Notre Dame ACC Move Makes Perfect Sense

By John Gorman

News released this morning that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports, except for football.

Currently, Notre Dame is a quasi-member of the Big East Conference, but their new relationship with the ACC looks to be more solid and thorough – and that’s great news for both the school and the conference.

The soonest Notre Dame could leave under current Big East rules is 2015, but the school could negotiate an earlier departure.

As part of the agreement, Notre Dame agrees to play five games against ACC schools annually. This season, they already play four of their future ACC conference-mates (Miami Oct. 6 and Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest in three consecutive weeks in November).

If Notre Dame were to keep their schedule consistent – and they often schedule their games years in advance – they would need to drop one other team from their current schedule, and add one ACC team. One could speculate they could schedule former Big East brethren Syracuse or Virginia Tech, or revive the dormant Florida State ‘rivalry.’

So is this about the money? Athletic competition? Academics? Maybe all three. Maybe none. But without question, this is the move that makes the most sense.

A university official was quoted by as saying:

“In any short-term way there’s no financial benefit,” the official said. “If we wanted to do something for money we would have joined the Big 10. What its really about is postseason play.”

What this does for the ACC is improve the look of their football schedule. Notre Dame’s vaunted strength-of-schedule, combined with marquee games against the ACC, gives the conference a boost nationally.

This ups the league membership to a behemoth 15 teams, the first conference to cross that threshold.

From the ACC Press Release:

“The ACC was founded on the cornerstones of balancing academics, athletics and integrity,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford. “Our partnership with Notre Dame only strengthens this long-standing commitment. Notre Dame enhances the league’s unique blend of public and private institutions that are international in scope. The collective alumni and fan bases cover the entire country with exceptionally strong roots up and down the Atlantic Coast. This is a terrific milestone in the evolution of the ACC and showcases tremendous solidarity and vision by our Council of Presidents.”

“The ACC is composed of some of the most highly respected universities in the country, and we at Notre Dame look forward to joining them,” said Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “With a mix of institutions – many of which are also private, similar to Notre Dame in size, and committed to excellence in research and undergraduate education – the ACC is an exceptionally good fit for us academically, as well as athletically.”

In doing so, the ACC becomes the conference the Big East always wanted to be: A big-market, big-money conference with unrivaled basketball prowess, competitive football programs, and a good mix of public and private institutions with superior academics.

The conference now consists of 11 of the Top 58 “Best American Colleges” in the 2013 U.S. News and World Report, more than any other conference. The ACC is now the premier academic juggernaut of all the major athletic conferences (if it wasn’t already, which you could argue that it was).

Notre Dame is the sixth former Big East school to join the ACC. The first five? Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. They become the third team (Syracuse and Pittsburgh, again) to join the ACC in just the past year. The conference commissioner, John Swofford, should be exalted in ACC country for his efforts.

The biggest news, even bigger than Notre Dame joining the ACC, though, was this small piece of news tagged on to the end of the decision: With the addition of Notre Dame, the ACC increases exit fees to 300% of the annual operating budget, which would be an estimated $50 million.

This speaks volumes about the viability of the ACC long-term as a powerhouse conference, not long after the conference’s death seemed imminent, as well as puts the brakes on more realignment. Those exit fees should be enough to dissuade conferences like the SEC or Big Ten from plucking ACC members.

Notre Dame and the ACC should both be smiling brightly today. With just one unanimous decision, they disappointed The Big Ten and Big 12, killed the Big East, became the first 15-team conference, and ended the Great College Football Gold Rush of 2009-2012.

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