If you can avoid getting too nauseous, this will be good “Sunday read”.
[snip] he did what he has done for the past 10 years. He very quietly took decisive action to strengthen — and possibly save — his conference. Swofford may look like he stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad and into a PGA tournament pro-am. He may talk with the aristocratic drawl of the lawyer you’d call before you closed on your beach house in the Outer Banks. He may seem the personification of the Old Boy Network in an era when the Old Boy Network has watched its power erode. But make no mistake, John Swofford is a ninja. He moves quickly and quietly, and by the time his enemies — or, in his case, business rivals — realize he’s struck, it’s already too late.
It’s fitting that Swofford would shut down this period of realignment. After all, he started it in 2003 when he took Miami and Virginia Tech — and, a few months later, Boston College — from the Big East. At the time, the leagues were peers. Each was a BCS automatic qualifying conference. While the Big Ten and SEC had grown richer, the ACC and Big East remained near the top of the food chain thanks to their storied basketball programs. But the business of college sports was changing quickly. The BCS had codified the power structure, and it seemed most of the new money was coming from football. “I think that people for the most part didn’t understand how big and important football was,” former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese told the New York Times in March. “It really drove the cart.”
At least one person understood: a former North Carolina defensive back named John Swofford. “At that given point in time, as much as anything, it was looking ahead and understanding that football was going to be driving the future more than it had,” Swofford said. “We felt like we needed to be stronger and better positioned both from a football and a marketplace standpoint.”
In addition to framing the big picture of the developments of conference re-alignment the article takes a look at some of the specific moves Swofford executed in recent months.
I’m actually pretty torn on the Swofford conversation – this article chooses to heap obscene amounts of praise on Swofford keeping things together over a 10 year period. A critic would take the position that the only reason he had to do so much work to keep things together was because of many of his own mis-steps. Both sides would be right. But, I do think it is fascinating how Swofford can get so much praise for leadership that effectively put the conference at such risk and coming up with the ‘innovative’ idea of effectively merging with the Big East and keeping the ACC’s name. I tend to agree with this point from SFN message forum poster, SaccoV:
I’m not going to argue about Swofford maintaining stability within the conference (other than the Maryland defection); however, your view of his ability to IMPROVE the conference from where it was has been an utter failure. It would be one thing to say that Swofford allowed FSU and Miami and Va Tech in and the football improved as a result. The only reason the schools were added was to create a more football-relevant conference. So far, that has been a huge failure. The basketball product, which is still the ACC’s calling card, has also had a consistent downturn over the last five years (consistently fewer NCAA bids, major coaching turnover, etc). I agree that you cannot heap the entire blame on Swofford, but you cannot with the same breath sing some praises with regard to his performance in the captain’s chair. The league is NOT in better shape now than when he took over.
For the record, I think the best of Swofford’s maneuvers is without a doubt the coup of landing Notre Dame. While the more recent ‘grant of media rights’ is the final sign of solidarity for the conference, I don’t think you ever get to that point without landing Notre Dame. Similarly, the conference may not even be around to replace Maryland with Louisville without the stability of the Fighting Irish. In the future, I expect Notre Dame ultimately has to become a full conference member in football and therefore leads to the ability for the conference to take a final 16th institution. THAT will be a very interesting conversation when the time comes.