The ACC announced Monday that Northwestern University athletic director James J. Phillips has been hired to serve as the league’s next commissioner, bringing more than three decades of experience in Division I athletics to the job.
The announcement ends a comprehensive nationwide search led by the conference’s Board of Directors, with support from its athletic directors, senior women administrators, faculty athletic representatives and student-athletes.
Phillips succeeds John Swofford, who earlier this year announced his plan to retire in June 2021. Swofford, who has been in charge of the league since 1997, is the longest-serving commissioner in league history with nearly 25 years of service.
“Jim is one of the most talented athletic administrators in the country and uniquely qualified to successfully and seamlessly take over the helm of the ACC,” ACC Board chair Kent Syverud of Syracuse, said of Phillips. “Over the course of nearly 13 years, Jim has elevated and cemented Northwestern’s position as an outstanding Power 5 athletics program.
“Northwestern’s ascension in the world of intercollegiate athletics is a testament to Jim’s vision, leadership and foundational dedication to the success of student-athletes. The ACC is fortunate to have someone of Jim’s caliber and integrity lead the conference at this pivotal moment in intercollegiate athletics.”
Phillips will begin his tenure as commissioner in February 2021. He is the first person to hold that job without having had any previous connection to the league.
The Chicago native said he is grateful to have the opportunity to build on the storied success of the ACC while adding that the decision to leave Northwestern was bittersweet.
“Serving Northwestern student-athletes, staff and the greater Wildcats family for the last 13 years has been the privilege of my professional life,” Phillips said in a statement. “The opportunity to watch my children grow up in my hometown … is something I’ll always be profoundly thankful for.
“My career has been dedicated to the development and betterment of student-athletes, and I am thrilled for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to guide one of the most prestigious and accomplished athletic organizations in the world.”
Phillips has been Northwestern’s AD since 2008, leading the athletic department through a period of success in competition and growth in facilities. He oversaw the funding of Northwestern’s $270 million Walter Athletics Center and Ryan Fieldhouse indoor practice facility located on Lake Michigan’s shores.
He is also set to become chairman of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season.
Phillips was a candidate to become Big Ten commissioner when the conference was searching for a replacement for Jim Delany last year, but ultimately the league went outside of college athletics and hired former NFL executive Kevin Warren.
The league announced Swofford’s planned retirement in June, though he was to continue in the job until a successor was named and to aid the transition.
The 72-year-old commissioner presided over an unprecedented period of growth, in which the ACC expanded from a compact nine-member league to its current 15-school membership with a footprint stretching along nearly the entire Eastern Seaboard and as far west into Kentucky and Indiana.