Notre Dame to Join Atlantic Coast Conference: My Thoughts, 12 Hours Later

It’s Official: Notre Dame Is Finally Headed to the ACC

Since waking on the west coast this morning, to the news of Notre Dame leaving the Big East and joining the ACC, I’ve been thrilled. Conference realignment’s biggest prize has come to our conference, and with little given up in return on our part. For all his faults when it comes to television negotiations and Carolina favoritism (both must be called out up front), commissioner John Swofford has also proven himself a master negotiator when it comes to the revolving door of realignment. If you haven’t been scoring at home, since the ACC kicked off expansion talks during the first Big East raid, Swofford’s league has picked up six teams and has lost none. All the while, no league has done a better job of adding that volume of quality members in new television market footprints. Where it may have been in doubt as recently as 13 months ago, the ACC now owns a very good portion the east’s appetite for college athletics, football and otherwise. The culmination of this, obviously being the Fighting Irish.

Now, it’s true that the conference still doesn’t fully have Notre Dame in football. That can’t be argued. But five games per year? That’s a pretty nice inventory for a team that’s regularly one of college football’s biggest visiting draws. Without any sacrifices to current television dollars, each team sees Notre Dame every two or three years. They also get to host them at their own stadium once every five or six seasons. The Irish can’t play for an ACC title, and can only snag a bowl bid if they’re within one victory of the team they’re cutting in line. Given bowl games’ continuous struggle to find quality, eligible teams lately, even if the league runs out of bowl inventory, there will be alternate options to choose from. And within the structure of the Orange Bowl, the ACC also gets a quality opponent and better draw than anything the Big East or another option (a third-place team from one of the other power conferences) could produce.

The biggest advantage of all after adding Notre Dame, however, is the escalating exit fee that’s now been implemented. Despite protests by Maryland and Florida State, the conference approved a tremendous exit fee ($50 million) that will make it nearly impossible to leave the league any time soon. And the best part is that it continues to escalate over time. Each year, the fee is set by tripling the operating budget. In 10 years, this figure could potentially be astronomical (as if it weren’t already).

And even though this is a football blog, we can very much appreciate the benefits they bring to the other sports, too. In basketball, the ACC has cemented its place as the preeminent conference in the country, adding yet another top-25 caliber program. For baseball, it actually evens out the league at 14, since Syracuse doesn’t field a baseball team. And in lacrosse? Well, we’ve now assembled the greatest league that sport’s ever seen. Add in Notre Dame’s strong presence in women’s sports and non-revenue competition, and it’s a win all around.

So what happens next? As of right now, Notre Dame has to abide by the Big East’s $5M, 27-month waiting period to exit the league, and there’s no guarantee they make an early departure. ND has plenty of contracts already in place for games, and given the fact that its television contract with NBC runs through the 2014 season, they’re in no rush. The television contract will also be a big issue, and as it stands, who knows what terms we’ll be able to renegotiate it under. And most importantly, do we add a 16th team for all-sports, non-football, or not at all? Swofford’s gone on the record saying that won’t happen, and I believe him. But should the Irish decide they want to join for football down the road, obviously there’s a conversation to be had.

Overall, a great day for the ACC, and yet another step solidifying the league as a continued power-broker in the college sports landscape. We’ll probably have more to discuss throughout the coming weeks and months (and years), but for now, let’s just enjoy our victory cigars.

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13 thoughts on “Notre Dame to Join Atlantic Coast Conference: My Thoughts, 12 Hours Later

  1. Great news for the conference. I’m a little concerned about the scheduling implications–with the move to a 9-game conference schedule and permanent OOC rivals for three (four if you count the budding Vandy-Wake series), exciting games like Clemson-Georgia, GT-Auburn, or VT-WVU were already on the chopping block. Now, with an extra game mandated by the ACC, they’ll be even less likely to happen. For Clemson, every third year when an ND game is played, 11 games will be automatically scheduled! Hopefully the agreement will be a further impetus to return to an eight-game conference schedule.

    • That’s a fair point that I forgot to bring up. Thanks, Joel! I think we’re all getting at the bigger issue here, too, and that’s the nine-game league schedule. Just three leagues have or will implement it — the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC. For the Pac-12, their biggest rivalry games are all within the conference (save Utah/BYU, USC/ND and Stanford/ND), so they’re not bothered by one less subpar game against a MWC or WAC team. In the Big 12, there’s an infinite supply of Sun Belt and C-USA schools. This could change as the Mizzou/KU and A&M/Texas feuds find some common ground and they resume playing each other. WVU has been greatly affected too, losing traditional matchups with Syracuse, Maryland and Pitt in favor of their state-mandated game with Marshall and nine conference games.

      I give it a few years to show it’s true lack of feasibility, but I think it’ll end up being a temporary thing.

      • I certainly hope so (as far as the 9-game schedule vanishing).

        It’s not just FSU, GT, and Clemson. Maryland plays West Virginia nearly every year (unless the Mountaineers dump UMD for Pitt or Syracuse … and I think they like recruiting in Maryland too much to dump the Terps from the schedule). The Wake-Vandy thing seems to be building into something. I could see either UNC or NCSU starting a long-term thing with Tennessee.

