The Next #ACC Commissioner, Part 1


Good evening, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) sports fans.  After the National Basketball Association Finals, the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Finals, and the NCAA baseball college softball and baseball World Series, we’re really going to be in the slow time for sports lol.  As our friend @vabeachrep said, we have Arena Football League and I mentioned that we also have the Canadian Football League to look forward to 😉

Let’s talk about Power 5 Conference leadership in athletics.  Let’s backtrack to October 2014:  Mike Slive, the Southeastern Conference (SEC commissioner, announced his decision to retire in July 2015.  In March 2015, Greg Sankey was hired as Slive’s successor.  He was basically hired “in-house” as he currently oversees the daily operations of the SEC offices. Sankey is the defacto Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the SEC.  His hire was probably the worst kept secret in college football as Jon Solomon said in that CBS article we linked to above.

Slive’s retirement got me thinking ACC and its conference leadership.  Our site owner, @TalkinACCSports (Jeffrey Fann), has blogged extensively about our ACC commissioner, John Swofford, and what his legacy might be.  Swofford has been the ACC commissioner for 18 years – he is the longest-tenured commissioner and only the fourth in league history. Prior to his tenure as the ACC Commissioner, Swofford was the University of North Carolina Athletic Director from 1980 (when he was the nation’s youngest athletic director at age 31) to 1997.  The league’s first commissioner, James H. Weaver, served the the ACC from 1954-70 (after a period as the Director of Athletics at Wake Forest University).  Robert C. James, a former University of Maryland football player, was named commissioner in 1971 and served in that position for 16 years.  Eugene F. Corrigan assumed his role as the third full-time commissioner on September 1, 1987, and served until August of 1997 (and he had ACC written all over him).  The ACC has named a postgraduate scholarship after these the three prior commissioners – and it has become a prestigious honor.

So, given that Swofford is past the average tenure in service (in number of years) for an ACC Commissioner, who should the next commissioner be?  This will be a two part blog post where we’re going to talk about some promising candidates.  The first part will be five candidates that are external to the ACC.  The second part of this blog post (which we will post on another day) will be some candidates that are current ACC athletic directors.  Please note that this blog post IS NOT one that is advocating a replacement for John Swofford.  As I said earlier, John Swofford is is the longest tenured ACC commissioner – and this most is more of a conversation starter on who should be next in that chair (and Swofford might or might not retire in the next couple of years).  So, without further ado – let’s talk about some candidates that are external to the ACC.

Here we go:

  1. Michael Kelly, College Football Playoff COO – You might recognize this name – Michael Kelly.  You should if you are  a fan of the ACC and college football, as a whole.  If you don’t know him, here’s his bio directly from @CFBPlayoff:

“Michael Kelly became the first full-time staff member to join Executive Director Bill Hancock. Kelly previously served as Senior Associate Commissioner for the Atlantic Coast Conference, overseeing broadcasting, communications and football. He is the only person to ever serve as lead local executive for three different Super Bowls in three different communities, having been President of the Super Bowl Host Committee in Tampa Bay (Super Bowl XXXV), Jacksonville (Super Bowl XXXIX) and South Florida (Super Bowl XLI). He also served as the Executive Director for the 1999 NCAA Men’s Final Four Local Organizing Committee. Kelly spent four years on campus serving two intercollegiate athletic departments in roles as Director of Athletic Operations and Facilities at Wake Forest University and as Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs at the University of South Florida. A founding board member of the Collegiate Event and Facilities Management Association (CEFMA), Kelly also serves on the President’s Board of Advisors for St. Thomas University (Miami Gardens, FL), and the Alumni Association Council for St. John’s College High School (Washington, DC). He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wake Forest University, where he received a bachelor’s in politics. Additionally, he holds a master’s in sports administration from St. Thomas University. In 2006, Kelly was named to the Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” He and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters, Cara and Seana.”

Yes, this would be a great hire (no more questions here) – someone who is familiar with the culture of the ACC (having been a senior associate commissioner in the ACC) and has experience at the highest levels of college football.

