Notre Dame to Leave Big East, Join A.C.C.
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 12, 2012
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.
Tags: A.C.C., Army, B.Y.U., Big East, Conference Expansion, Independents, John Jenkins, John Swofford, Mountain West, Navy, Notre Dame, WAC
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