Thursday morning, ACC commissioner John Swofford announced this upcoming year would be his last as the head of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Swofford became the ACC commish in 1997 and during his tenure he oversaw the poaching of Miami-Florida Hurricane, Virginia Tech Hokies, Boston College from the Big East in 2004/2005. During the latest round of conference shuffling, which saw the West Virginia Mountaineers switch to the Big 12, Swofford was at the forefront of getting the Pittsburgh Panthers, Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals to help form the new 14-team ACC.
Swofford’s departure creates a void in the chasm of college football and according to reports, West Virginia’s current athletic director Shane Lyons is one of the names that comes up frequently, previously serving as an associate commissioner of the ACC from 2001 to 2011.
Lyons was hired by West Virginia in January 2015 to replace Oliver Luck, who was departing the AD job to become the Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs with the NCAA. Luck, the former WVU quarterback and father of former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck, helped guide the Mountaineers from the then Big East, which was being poached by Swofford, to their current home in the Big 12. Luck tried to get the Mountaineers into the ACC, Big Ten and SEC but was emphatically told no by each one. After securing the new home for the Mountaineers and overseeing the transition, Luck moved on and Lyons moved in.
Lyons’ tenure at West Virginia hasn’t been without its bumps. During contract negotiations with assistant football coaches, Lyons played hardball and offered one-year contracts, which was a standard at his previous employer, the Alabama Crimson Tide. After a couple of bumps, the negotiations were smoothed over. He faced one of his most critical moves when head coach Dana Holgorsen jumped ship on January 1, 2019 to become the head coach of the Houston Cougars. The impending job search led to the hiring of current football head coach Neal Brown.
Conference commissioner jobs are very much a tenure and end goal job for ambitious people. The position grants tenure and those in the job spend decades molding their conference in their vision. Jim Delaney, the former Big Ten commissioner, helped push the model of conference networks. Former SEC Commissioner, Mike Slive, helped push the idea of conference championship games and 12-team conferences as the norm. John Swofford was the impetus for conference expansion in 2004 with Miami and the round-robin shuffling in 2010. Visionary commissioners shape not only their conference but the sport of football.
If Lyons is eventually pegged as the replacement for Swofford, the Mountaineers will need a new Athletic Director and as such, Lyons has proven to be a man with a plan during his tenure with the Mountaineers. He had a list of potential head coaches for the possibility of Dana Holgorsen needing to be replaced and he has spent time grooming his potential replacement should the need arise for Lyons to need a replacement. Current Deputy Athletic Director Keli Zinn has spent time being groomed as the potential replacement. If she were to replace Lyons, Zinn would become the fifth female AD in the Power 5 conferences.
It is also worthy to note that the current college football television contracts are will be coming to a close in the next couple years, and many think it will trigger another round of conference realignment. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have one of our own handling things for the ACC. You know, just in case...