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Notre Dame to Leave Big East, Join A.C.C.

Notre Dame will join the A.C.C. in all sports with the exception of football and hockey, the conference announced Wednesday. As first reported by Brett McMurphy of ESPN, the university’s arrangement with the A.C.C. differs from its previous affiliation with the Big East in one significant fashion: Notre Dame will play five non-conference games annually against A.C.C. competition. In a way, this slides the Irish into a role as the league’s 15th member – while certainly not a full-fledge football member, seeing that the program is not playing for any sort of conference hardware, Notre Dame’s relationship with the A.C.C. is far deeper, far more meaningful and far more significant than the university’s prior connection to the Big East.

This is a major, landscape-changing event for the N.C.A.A.; for all the negativity tossed in the school’s direction, Notre Dame remains one of the N.C.A.A.’s few national brands, and any shift from South Bend has a ripple effect throughout the entire country.

Begin with the blow this deals to the Big East. While Notre Dame was not a football member, only occasionally even playing teams from the league, the Irish’s departure spells trouble for a conference that remains every much in flux: Syracuse and Pittsburgh will leave after this coming season, beating Notre Dame to the A.C.C.’s front door.

In addition, there’s reason to think that the A.C.C. would reach into the Big East to add a 16th member – if only for non-football purposes, to create a pair of eight-team divisions for men’s and women’s basketball. Would the A.C.C. look to Connecticut as its 16th member? Georgetown? It’s a dangerous time for the Big East.

For the A.C.C., this addition solidifies the league’s backbone after a fairly tenuous summer. In June and July, multiple outlets intimated that schools like Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech were serious targets for conferences like the Big 12 and SEC, should either have elected to move beyond their current makeup.

This left A.C.C. commissioner John Swofford in a dangerous spot – in a time when conferences must be proactive, looking beyond their borders during expansion’s arm race, the A.C.C. was being reactive. Reeling in Notre Dame, even on a non-football basis, strengthens not just the league but Swofford’s role as its leader.

What’s the greatest sign that Notre Dame’s arrival spells a new day for the A.C.C.? After a summer of fingernail-chewing nervousness, the A.C.C.’s Council of Presidents voted to increase the league’s exit fees to three times the annual operating budget. How much is that? Currently, that total equates to an exit fee of $50 million. No one is going anywhere.

“We are committed to keeping the Atlantic Coast Conference a vibrant and competitive league dedicated to ensuring the appropriate balance of academics, athletics and integrity,” said the A.C.C. Council of Presidents, via the league’s official release.

“The addition of Notre Dame further strengthens the rich tradition and culture of the A.C.C. as well as allowing for future academic collaboration and we enthusiastically welcome them into the league.”

Notre Dame’s arrangement with the A.C.C., the five annual dates with league competition, might spell the end of many longstanding rivalries with programs in the Midwest. If not the end, moving to the A.C.C. will certainly alter, or delay, Notre Dame’s relationships with rivals like U.S.C., Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.

A 12-game regular season schedule; five are occupied with A.C.C. foes; seven games left, and with games scheduled years in advance, I wonder how – or whether – we’ll see the Irish and Wolverines meet every fall. Likewise with U.S.C. and Michigan State, another pair of key rivals, and Purdue, which loves playing Notre Dame for the fact it gives the Boilermakers a national platform.

If the Irish want to maintain one West Coast rivalry, whether against U.S.C. or Stanford, and another game against a service academy, that would leave five games on its schedule. One can only think that this will mean the end of at least one or two of the program’s annual rivalries.

So when will Notre Dame join the A.C.C.? According to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, the projected departure date is “very murky.” Paraphrased, a university official tells Thamel that “the earliest Notre Dame could leave the Big East without penalty is 2015.”

As we saw with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East typically requires a roughly two-year notice before a program bolts for another conference. But again, as was the case with the Orange and Panthers, a school could circumvent this two-year period by paying a fairly substantial exit fee.

Basically, the Irish couldn’t leave the Big East before 2015 without paying a penalty, as the above quote from Thamel’s article indicates. But the university could certainly leave for the A.C.C. ahead of the date if it is willing to pay the Big East an exit fee. That’s the next step for the university.

Thamel’s article makes another significant point: Notre Dame meshes remarkably well with the A.C.C.’s image. For one, the football program, under Brian Kelly, has done tremendous recruiting work in the Mid-Atlantic region. Via Bryan Fischer, the recruiting expert for CBSSports.com, 33 of Notre Dame’s 51 recruits under Kelly have come from the region.

