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ACC announces Northwestern AD Jim Phillips as conference’s next commissioner

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He’s overseen an impressive rebuild of the athletic department since 2008.

Northwestern v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

This story has been updated since the news has been made official. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips will become the next ACC commissioner, per a release from the conference. The news was first reported Sunday night by Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. He will take over the role in February 2021 and replace John Swofford, who has spent 24 years as the league’s commissioner, and become just the fifth person to ever hold the title.

In his 13 years at NU, Phillips has overseen a revival of the athletic department and its facilities. He arrived a couple of years after Pat Fitzgerald was named head football coach and was a key player in signing Fitz to a 10-year contract extension in 2011, when he was sought after by Michigan. Included in those negotiations were upgraded football facilities, and in 2018, Northwestern opened a sparkling, $270 million athletic facility with Ryan Fieldhouse — an indoor football practice facility — the centerpiece.

Fitz and head men’s basketball coach Chris Collins, whom Phillips hired to replace Bill Carmody, are signed to contract extensions through 2026 and 2025, respectively.

Phillips is also responsible for the new Rocky and Berenice Miller Park; the construction of Lanny & Sharon Martin Stadium, Chap & Ethel Hutcheson Field and Lakeside Field; the $120 million renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena; the $30 million renovation of the Trienens Performance Center; and the $7.5 million renovation of the Gleacher Golf Center and Patten Fencing Gymnasium.

It was only a matter of time before the Portage Park, Illinois native got a Power 5 commissioner job. He is widely regarded as one of the premier athletic directors and had his fellow ADs’ support for the opening for Big Ten commissioner before the job eventually went to Kevin Warren. Phillips won the Sports Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year in 2018 and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year in FBS in both 2012 and 2016. He was also appointed vice chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee in March and will chair it in 2021-22.

Fans have Phillips to thank for the “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” marketing campaign and NU’s relationship with the Cubs. In 2010, the Wildcats faced rival Illinois at Wrigley Field for the first football game at the stadium since 1970 and the first college football game since 1938 and were scheduled to play Wisconsin at the Friendly Confines this year before the pandemic hit. They’re scheduled to play home games there in 2022, 2024 and 2026.

In Phillips’ tenure, the men’s basketball team made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, football has made nine bowls and two Big Ten Championship games, and lacrosse, softball, women’s basketball, golf, fencing, soccer, tennis, field hockey, swimming, diving and wrestling all have won conference or national championships.

Phillips was athletic director at Northern Illinois for four years before coming to Evanston and replacing current Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy.