Whether or not you believe in climate change and rising sea levels, the Atlantic Coast is undeniably getting closer and closer to the midwest.
South Bend, Ind., is now affiliated with the Atlantic Coast Conference, after all.
In a move that has been bandied about for years since the collegiate expansion dominoes began falling at an accelerated rate, Notre Dame has dipped its toe into the Atlantic waters.
While maintaining its preferred independence in football, the Fighting Irish became the latest entity to abandon the Big East and join the ACC in all other sports (except hockey, which the ACC doesn’t offer). That brings the ACC’s consumption of the old Big East to an even six, with the Irish joining Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in defecting in the past decade.
While I’ve long been critical of ACC commissioner John Swofford’s expansionary compulsion and still wish the ACC had remained the perfect nine-team association it was before the 2005 growth spurt, this latest acquisition is a no-brainer.
Notre Dame was the only free agent on the market worth obtaining, and Swofford compromised the conference’s “all in or nothing” philosophy to get it done. Even as tarnished as the Golden Dome is in football these days, getting them as a nonconference commitment to five games per year nicely dresses the schedule for current ACC members.
“What was best 20 years ago isn’t necessarily best in today’s world,” Swofford said. “We talked about crossing that threshold and took it very seriously. Now’s the time and this is a partnership that’s a win-win. The time had come to cross that threshold.”
This also greases the skids for a potential Orange Bowl matchup and possibly full membership down the road if the Irish finally come to terms with the reality that it’s just not the national championship contender it used to be without conference affiliation.
Notre Dame will be an ACC partner in the non-BCS level bowls that the ACC has tie-ins with.
To be selected over an ACC team for, say, the bowl formerly known as Peach, Notre Dame must have an equal or higher ranking or be within one win of any ACC teams eligible to be picked.
Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins, thanked the ACC for “allowing us to continue traditions in football that go back nearly a century while allowing us to be a part of this great conference.”
“We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us,” Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s director of athletics, said in a statement. “We are able to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC’s non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports.”
Notre Dame has always seemed like a more natural fit for the Big Ten (which is really 12 teams), with already established regional rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. But the Irish considered itself a better academic fit with the ACC – something that matters only to university presidents.
“The ACC was founded on the cornerstones of balancing academics, athletics and integrity,” Swofford said. “Our partnership with Notre Dame only strengthens this long-standing commitment.”
Let’s be honest. Notre Dame really didn’t want to join the Big Ten because it doesn’t want to have to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan annually for a spot in the national championship spotlight. The ACC hardly compares from a football perspective.
For now, the ACC only gets partial benefits of the Irish football coattails, but that is a huge step in holding together the league in the face of potential future expansion raids from the Southeastern or Big 12 (which is really just 10) conferences. They might not be fully married, but just co-habitating with Notre Dame with occasional non-conference benefits should be enough to keep the eyes of Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech from wandering to other suitors.
As will the newly agreed upon prohibitive $50 million exit fee.
“This is truly a great day for the Atlantic Coast Conference and for Georgia Tech,” said Dan Radakovich, Georgia Tech’s director of athletics. “We are delighted to be joined by such a prestigious and respected institution such as Notre Dame. From so many angles, this relationship will enhance the rich tradition of our league and provide new and exciting opportunities for Georgia Tech and the ACC. I know Tech fans and sports fans throughout the region look forward to outstanding competition against the Irish for many years to come.”
Notre Dame will join the ACC as soon as it can exit the barely breathing Big East, which currently requires 27-month exit notice by members. Pitt and Syracuse paid a higher exit fee to join the ACC a year early in 2013 while West Virginia negotiated to join the Big 12 in time for this football season.
There are other significant hurdles to scale. The ACC recently announced its plans to accommodate a 14-team conference basketball schedule, and soon that will grow to 15 teams. Unless the Irish decide to relent on their independent football status, the conference has no plans to add anyone else.
“There is no need to add a 16th team to the league and no intention of doing so,” Swofford said. “From practical standpoint it is illogical. We will be a 15-team league.”
Whatever complications it causes schedule-wise when the Irish join in 2015-16, the ACC’s basketball coaches should welcome the addition.
“This solidifies us as the best and deepest basketball conference in the country with the success that Mike Brey has been able to establish with Notre Dame basketball,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “They add another power program to our league. ... The leadership of the ACC has done it again. I think they hit a home run.”
It’ll be a home run if Notre Dame decides to go “all in” after its football TV deal with NBC runs out in 2015 and the new football playoffs begin in 2014. But it’s clearly a major self-preservation step for the ACC in the ongoing expansion wars.