Secondly, the university fits into the conference’s academic profile. “The A.C.C. 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’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins.

“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 A.C.C. is an exceptionally good fit for us academically, as well as athletically.”

As the A.C.C. notes, the addition of Notre Dame gives the conference 11 universities ranked among the top 58 in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report survey of “America’s Best Colleges,” more than any other conference competing on the F.B.S. level.

Now, what does this mean for the future of Independent programs in the F.B.S.? With Navy joining the Big East in 2015, there will be only two true Independent programs: B.Y.U. and Army. Notre Dame’s new relationship with the A.C.C. sends a signal that “true” Independent status is no longer a truly desirable status on the F.B.S. level.

Does a program like B.Y.U., the newest Independent, need to consider entering a Notre Dame-like relationship with another conference? With the Pac-12 and Big 12 likely uninterested in an everything-but-football relationship, B.Y.U. might need to reenter into an association with the Mountain West – playing five or six games against conference competition as an Independent program — or cement its current pseudo-relationship with the WAC.

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Comments

  1. GTWrek says:

    The entire arrangement is simply a preliminary step to start the process of getting out of the big east and allowing the NBC TV deal to expire.

    Everything points to ND joining as a full member once their NBC deal is up, so I wouldn’t expect any immediate additions to bring basketball up to 16. The plan will be to expand to 16 in football once ND is in, and expansion may not necessarily be through the Big East. With ND on board, there are much bigger fish that can be reeled in.

  2. PeteP says:

    The Mountain West as a conference still has very bitter feelings towards BYU and I doubt BYU would want to be associated with it again. BYU has lined up some great games over the next few years (really too ambitious and likely to result in 8-4 seasons)and no longer wants to carry the MWC on its back.

    The Pac-12 will never invite BYU into any sort of relationship (even though the Utah and CU invites are starting to look weak) and BYU is very interested in the Big 12, but not at the cost of compromising its values and ideals (Sunday play, BYUtv, rebroadcast rights, etc.)

  3. Dimitri says:

    “As the A.C.C. notes, the addition of Notre Dame gives the conference 11 universities ranked among the top 58 in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report survey of “America’s Best Colleges,” more than any other conference competing on the F.B.S. level.”

    The top 58? We academics talk about the top 58 Universities all the time. Sounds like a natural cutoff point to me.

  4. Adam says:

    I’m not really sure why you’re speculating about the Michigan and ND series considering the contract was extended until the mid 2020s with a 2 year gap in 2018/19. Additionally, the ND and Michigan ADs have repeatedly said they plan to extend the series with regular, infrequent gaps in the schedule.

    Here are the sure things on ND’s schedule:
    5 ACC + #1 Rival USC + Navy + instate/down the road rival Purdue. Likely MSU.

    Who are they going to fill out the remaining 3 games with? They already historically play FSU, Miami, Maryland, Pitt, GT, Cuse semi regularly…I can’t even come up with 5 powerhouse ACC programs anyway. The point is this: some of those ACC games will be cupcakes made up of Duke and Wake and Cuse. You can’t fill the last 3 ‘open’ games with USF, Louisiana Monroe and Western Michigan and expect Irish fans to be happy with that schedule if you’re already playing 3 ACC games against (insert ACC team not named VT, FSU, Miami here).

    Michigan-ND doesn’t have as many total games played as USC, Purdue, Navy or even MSU. But there’s no way those two fanbases let the series run its course because the ACC just grabbed one more game on the schedule than they played this season.

    I think you’re overreacting to this news. In a nutshell, the ACC and its teams can now sell the FACT that they will play ND 5 times guaranteed per year. The only thing changing for Notre Dame will be one more sure ACC game.

  5. Colin says:

    What? You forget that the University of Idaho will be independent, as well?

    That’s OK. Nobody else remembers them, either.

  6. Morell says:

    I have a gambling addiction, can you give me your Top 10 picks (against the spread) every week? Is that too Much to ask?

  7. jjncaa says:

    Colin, and you forgot that the New Mexico State University will be independent as well? :p

  8. Colin says:

    Has NMSU officially announced it? I know that Idaho has announced it and has approval from the state board to do so.

    I’m also from the state, and can’t stop laughing at Idaho trying to go independent.

