ACC Commissioner John Swofford says Pitt’s athletic arrow pointed up
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While announcing the launch of the ACC Network next August, Commissioner John Swofford said he likes the growth recently shown at Pitt, especially in the 21 months since Heather Lyke has been athletic director.
Swofford made his comments at Bank of America Stadium where Pitt will play for the ACC football championship Saturday night while the school’s two-time conference champion volleyball team will serve as host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Swofford, a former North Carolina quarterback and athletic director who has been ACC commissioner since 1997, has watched how the landscape has changed at Pitt, which has been a member of the conference only since 2013.
“Heather’s been outstanding around the conference table,” Swofford said. “I don’t think there is any question that she is a quality athletic director with excellent leadership capacities and knows what a successful program is going to need going forward.
“And I would say the same about (Pitt Chancellor) Pat Gallagher. They both understand what an excellent athletic program can mean to the university as a whole and where it should fit and how to get there.”
He characterized Pitt athletics as taking an upward trajectory.
“I think the resources are generally there and the next piece of the puzzle most of the time is the people,” he said. “You talk about the two people in leadership positions and then you talk about the coaches who have been hired recently in multiple sports and I don’t see how you look at it any other way than an upward arrow.”
Meanwhile, the ACC Network will launch Aug. 22 and begin airing live events — as many as 1,300 every year in 27 sports — across its TV and digital platforms.
The first football game will be Aug. 29 when Georgia Tech visits Clemson. Plus, other schools, including Pitt, could play conference games earlier next season to accommodate the network.
Those details will be finalized by early February, Swofford said.
“When we started this thought of looking ahead,” he said, “and what do we need to do as a conference to continue to be one of the most prominent athletic conferences in the country and be nationally competitively, we felt like we needed to grow.
“We needed to have a larger geographic footprint, we needed more television sets and we needed to get better in football. And we did all of those things. That’s brought us to the point where we had the opportunity with ESPN to launch a channel.”
On other matters, Swofford said he doesn’t see a lot of across-the-board interest in expanding the College Football Playoff beyond four teams.
“I don’t think there’s a great shift in momentum to expand the playoffs,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that it will never happen. You never say never.
“I don’t think that’s something that’s imminent right now.”
He said if there was sentiment to expand, the conference championship games need not be eliminated. He said potentially the season could start earlier or there could be one fewer regular-season game.
He also said there are no plans to talk about altering the ACC’s division structure that has resulted in either Clemson or Florida State representing the Atlantic in every championship game since 2009 while the Coastal has been won by six different schools in the past six years.
He said such trends “usually (don’t) last, but a specific period of time and then it begins to change.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.