I have to admit it. I did not see this one coming.
But lo and behold, here it is: On Wednesday morning, ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy broke the news: Notre Dame is joining the ACC.
Notre Dame will join the Atlantic Coast Conference as a full member with the exception of football, but will play five football games annually against ACC teams.
"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," said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics, in a statement released by the conference. "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."
There is no timetable yet set for Notre Dame's departure from the Big East. Basketball coach Mike Brey texted ESPN.com's Andy Katz, saying "we're going," but confirmed there was no time frame set for the move. The Big East requires its current members to provide 27 months' notice (sort of like two weeks' notice at your job, but much longer) or a large departure fee, which Syracuse and Pittsburgh both recently paid to exit the league ahead of schedule. (Update: Big East associate commissioner John Paquette told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach on Wednesday morning that Notre Dame must pay a $5 million exit fee and wait 27 months to leave the conference.)
Much of the wider interest in this move will concern Notre Dame's football program, its status in the BCS, its sudden decision to play five ACC members a year, and so on. But as we care more about college basketball, let's focus on what this move does for everyone involved in hoops.
For Notre Dame and Brey, it changes scheduling and ... actually, isn't that about it? The Big East was already a tough league. So is the ACC. Notre Dame was already somewhat awkwardly apart from its conference's traditional footprint. Moving to the ACC might make that disparity a little more drastic, but all in all, it doesn't change much. Brey will keep the steady Irish machine -- this is a good, if rarely great, program -- churning.
For the ACC, it's something of a coup. Notre Dame is a quality basketball program. It has a huge national fan base that, OK, sure, may not care nearly as much about basketball as football, but still cares enough to watch.
It also sets the stage for another move. Notre Dame is the ACC's 15th team in nearly all sports but football, especially basketball. But for the modern TV-related importance of a strong football product -- which ND's scheduling games against ACC teams also provides -- the ACC's flagship is basketball. It seems likely that Swarbrick and his presidents will be eager to achieve a nice even number of basketball members, adding a 16th member sometime in the coming months. The question is: who?
And that brings us to what this means for the beleaguered Big East. As of this writing, many seem to already be declaring the death of the Big East as we know it. That feels a little premature. After all, Notre Dame didn't play football in the Big East. The loss of ND basketball is tough to swallow, particularly in the wake of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, but it's not necessarily a conference-killer.
Having said that ... the Big East keeps losing limbs, one after the other, like the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." And more could be on the way. The ACC still has 15 basketball members and 14 football members, and it could very well add a Big East stalwart like Georgetown without adding odd tallies to its football membership (Georgetown doesn't field an FBS program). Another loss like that -- or of Louisville, or Connecticut, or Rutgers, or any other real or imagined scenario currently floating on Twitter -- could be devastating.
In any case, the league is under new leadership. Former television executive Mike Aresco is doing everything he can to get the Big East a TV deal that will keep it afloat for the next decade, if not longer. He has to wrangle a conference that at this point is very little like the original Big East, and is instead an odd menagerie of football programs and basketball-only schools, all of which have very different values and very different ideas about what share of the conference's revenue that value entitles them to. And they're all under siege.
Aresco's job was already brutally tough. It only got worse Wednesday morning.
Update, 2:30 p.m.: Via our updated news story, multiple sources told McMurphy that the ACC "does not plan to expand to include a 16th school." ACC commissioner John Swofford confirmed as much publicly during today's ESPNU news conference: "There's no need to add a 16th team, and no intention to do so. From a practical standpoint, it's illogical."
Even if the Big East remains diminished -- and as Dana O'Neil wrote today, it does -- perhaps concerns about a continued or even accelerated exodus can be quashed. For now, at least.