Notre Dame to join ACC in all sports but football, hockey

September 12, 2012

The ACC announced Wednesday it will add Notre Dame to the conference for all sports except football, bringing another marquee school to the league and dealing a further blow to the Big East. As part of the agreement, Notre Dame will also play five nonconference football games per year against ACC opponents.

Notre Dame becomes the 15th member of the ACC and adds to the conference a school with a rich athletic tradition and a national following.

“This is the best athletic conference in the country and we will only make it better,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said during a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C., with ACC Commissioner John Swofford and the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president.

Swofford said the conference is not looking to add a 16th team because it would be “illogical” with the Fighting Irish not joining the ACC for football.

Notre Dame plans to start its ACC football rotation beginning with the 2014-15 season, when college football will implement a four-team playoff to decide the national championship, and join the conference for all other sports besides ice hockey in 2015-16.

On top of adding Notre Dame to the conference, ACC school presidents also voted to raise the conference’s exit fee from around $20 million to $50 million, a move that should solidify its membership going forward. But unlike the vote to add the Fighting Irish, that one was not unanimous. Allan Bense, chairman of the Florida State Board of Trustees, told WarChant.com that both Florida State and Maryland voted against the move to raise the exit fee, which needed affirmative votes from 9 of 12 ACC members for passage.

The Big East requires schools that wish to leave to provide 27 months notice, but that timetable could be expedited through a negotiated buyout. Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who will be joining the ACC in 2013-2014, did so earlier this year.

Swofford noted that the addition of Notre Dame has already prompted preliminary discussions with ESPN that could provide an “enhancement” to the league’s television contract. The ACC announced a 15-year, $3.6 billion extension with ESPN in May.

Notre Dame had been a partial member of the Big East since 1995 and is the fourth school to leave the conference in the past year. Last fall, Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they would leave for the ACC and West Virginia departed for the Big 12. To compensate, the Big East recently added two football-only members (Boise State and San Diego State) as well as five others for all sports (Temple, Memphis, Houston, Central Florida and SMU). Those schools will join the conference next season.

Navy will also join the Big East as a football-only member in 2015, creating a 13-team football conference and a 17-team conference in other sports.

“Notre Dame has been a valued member of the Big East conference and we wish them success in the future,” Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “However, Notre Dame’s departure does not change our plans. We have prestigious institutions that are excited to be a part of the Big East.”

The ACC, along with several other conferences, had long courted Notre Dame and its loyal national fan base, but Swofford had previously insisted that the Fighting Irish give up their football independence to join the league. He wanted Notre Dame as a full member this time around, but it quickly became apparent that was “not in the cards,” he said Wednesday.

“What was best 20 years ago is not necessarily best in today’s world,” Swofford said.

Added Swarbrick: “It’s our intention to remain independent. . . . If something drastic would change, we’re committed to the ACC and so we would expect this to be the home if we made a change.”

Notre Dame will also keep all the revenue from its lucrative television contract with NBC, and Swarbrick said it would end up being a “financially neutral” decision for the school. He added that the impetus for making a move now had to do with the impending playoff and Notre Dame’s position when it comes to non-BCS bowls.

The ACC designates 80 percent of its television revenue to football and 20 percent to basketball and other Olympic sports. Notre Dame will therefore receive an equal member share of that 20 percent.

As part of this arrangement, the goal is for each ACC team to play Notre Dame once every three years, either home or away. Swarbrick said Notre Dame will provide the ACC with five open dates each season and it will be up to the league to fill them. The Fighting Irish already have three ACC teams and Pittsburgh on this season’s football schedule.

Notre Dame hopes to maintain a presence on the West Coast when it comes to football scheduling, and Swarbrick said that continuing its tradition of facing Navy annually in football “has deep and important roots to the university.”

The Fighting Irish will also likely be part of the opponent pool that would be eligible to face the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl starting in 2014-15. In addition, Notre Dame will become part of the selection process for the ACC’s non-BCS bowl lineup. If the Fighting Irish are ranked higher or within one win of an ACC team, they could be selected for any of the league’s bowl tie-ins.

Notre Dame will keep all revenue it earns for qualifying to a BCS bowl game, including the Orange Bowl, and will receive a member share if it’s selected as part of the ACC’s non-BCS bowl tie-ins.

Reaction around the ACC to Notre Dame’s move was mostly positive, although Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said Wednesday he wished Notre Dame was “all-in for football,” a sentiment echoed by Miami Coach Al Golden.

That, though, wasn’t the focus on a day when the ACC added a brand name to its ranks and secured itself from potentially being poached in the next round of conference realignment.

“This is indeed a monumental day in the history of our league,” Swofford said.

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