- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Remember this day, ACC fans, because it’s going to be historic.
The ACC has managed to do what no other conference has been able to, and get Notre Dame to embrace change.
Not the Big Ten. Not the Big 12. The ACC.
“The only conference with whom we entered into substantive discussions was the ACC,” said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
The ACC has done the unprecedented and won over Notre Dame -- so much so that if the Irish would ever decide to shed their cloak of independence, there’s no question the ACC would be their new football home.
“I want to reinforce that it’s our intention to remain independent,” Swarbrick said. “It’s central to us and was central to these discussions. If something should change -- I don’t know what that would be, but if something drastic would change -- we’re committed to the ACC. We would expect this to be the home of that if we made a change, but I don’t want to send the wrong message.”
The message “committed to the ACC” is a win in itself.
The ACC’s announcement on Wednesday that Notre Dame will join the conference in all sports but football is a major coup for the ACC and could be a steppingstone for the Irish into full-blown football membership. Both Notre Dame and the ACC had to make concessions to make this work. It's not the ACC's style to allow a member to join without the total package. Committing to five games seems like a prolonged engagement, with it only being a matter of time before these two finally get married. The ACC also jacked up its exit fee from about $20 million to more than $50 million -- an astronomical number that should once and for all put an end to any speculation about teams leaving the ACC.
(Just a reminder, it still only costs $10 million to leave the Big East.)
Don’t let John Swofford’s smile and polite handshake fool you: The mild-mannered businessman knows how to cut a deal -- not to mention recruit.
With this move, the ACC hit two home runs: It solidified its current membership for the future and cornered Notre Dame into a commitment. The biggest downside to this for ACC fans is the bowl arrangement. Under the new agreement, Notre Dame could step over an ACC team and take its place in one of the non-BCS bowls if its record is better than, equal to or within one win of the ACC team or ranked higher in the BCS standings. ACC fans are likely to get a taste of what has angered Big East fans for years. In the big picture, though, it's worth the trade-off.
While five football games might seem like a tease to many ACC fans, it’s important to remember that that’s almost half of Notre Dame’s schedule. Eventually, under this new agreement, every ACC team will face Notre Dame at least once in a three-year period. That’s an especially intriguing scenario, considering the ACC is moving to a nine-game conference schedule next year when Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the league.
Adding Notre Dame to the lineup for Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech, which already have built-in SEC rivals, will make a national championship run even more difficult, but it also will make for a more entertaining nonconference schedule (see you later, Savannah State and Murray State). It also will boost the ACC’s strength of schedule in time for the new playoff system, as Swarbrick said Notre Dame would like to begin the five-game arrangement as early as 2014.
The timetable for the other sports to leave the Big East is still unknown, as the Big East bylaw still requires a 27-month notice period for teams to leave. That has been followed about as well as a 35 mph speed limit sign, though, as Pitt, West Virginia and Syracuse all have set legal precedent to leave before then. Pitt and Syracuse will join the ACC in July 2013.
The possibility of Notre Dame football eventually following now seems more viable than ever.