  9. Bucky says:

    B.Y.U. already has it’s other sports aligned with the W.C.C., not the WAC.

    And they remain Independent in football, much like Notre Dame.

    Paul: Yeah, thanks, Bucky. Had WAC above, obviously. Changing to West Coast Conference.

  10. GTWrek says:

    ND does not normally play 4 ACC teams, this year is an anomaly. The effect on the schedule will be profound as it pertains to the Big 10.

    ND cannot afford to keep all of USC, UM, MSU, etc… on the schedule because the schedule will be far too difficult.

    It was explicitly stated by a Notre Dame official this morning that their priority in maintaining existing relationships lies with the west coast and Navy. It will be the Big 10 taking the hit from this from a scheduling standpoint. Particularly: Michigan State and Purdue.

    Until they become a full ACC member, I think ND is looking at:

    5 ACC games
    USC, Stanford
    Michigan
    Navy
    3 mid-majors. Every once and awhile 2 mid-majors and a big time unique opponent like an Ohio State or Texas.

    In the ACC they probably keep USC as the only full time permanent OOC foe.

  11. Lee says:

    GTWrek nailed it. USC, Stanford, Navy, and Michigan are locks. When you add 5 ACC teams then you get a solid schedule with 3 “flexible” games.

    Solid schedule because you know the ACC will try to balance the load. They are not going to hammer ND with Clemson, Miami, FSU, VT, and GT in the same year. They will stagger it with some lower tier ACC teams most likely.

    Example:
    USC, Stanford, Michigan, Navy, FSU, Duke, Virginia, GT, NCST, Army, Savannah State :), Bowling Green.

    Not that bad actually.

  12. Virginia is for lovers says:

    @GTWrek:

    There are already leaks that the USC, Stanford, and Navy games are locks. Bringing “locked” schedule to eight games, which is basically a conference slate with four OOC games as variables. Michigan may actually be a casualty, but who knows.

    Regarding your first post about the ACC looking to reel in “bigger fish” are you thinking U. Florida?

  13. So what... says:

    So now Notre Dame will lose to Wake Forest instead of losing to Tulsa, so what, nobody cares who ND losses to.

  14. towndrunk says:

    Here’s what i want to know: is the agreement that the 5 ND-ACC games will all be played on a home-and-home basis?ND tries to play at 7 games a year at home most years plus a neutral games. i haven’t seen anything indicating that ND is changing that scheduling strategy. i suspect that ND could’ve entered into an agreement to play a series of home and home games against members with the SEC, Big10 or Big12.

  15. Jarious says:

    Town drunk, buzz on dude. ND is scheduling a 6-5-1 model, see this year. Also, the ACC games are not home and home. ND will provide the dates for each season, and the ACC will provide the schools.

    Win-win for both sides. ND keeps independence in football, gets a significant upgrade on non-BCS bowl tie-ins, gets scheduling certainty, plus gets away from conference US…I mean, the big east. The ACC gets to borrow the ND brand without a significant investment of their TV money.

  16. ND AD speaks says:

    @Virginia is for lovers

    Notre Dame AD was asked directly (on radio) if the Michigan series would continue and he sidestepped the question saying that they haven’t thought that far ahead but that the Big Ten rivalries are “very important” to ND. Sounds like ND/Michigan will not be yearly and will probably take a “break” here soon. Likely resume at some point, but doesn’t sound like it will be an annual thing.

    Not that anyone cares, but I wanted to add to VIFL’s earlier comment that ND/Michigan would be a casualty of the ACC agreement.

  17. southwvboy says:

    This shows ND’s decline in football. They signed on to be apart of the weakest BCS conference (excluding Big East that thing is done). ND is a big leach, paracite whatever, the fact that had a voice and a big one at that in the Big East screwed around and let that thing fall all to hell, and now they bolt to suck the life out of another mediocre football conference. The orange bowl is now the ACC vs Notre Dame game. I try not to hate Notre Dame like a lot of people do but when they are able to come and go on their own terms as they please it makes them hard not to hate. They have a lot of power, and with that power they could have saved the Big East. I’m happy with WVU being in the Big12-2 but I would still rather be in a league playing teams in WVU’s own region. If ND steps up in 03 and pushes their weight around with ESPN the Big East would still be a major player. Don’t forget WVU has more BSC victories then the ACC combined. Just had to add that.

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