  1. Michael L. Aresco, American Athletic Conference (AAC) Commissioner – Michael Aresco has been AAC commissioner for almost three years.  Under his leadership in 2013-14, the AAC was the only conference to have a Bowl Championship Series win and teams in the Men’s Final Four, the Women’s Final Four and the College World Series.  The AAC has become the top non-Power 5 conference in the country.  More importantly, we are talking about someone here with major experience in managing, creating, and negotiating television deals.  And the ACC needs someone like this.  My buddy, @TalkinACCSports (Jeffrey Fann) has blogged extensively about the progress of the ACC Network (there are numerous links on All Sports Discussion about the ACC Network status – and you should follow the Twitter account, too, at @AllSportsDACC).  Here are some of this TV accomplishments courtesy of American Athletic Conference:

“In 2008, Aresco negotiated a historic 15-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference to televise the league’s football and basketball games. The agreement also provided multiple new media rights for CBS, CBS Sports Network and CBS Interactive. He forged numerous basketball agreements with major conferences and negotiated 10-year extensions of the Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Navy football rivalries. Aresco was the creator and executive producer of The Tony Barnhart Show and Courtside with Seth Davis, both of which aired on the CBS Sports Network. In 2004, he was appointed by the late NCAA President Myles Brand to the Basketball Partnership, a select panel whose mission was to explore ways to improve and promote college basketball.  Aresco joined CBS Sports from ESPN where he was responsible for overseeing the acquisition, scheduling and development of long-term strategies for all ESPN college sports properties. Earlier in his tenure at ESPN, he was responsible for programming a wide variety of sports properties, including College Football Association, Big Ten, and Pac-10 college football, NCAA events, including early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, the College World Series and various professional sports events, including thoroughbred racing, Top Rank Boxing, CFL football, Australian Rules Football, rodeo and yachting. He was the architect of ESPN’s signature Thursday night college football series and helped develop ESPN’s Bowl Week. He joined ESPN in 1984 as Counsel and was named Assistant General Counsel in 1988 before moving to the programming department.”

Let me say that I’m quite sure that Aresco would be an expert at managing TV deals for the ACC (we need that in this conference even if Swofford gets the ACC network up and running).  The knock on him is that he doesn’t have ACC bloodlines – and there are many in ACC country that think this is a prerequisite.

  1. Brad Traviola, Big 10 Deputy Commissioner – Brad Traviola is the Deputy Commissioner of the Big 10 Conference.  His defacto roles include Chief Financial Officer (CFO)/Chief Operating Officer (COO).  Traviolia begins serving as Deputy Commissioner in 2006 after holding four positions with the conference over a 10-year span.  Traviola joined the Big Ten in 1997 as the Assistant Director of Sports Management and Human Resource Manager and was promoted to Assistant Commissioner in 1999.  Following that two-year period, he was elevated to Associate Commissioner in 2001 and has been serving in his most recent role as the conference’s CFO and COO since 2003, handling the day-to-day operations, as well as legal and human resource duties for the office.  A graduate of Northwestern, Traviolia was an All-Conference honoree and Big Ten wrestling champion in 1990.  Here – you have someone who can step in on day one as the ACC Commissioner, has in-depth knowledge of a conference’s front office operations, and someone who is familiar with the operation of a conference television network (the Big 10 Network has been very successful by all accounts).  And Traviola isn’t even 50 yet. Again, another non-ACC candidate – but someone with valuable experience.  Many think, though, that he is being groomed for Jim Delaney’s commissioner position – and is the odds on favorite for that job.

  1. Jeff Long, Arkansas AD – Jeff Long is the Athletic Director at Arkansas (and nationally respected).  In addition to his time at the University of Arkansas, Long has more than two decades of experience in Division I athletics administration.  Long has had stints at Pittsburgh, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Eastern Kentucky.  Long has also been a coach and has been in administrative staff positions at Duke, Rice, and North Carolina State.  And this past year, he was the chair of the College Football Playoff committee.  So you have someone who is familiar with the culture of the ACC – but can bring that unique perspective of SEC football.

  1. Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Athletic Director – You might be wondering why I have the Notre Dame athletic director as external to the ACC.  Well, Notre Dame is not a full-time member in the ACC;  they are not all in.  And guess what?  We’d like that football team to be part of the ACC (that becomes his #1 job if hired – get Notre Dame into the ACC).

And herein concludes our first blog post on some proposed future candidates for the position of ACC commissioner.  As we said above, the second part of this blog post (which we will post on another day) will be about some candidates that are current ACC athletic directors – looking to promote from within – as has been the normal course for the ACC.  We’ll look at athletic director candidates from Duke, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson.

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1 comment

  1. Michael Bryan says:

    In reference to potential replacement for JohnSwofford
    I would pick Danny Morrison.
    Basketball player at Wofford graduated Phi Beta Kappa in
    Math ! Got a PhD from USC in higher education. Was Commisioner for Southern Conference. Then AD at TCU. And just retired
    From Carolina Panthers as President. Standup guy as far as ethics

    And doing the right thing. He’s a people person and a good business man and an extremely Hard working guy.

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