Irish – and ACC – Eyes are Smiling – Notre Dame Announces It Will Join the Atlantic Coast Conference
September 14, 2012
That the Fighting Irish settled on the Atlantic Coast Conference as its favored suitor may come as a bit of surprise, but, all said and done, makes sense, given that Notre Dame not only retains its independence when it comes to scheduling its football program (the Big Ten, the mostly logical geographic fit for Notre Dame, refused to budge on this issue, telling the Irish it either joined as a full-fledged member of the conference or did not join at all), but also finds the university pairing with a conference whose members outrank Big Ten programs academically by 2-to-1 in a ranking of the nation’s top 40 scholastic institutions.
Described as “the best course of action for us” by Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbick, the Irish have agreed to have all sports outside of football play a traditional ACC conference schedule, while the latter will face five ACC opponents in football each season, leaving plenty of room for traditional Big Ten / Pac-12 match ups with schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Southern California and Stanford.
It’s a move which should ultimately prove beneficial for all parties involved, with the Irish gaining access to new commercial markets thoughout the eastern and southeastern United States (Forbes notes that the ACC consists of five of the top ten media markets in the country) and the ACC now able to tap into Notre Dame’s rabid fan base and a lucrative television contract with NBC.
An interesting caveat regarding Notre Dame football and the the school’s impending move to the ACC, however? The Irish will not be able to qualify for the the conference’s automatic bid to the Orange Bowl as outlined in the four-team playoff system approved by BCS schools earlier this year – though, theoretically, Notre Dame could still meet the ACC champion in the post-season if the Irish finished high enough in the regular-season standings.
Being exempt from the conference’s automatic BCS bowl bid surely proved a sticking point for Notre Dame in discussions held with ACC officials over the last year regarding the university coming on board as the conference’s 15th member school
Still, as the Chicago Tribune points out, the university wasn’t the only party to have to give in order to gain in this agreement, with the conference forced to comes to terms with the realization that allowing the Irish control of its own football scheduling “[goes] against a long tradition of dedication to full membership among [ACC] programs.”
Conference commissioner, John Swofford, spoke on the matter, noting that such a concession, while difficult to accept, “needed to be made for the ACC to remain relevant in the current climate” surrounding collegiate football.
“We’re in our 60th year in our conference and we have always been an all-in membership,” the commissioner continued. “[However] with a changing landscape in intercollegiate athletics what was best twenty years ago isn’t necessarily best in today’s world.”
Swofford’s comments ring particularly true given off-season speculation that the University of Miami might consider a move to the Big 12, while Florida State University and Clemson University, both flagship programs in their own right within the ACC, were rumored to be considering a jump to the SEC.
The addition of Notre Dame ultimately should go a long way in securing the ACC’s place among the conference superpowers formed during the recent expansion of the SEC and Pac-12, and, in doing so, convince universities such as Miami, Florida State and Clemson that pastures within the conference are just as green as they might be elsewhere.
Interesting enough, in announcing that the Fighting Irish had agreed to come on board with the ACC, presidents of the 14 schools currently comprising the conference, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for their annual fall meeting, also revealed a decision to increase the exit fee from the conference from $20 billion to $50 billion – a figure three times the ACC’s annual operating budget, according to InsideHigherEd.com - as further deterrent for programs seeking to improve their own individual situations by moving to another athletic conference.
Asked whether or not the addition of Notre Dame suggests the ACC is considering further expansion in the near future, Swofford responded, “There’s no need to add a 16th team, and we have no intention of doing so. From a practical standpoint, it’s illogical.”
Of course, left at least partially in the lurch in Notre Dame’s move to the ACC is the school’s 17-year association with a Big East Conference ever-shrinking in relevancy given West Virginia University’s decision in 2011 to join the Big 12, the reversal of a pledge by Texas Christian University to become part of the Big East in favor of becoming a member of the Big 12 and the election by both the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University last year to come on board with the ACC.
Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco responded to news of the Irish’s decision, “Notre Dame has been a valued member of the Big East Conference and we wish them success in the future. However, Notre Dame’s departure does not change our plans. We have prestigious institutions that are excited to be a part of the Big East. We remain committed to making the Big East stronger than it has ever been.”
As USA Today reports, it remains unclear when the Irish will actually depart the Big East, though league by-laws maintain a 27-month notice and a $5 million payout.
A source close to the university tells Yahoo Sports Notre Dame hopes to join the ACC sometimes between now and 2014, but acknowledges a great would have to happen in order for the Irish to meet that timetable.
Meanwhile, Big Ten Conference Jim Delany issued a statement regarding Tuesday’s announcement noting the move by Notre Dame to the ACC “was not a suprise.”
“The announcement by the ACC is further indication that the tectonic plates underlying conference affiliation are still warm,” Delany commented. “As always, we will continue to monitor the landscape.”