Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips has been named the named the new commissioner of the ACC. Phillips replaces John Swofford, who announced earlier this summer that the 2020-21 academic year would be has last running the conference. Phillips will begin his role in February 2021.
"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," said Syracuse athletic director and ACC Board of Governors chairman Kent Syverud. "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 has been running the Northwestern athletic department since 2008, and he has seen the private university emerge as one of the top athletic powerhouses in the Big Ten West. The Wildcats football team will play in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday -- their second trip to the conference title game in three seasons -- and the Northwestern men's basketball team made the NCAA Tournament in 2017 for the first time in program history, also winning its first-ever game in the event.
Phillips was an integral part of the fundraising and construction of the beautiful $270 million athletic facility on the shores of Lake Michigan.
"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. "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."
One of the biggest events during his time at Northwestern was a unionization attempt by players, led by Kain Colter. That effort was ultimately rejected by the National Labor Relations board, but Phillips' experience in the push for improvement for player welfare will be important as college athletics moves into the name, image and likeness era.
An Illinois graduate in 1990, he immediately began his career in college athletics first as an assistant basketball coach at Arizona State through the 1997 season. Phillips was an assistant athletic director at Tennessee through 2000 when he moved to Notre Dame as the senior associate director of athletics for external affairs. He led fundraising efforts for numerous projects at Notre Dame, including a 96,000 square foot athletics facility.
Phillips was the athletic director at Northern Illinois from 2004-08 before landing the job in Evanston, Illinois, with the Wildcats. Now he is on the verge of taking one of the most powerful jobs in college athletics. This after he was believed to be a candidate for Big Ten commissioner, though his current conference instead decided to hire Kevin Warren.