September 19, 2012
Initial reactions to Notre Dame's partial ACC membership were provincial, predictable and understandable.
Could the Fighting Irish affect my favorite team's bowl destination? Even worse, could they cost my school a bowl bid? And just how much of the ACC's postseason football money will Notre Dame receive?
The answers, not to mention the Irish's potential impact on the conference's secondary bowl arrangements, should please fans.
Don't take my word. Listen to Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett.
Appearing on WJXL-AM in Jacksonville last week, he called Notre Dame a "huge coup" for ACC commissioner John Swofford.
"Now he's really enhanced his football bowl opportunities," Catlett told the station.
Catlett did not return my call Tuesday, but his point is well-taken. As conferences and bowls renew and rearrange contracts in the wake of college football's impending playoff, Notre Dame's inclusion in the ACC pool will give the league more leverage than ever.
That could translate to better bowls and/or higher payouts for the ACC below the playoff tier.
Catlett's Gator Bowl, based in Jacksonville, used to match teams from the ACC and Big East, an arrangement that ended in 2009 with Florida State's victory over West Virginia in Bobby Bowden's farewell as the Seminoles' coach.
Virginia Tech was the Big East's Gator Bowl representative in 1994, '97 and 2001, and the ACC's in 2005. Virginia played in the Gator following the 1991 and 2007 seasons.
Catlett said he parted ways with the ACC because of the league's so-called "two-win rule," which prohibits bowls from selecting a team with two fewer conference wins than another. Like all bowl types, Catlett wanted carte blanche to choose the postseason-eligible team that would sell the most tickets and attract the largest television audience, regardless of record.
If that meant 7-5 Clemson instead of 9-3 Maryland, so be it.
"We actually walked away from the Big East because they wouldn't give us more access to Notre Dame," Catlett added.
The Big East limited how often the Irish could appear in the conference's contracted bowls. Notre Dame will have equal access to the ACC's bowls, despite playing only five games per regular season against league programs.
So clearly, when the next round of bowl contracts are set for the 2014 season and beyond, the Irish will have upgraded their postseason prospects. But what of the ACC?
First, I can't imagine Notre Dame costing any conference team a bowl bid. In the era of 12-game regular seasons, no postseason-eligible ACC squad, not even the 6-6 outfits, has been bypassed.
Most important, that's unlikely to change with the league set to add Syracuse and Pittsburgh in 2013. That expansion, plus Notre Dame's arrival, should allow the ACC to expand its list of secondary bowls beyond the current eight.
Also understand, Notre Dame will not scarf an unreasonable share of the conference's revenue from those games. The Irish and the league's 14 full members will split that money 15 ways.
According to the ACC's most recent federal tax return, for fiscal 2010-11, secondary bowl revenue was approximately $16.7 million, or little more than $1 million per school. The difference between a 14- and 15-way division of $16.7 million is a scant $80,000.
Presuming a .500 record or better, Notre Dame's presence will affect the ACC's bowl pecking order each season, dropping some conference teams a notch. That seems a fair price to pay for the benefits the Irish will bring.
Those bennies include the five regular-season games, which will increase the ACC's television revenue from ESPN, and the Notre Dame name when pitching the conference to bowl suitors.
Time will tell whether the ACC and Gator, which now pits the Big Ten versus the Southeastern Conference, might renew acquaintances, or even if the new-look ACC could spawn a new bowl. But having a Leprechaun can't hurt.
"As long as they've been (outside the top 10)," Catlett said of the Irish, "they've still got something. They've still got that Notre Dame mystique."
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