        My hope is that they do the 9-game thing for two years, but after the first year realize that it’s a bad idea (especially with the ND addition) and go back to 8-game schedule after that, possibly at the same time ND joins the conference.

        ACC teams have plenty of nearby mid-level or low-level opponents (Big East, Sun Belt, C-USA, CAA) that can be scheduled against, but generally they schedule at least one high-level non-conference game each year. It’s fantastic that each ACC team will get a shot at ND – 5 times every 14 years, if I understand the scheduling correctly.

      • Following up on this … hadn’t seen this elsewhere but it was on the Notre Dame football blog on ESPN:

        “Swofford said league athletic directors may revisit the decision to play a nine-game league schedule with the Notre Dame scheduling agreement. Teams like Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State would have to play their in-state rival game and Notre Dame at least once in a three-year span during nonconference.”

        Hopefully they’ll do the right thing and go back to eight!

        • I’d missed that note. Definitely a good sign for a change. I know we’ve discussed the merits of eight games over nine ad nauseum, Chip. But it’s worth repeating: Nine creates scheduling issues across the board, and puts ACC schools at a significant disadvantage.

  2. As for the idea of a 16th team …

    I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to add a 16th team at this time, and would be kind of horrified if they did that. There is no reason to do so. A 15-team schedule will work just fine for for basketball (and in fact will use two “rival” teams and not just one). About half of the Olympic sports won’t even have a full 15 teams participating anyway.

    Another major, major issue with adding a 16th team right now is that it kills future flexibility. The ACC would obviously be open to taking Notre Dame as a football member in the future if it decides to go that route (I don’t think it will unless absolutely forced to, but it’s theoretically possible).

    Essentially, what the other “potential ACC candidates” (UConn, Rutgers, Temple, Louisville, Cincinnati, PSU?, etc.) have to keep in mind is that if/when ND joins the ACC in football, it’s then that it will need the 16th team, and it’ll depend on how the candidates have recently performed (both athletically and academically) to determine who gets the invitation.

    • Indeed. Flexibility’s the key here, and I know that Swofford won’t make a move he doesn’t need to. As has been declared across the web, the ACC won conference realignment. I firmly believe this, so why give up that advantage by adding numbers for the sake of it?

  3. You mentioned ND’s TV deal runs through 2014, and I could see how, from a TV perspective, this could be a win-win for both the ACC & Notre Dame. If the ACC wants to get an exclusive deal with NBC, it would be easier if NBC was guaranteed so many ND home games; it could work like a Big 10/Big 12 TV deal, where NBC broadcasts the “ACC school X at 3:30″, following a bi-weekly ACC special (Clemson-GATech, for example) at noon. But one of the things that I’m curious about is would the ACC allow ND to keep all of its revenue from its home games (a possible linchpin for a full-fledged membership).

    BTW, I know you and I have discussed at other times, but did you notice how Jack Swarbick emphasized that they would keep Navy, USC, and Stanford as annual rivals, but was cool on Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State. I had some of my Big Red writers telling me on twitter yesterday the Big 10 would just get leverage back on ND when they negotiated the next TV deal, but judging by those remarks, I would say you were right this summer when you said ND had moved on from the Big 10.

    • I’m very curious to see how Notre Dame and the ACC negotiate television contracts going forward. Something tells me ESPN will be in the mix, but really, who knows… And thank you for the credit re: ND and the B1G. I know I’m not the only one who’s said it, but this was a defiant heel turn by the Irish in terms of Big Ten scheduling. They understand that if you haven’t won a title in 23 years, you can’t afford to be lumped in with other (larger) midwest schools. Swarbrick understood his school’s position as an east coast private university located in Indiana, and played the right hand for its future.

      • That “east coast private university” that happens to be located in Indiana is a real part of the reason that Notre Dame fits into the ACC pretty well.

        I know that as far as TV contract negotiations go, it’ll be between the ACC and ESPN will regarding any renegotiation of the existing conference TV contract. As far as with Notre Dame’s home games (the contract currently with NBC), I suppose they could technically deal with anyone, although I think they like their arrangement with NBC.

        As far as Notre Dame’s football schedule moving forward, I think the simplest thing to do is to break it up by regions:

        Eastern teams: 6 per year (5 ACC + Navy)
        Midwest teams: 2 per year (2 out of Purdue / Michigan / Michigan State)
        Western teams: 2 per year (USC & Stanford)
        plus two games that they can schedule against anyone (Big 12 schools, SEC schools, BYU, Army, whoever)

        Given their schedule against the ACC, I doubt they’ll schedule another game against any other eastern schools again (other than perhaps Army). There’s very little history against current Big East teams (other than the two that are departing).

        • My big concern on their future contract negotiations is how it impacts the rest of the teams. Obviously, if they’re just going to stay with NBC, then the ACC only gets a marginal bump. But if their football games come to ESPN as part of the larger ACC sports package, we obviously get a much bigger lift (likely in the $5-7M range). I know that the Irish purposely wanted their contract to run out before renegotiating, so curious if we had anything to do with that.

    • Thanks! Doubt we’ll add a Notre Dame helmet, though we’ll obviously talk about them a bit more frequently than we had before. If we did add it, I would say the 5/9ths idea is an entertaining one. Haha

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