football's latest postseason incarnation, the ACC announced Thursday a 12-year Orange Bowl partnership with the SEC, Big Ten, Notre Dame and ESPN. The conference and ESPN are renegotiating their overarching media contract to reflect Notre Dame's addition.
Possible future initiatives include an ACC channel that would be available throughout league markets such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Raleigh, Miami, Chicago and Virginia. There's also the unknown of whether Notre Dame ever will forgo football independence to become a full ACC member.
Swofford's history suggests he will embrace any challenges, knowing all too well that nothing is guaranteed.
When Bill Swofford was diagnosed with lymphoma, doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant. Carl and Jim were too old to donate. John was a perfect match and quick to volunteer.
Short-term, the transplant helped. But less than a year later, complications arose.
Oliver to his fans, Bill to his family, died in 2000 at age 54. John had lost his best friend.
Swofford still listens to his brother's three albums and recalls the college summer he hitched onto Oliver's concert tour. Though now traveling in the highest orbits of intercollegiate athletics, living on a golf course — he plays to an 18-handicap — and making north of $1.4 million a year, he's still a North Wilkesboro kid at heart, returning not nearly as often as he'd like to the barbecue joint that Jim and Carl founded.
"Johnny just draws people to him," Jim says. "He's a nice guy, and he's very unassuming. … Most of the times I fly, I'm a little leery of who sits next to me. But he'd be a great guy to sit beside on a long plane trip."
Unassuming, perhaps, but not nearly as vanilla as he appears.
MEET JOHN SWOFFORD
Born: Dec. 6, 1948, North Wilkesboro, N.C.
Education: University of North Carolina, 1971, industrial relations; master's in sports administration, Ohio University, 1973.
Experience: University of Virginia ticket manager, assistant to director of facilities and finance, 1973-76; University of North Carolina assistant athletic director and business manager, 1976-79; assistant executive vice president UNC Educational Foundation, 1979-80; UNC athletic director, 1980-97; ACC commissioner, 1997-present.
Accomplishments: Two-time all-state quarterback at Wilkes Central High; ACC Academic Honor Roll 1970-71; Homer Rice Award, presented by Division I-A Athletic Directors' Association in 2005; North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, class of 2009; Corbett Award, the highest honor presented by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), in 2011.
Family: Wife, Nora. Three children, two grandchildren.