Chicago Colleges: John Swofford

Notre Dame to join ACC

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
2:41
PM CT

Notre Dame will join the ACC as a full member with the exception of football, but will play five football games annually against ACC teams, the league announced Wednesday morning.

The Irish are currently Big East members in all sports but football. But instability in that league has left the Big East radically different than when Notre Dame first joined.

"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," the ACC Council of Presidents said in a joint statement. "The addition of Notre Dame further strengthens the rich tradition and culture of the ACC as well as allowing for future academic collaboration and we enthusiastically welcome them into the league."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said, "The ACC was founded on the cornerstones of balancing academics, athletics and integrity. 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."

It had been speculated that Notre Dame would look for another home for its Olympic sports after Pitt, West Virginia and Syracuse left the Big East last year. Pitt and Syracuse will join the ACC in 2013, following in the footsteps of former Big East members Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The Big East, meanwhile, has added eight new members and will have 12 schools competing in the league in 2013.

"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," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick 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."

The Council of Presidents also voted to increase the conference exit fee to three times the league's annual operating budget. Currently this would equate to an exit fee of more than $50 million.
So goes the start of another round of conference realignment chatter, the Big 12 and SEC starting their own bowl game and creating a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots in college football.

And, as this exercise goes, here come the questions about the status of Notre Dame's football independence.

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick quickly shut those down to The New York Times' Pete Thamel, saying: "We don't think it has significant near-term consequences for Notre Dame."

And, at the moment, I think he's right.

Yes, there looks to be a dividing line in college football more and more now. And, yes, it's not exactly clear which side Notre Dame falls on. But assuming the game's four-team playoff future keeps the door ajar for schools that haven't won their conferences, it's not like Notre Dame's path to playing for a national title becomes much harder with the creation of the Champions Bowl. And, as SI.com's Stewart Mandel notes, there will only be fewer obstacles for Notre Dame -- still a huge brand name -- to sign its own deal with another marquee bowl.

The only thing I can say with any real comfort is that should the day come when Notre Dame does need to relinquish its football independence, the ACC probably won't be first on speed dial anymore. (Colleague Mark Schlabach suggests that ACC commish John Swofford should now call Swarbrick immediately.)

The Big East doesn't look better today than it did last week, and the Irish-to-Big 12 possibility will gain some steam. But it's hard to envision Friday's news forcing the school's brass to say that jumping aboard a conference based 1,000 miles away is in the best interest of its 21-sport athletic department. And as Swarbrick told Thamel, this wasn't exactly out of nowhere.

The landscape of college sports has and will continue to change. How Notre Dame fits in is part of the narrative, but the end is probably still several chapters away.

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