Notre Dame’s move to ACC shows its clout is as strong as ever
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2012 9:46PM
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick (left) speaks as ACC commissioner John Swofford listens at a news conference Wednesday at the University of North Carolina. | Gerry Broome~AP
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:44AM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As his umpteenth and final news conference of the day began to wind down, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick looked out at a crowded field of reporters and cameras, thought back to all the emails he had received throughout the day and reflected on how his program was on the front page of every major sports website and on the tongues of every sports talk radio host.
“It’s an awful lot of attention for a school that’s not relevant anymore,” Swarbrick said with a sly smile.
Notre Dame showed it still has plenty of muscle in the world of college athletics on Wednesday, flexing its way into what both sides deemed a “win-win” deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Irish escape the crumbling husk of the Big East in basketball and all other Olympic sports in favor of the ever-strengthening ACC. Yet the Irish also retain their treasured football independence and their ability to remain a unique, national, barnstorming presence — their “identity,” as university president Rev. John Jenkins put it — and their lucrative NBC contract, while gaining access to all of the postseason bowl tie-ins that only a conference can afford.
After years of rejecting overtures from the Big Ten, Big 12 and yes, the ACC, Notre Dame finally found the deal it was looking for.
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” Jenkins said.
The details of the deal, which was triggered by the decision to end the BCS in favor of a four-team playoff, and which had been in the works since late July:
† Notre Dame will play five ACC opponents in football every season, beginning in 2014, with three home games and two road games. Each year, that will flip. Some of the Irish’s long-standing rivalries could be in jeopardy as a result, but Swarbrick said USC, Stanford and Navy definitely will remain on the schedule.
† Starting in the 2014 season, Notre Dame will have access to all of the ACC bowl tie-ins, like any league team. Notre Dame also will be eligible to play against the ACC in the Orange Bowl. This, Swarbrick said, was the key to the decision. “I concluded that our bowl options would be significantly better in an affiliation with the ACC than they’d likely be in an affiliation with the Big East,” he said.
† Notre Dame will join the ACC in basketball and all other Olympic sports (except for hockey, which will move to Hockey East) no later than 2015-16. But Swarbrick hopes he can negotiate a deal to skirt the mandatory 27-month waiting period and expedite Notre Dame’s departure from the Big East — as West Virginia (Big 12 this year), Pittsburgh (ACC next year) and Syracuse (ACC next year) have. “My own philosophy is in ‘It’s everybody’s interests to do it sooner than later,’ ’’ Swarbrick said.
† ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league will remain at 15 teams. And the ACC raised the exit fee to more than $50 million, all but assuring the long-term stability of the league. Notre Dame coaches in seemingly every sport were enthusiastic about the deal. Men’s basketball coach Mike Brey was particularly excited. The way he sees it, the Irish are leaving for the best basketball league in America.
“We didn’t want to be the last one on the deck if things start, you know…” Brey said, trailing off.
It’s just the latest monumental move in a long line of tectonic shifts in the college sports landscape. But Swarbrick hopes this is the last one, that Notre Dame can show just how relevant it still is by having the last word.
“I think gives us a real chance that we are going to have a period ahead of us now in college athletics which is going to be pretty stable,” he said. “That would be one of the nicest possible legacies, if five years from now we look back on this deal and say, you know what, that ushered in a period of where we focused on what was going on on the field and not what was going on in the AD’s office in college sports. And I think it will.”