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Who is James Phillips? A closer look at next ACC commissioner

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The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Monday that Northwestern athletics director James J. Phillips will serve as the conference’s next commissioner.

Phillips was selected as part of a nationwide search conducted with the help of the league’s board of directors, athletics directors and other ACC administrators.

He succeeds John Swofford, head of the ACC since 1997, who earlier this year announced he would retire in June 2021 after spending nearly 25 years as ACC commissioner.

“I’ve known him for many years. He’s one of the true leaders in our industry and is a great choice as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Seminole Booster CEO Michael Alford said. “He is very, very knowledgeable about the collegiate athletics space and all the business aspects of sports and he’s a great family man. I’ve leaned on him throughout my career for advice whether it’s a television deal, a media rights contract, any and every aspect of sports. 

“He is a visionary and a very strategic thinker. Not only is he great at taking collective ideas and formulating a plan, he’s great at putting those plans into action.”

The Associated Press reports that Phillips has agreed to a five-year contract with the ACC. Phillips will take over the role of ACC Commissioner in February 2021.

“Jim’s experience and knowledge of college athletics make him an exceptional choice to be the next commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference,” FSU president John Thrasher said. “I’m confident that the ACC will continue its across-the-board excellence with Jim’s guidance. And I want to personally thank Commissioner John Swofford for his leadership and service to the ACC and its member institutions for more than 20 years.”

Phillips was named Northwestern’s 21st director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation in April 2008. By 2012, Phillips was elevated by Northwestern President Morton Schapiro to the position of Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation, a title reflecting the campus-wide responsibilities of the role as well as its voice on the President’s Senior Staff. Phillips, a Chicago native, acknowledges that while his departure from Northwestern is bittersweet, he is grateful to have the opportunity to build on the storied success of the ACC.

“With overwhelming gratitude to ACC Board of Directors chair Kent Syverud, search advisory committee co-chairs Nathan Hatch and Fr. John Jenkins, and the Conference’s 15 member institutions, I accept this humbling invitation to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Phillips said in a statement. “Serving Northwestern student-athletes, staff and the greater Wildcats family for the last 13 years has been the privilege of my professional life.

“The opportunity to watch my children grow up in my hometown, and work alongside leaders like presidents Henry Bienen and Morty Schapiro, as well as board chairs Pat Ryan, Bill Osborn and Lanny Martin, 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 led Northwestern to elite status both on and off the playing fields. In competition, under his leadership, 10 of Northwestern’s athletic programs won conference or national championships, with the football team clinching the Big Ten West Division crown twice in the last three seasons. Nine of Northwestern’s 15 all-time football bowl appearances have occurred with Phillips at the helm, as well as the school’s first appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Over the last five years, Northwestern has invested more than $500 million in new and renovated facilities, supported by record fundraising success.

Osceola publisher Jerry Kutz contributed. Comment on this story on the Osceola’s message board