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.