Notre Dame joining ACC

Updated: September 13, 2012, 2:33 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Notre Dame is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in almost every sport except football, where the Fighting Irish will maintain their status as an independent.

The school's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined ACC commissioner John Swofford and three ACC presidents for a news conference on Wednesday announcing the Irish's move from the Big East.

"I don't think there's out there a better situation than the situation we have," Jenkins said. "The ACC has allowed us to retain a tradition (of football independence) that's so central to our identity in football while we're joining a conference that athletically as well as academically fits Notre Dame perfectly."

The move, first reported by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, means the ACC is making an exception to its all-or-nothing requirement for schools to be full members. Although they will remain independent in football, the Fighting Irish will play five games annually against ACC schools.

Notre Dame is not expected to leave the Big East for the ACC until at least 2014, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Big East associate commissioner John Paquette told ESPN.com that Notre Dame must pay the conference a $5 million exit fee and provide 27 months' notice before leaving. The fee would be significantly lower than those paid by Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which both negotiated $7.5 million settlements to leave the Big East ahead of schedule and join the ACC in July 2013.

The source told Schad that Notre Dame hopes to expedite its exit from the Big East and join the ACC earlier than the 27-month notification period, due to the precedent established by Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

"This is a resilient conference," Big East commissioner Mike Aresco told The Associated Press. "Our football conference is stronger than ever. We lose Notre Dame in basketball, but we remain top to bottom the strongest basketball conference in the country."

The ACC in turn cements a relationship with one of the nation's most storied football programs, adding to a group that already includes Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson. That would also seem to position the ACC as the easy choice if Notre Dame ever decides to give up its football independence.

"I think it just came through in our internal discussions that now's the time," Swofford said. "This is a partnership that is a win-win and good for both parties. The time had come to cross that threshold."

Notre Dame also will have access to the Orange Bowl and the ACC's non-BCS bowl tie-ins. The Fighting Irish have played in the Sun Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl over the past two seasons under coach Brian Kelly.

"Today is a great day for the University of Notre Dame and our athletics department, including the football program," Kelly said in a statement. "Speaking strictly from a football standpoint, we have further solidified our future as an independent in college football, maintained our unique ability to schedule nationally and greatly improved our postseason bowl game options.

"I applaud Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for this move. They have set our entire athletics department up for great success in the future."

Notre Dame considered giving up its football independence in 1999 to join the Big Ten, but alumni were staunchly opposed and the deal never got done. Throughout the dizzying conference realignment of the past few years, Notre Dame officials have been adamant about maintaining football independence.

Revenues from the ACC television deal with ESPN are likely to increase to as much as $18 million per school, just behind the $20 million deal per school the Big 12 recently signed. Sources told ESPN.com's Darren Rovell that the Notre Dame football TV deal with NBC is worth around $15 million per year.

Swarbrick said the deal was "financially neutral" for Notre Dame.

The commitment to five ACC games in football likely will mean some changes for the Irish's football schedule.

Notre Dame expects to continue to play USC, Stanford and Navy, but its traditional games against Big Ten opponents Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue are in jeopardy, a source told Schad. The source said the Fighting Irish's planned series with Texas likely will be played.

Pittsburgh would be the only ACC team on Notre Dame's 2013 schedule, which includes games against Temple, BYU, Arizona State and Air Force.

Swarbrick said Tuesday that the shift in scheduling wouldn't be as big as some people think.

"We're going to keep some traditional rivals and we're going to get around the country. We're still going to be in California every year and we're still going to find a way to get into the Southwest. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too," he said. "We'll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country."

Notre Dame has played basketball in the Big East since the mid-1990s. Now in the ACC, the Irish will face traditional powers such as Duke and North Carolina -- and rekindle its rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh -- while the league also fits other sports Notre Dame is competitive in, including lacrosse and soccer.

Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey texted ESPN.com's Andy Katz, saying "we're going," and adding that while no timetable has been established for the move, he is excited about the challenge.

In February, the ACC announced divisions for a 14-team basketball league, but it will now have to accommodate a 15th team. However, the league does not plan to expand to include a 16th school, multiple sources told McMurphy.

Aresco said the loss of Notre Dame does not change the Big East's plans.

"Our television reach remains the same," he said. "Our television situation remains the same. We valued Notre Dame as a member in basketball and Olympic sports. But we're not looking backward, we're looking forward."

Swarbrick said he informed the Notre Dame coaches of the move Wednesday morning. One of them, Brey, attended the news conference. He spent eight years as an assistant to Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"I think it's great and it comes as a great shot in the arm, I think, for me and our program," Brey said. "I'm looking forward to it. I still know a couple of the barbecue places around here. I know where to find stuff."

The ACC does not offer hockey, so it is presumed Notre Dame will go through with its planned move to Hockey East in that sport.

Along with inviting Notre Dame, the ACC also says it has increased its exit fees for the conference's schools to three times the annual operation budget -- which would currently come to more than $50 million.

Students at Notre Dame praised the move, saying it should help the other Fighting Irish teams.

"It's great. I think it's really exciting. They'll get to play a lot of new teams," said Mackenzie Dome, a first-year graduate student in global health from Ann Arbor, Mich.

"As long as we get to keep our football rivalry games, which it looks like we will, I don't think it will hugely effect our football schedule," said Alec MacDonell, an economics junior from Indianapolis. "There are obviously some decent teams in football and it should be a step up in other sports. So it will certainly be good to see some better competition in basketball."

Even the Notre Dame football players endorsed the move.

"It's great for our other sports. The basketball teams will get to play Duke, North Carolina, all those good teams every year. For us, we're already playing four ACC teams, add one more, it doesn't really make any difference to us," offensive tackle Zack Martin said.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Joe Schad, Andy Katz, Mark Schlabach and Darren Rovell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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