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Teel Time: Wake Forest president Hatch discusses ACC expansion, Notre Dame

By David Teel

8:59 AM EDT, September 4, 2012

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Nathan Hatch was raised on the ACC. Len Chappell, Art Heyman, Billy Cunningham: Growing up in Columbia, S.C., Hatch watched many of the league’s basketball legends play against the hometown South Carolina Gamecocks.

 “The ACC,” he said, “was deep in my blood.”

And still is.

As president of charter member Wake Forest, Hatch plays a leading role in guiding the conference’s future. He is among four presidents on the ACC’s 12-member expansion committee, and last month he was elected to a two-year term as chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors.

As a tantalizing aside, Hatch worked 30 years on the campus of realignment’s grand prize, one the ACC has long pursued.

I interviewed Hatch last week, and this post, the first of two from our conversation, will focus on ACC issues. The subsequent post will address NCAA/national concerns.

Hatch accepted Wake Forest’s presidency in 2005, shortly after the league added Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College. He then was appointed to the so-called “4x4x4” expansion committee, a panel of four presidents, four athletic directors and four faculty representatives, one member for each of the 12 schools.

Last summer that group coordinated the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who will join in 2013.

“I think we’re very comfortable (at 14),” Hatch said. “Syracuse and Pitt are great members of the ACC. It was done unanimously. I think there is a certain stability.”

Indeed, the only school ever to leave the ACC was South Carolina in 1972. But this spring and summer, some media insisted that Florida State and Clemson were poised to join the Big 12.

Then-Florida State Regents chair Andy Haggard started the firestorm with half-baked criticism of the conference’s new television contract with ESPN. Equally uninformed media pronounced the ACC DOA – in their fantasy world, Virginia Tech was negotiating a move to the Southeastern Conference.

Conversations with presidential peers told Hatch differently.

 “Schools like Florida State and Clemson have been pretty resolute about liking where they are,” he said, “although they have board members, many of whom are state politicians, and they say a lot of things. …

“I think it was exaggerated in the press. … It’s another whole issue of the nature of public boards, as you all in Virginia know (from the aborted attempt to oust UVa president Teresa Sullivan). You have people on boards who get there in a variety of ways and have different kinds of interests. It’s much harder to have the necessary coherence between the administration and its board than at a private institution.”

Hatch knows private institutions. He knows one often linked to the ACC better than most anyone.

For 30 years, and in various capacities, Hatch worked at Notre Dame. He served as a history professor, dean and provost. Each of his three children graduated from Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish are major college football’s last independent. They call the Big East home for their other sports.

ACC officials long have resisted similar, partial membership for Notre Dame. All in or not in at all has been the stance.

But with the Big East splintering and the Irish perhaps searching for a more suitable conference, ACC commissioner John Swofford and Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage have softened that hard line.

“So far the center of gravity has been the ACC is an all-in place,” Hatch said. “Whether that will change, I’m not sure. … There’s nothing pressing on these issues. …

“When I was provost at Notre Dame (1996-2005), there were discussions (with the ACC), and that decision (to remain an independent) was made. So I’m not sure. … It does have to do with what Notre Dame’s vision is long-term, and they keep that pretty close to the vest.”

The ACC’s Notre Dame connections are legion. Duke athletic director Kevin White and former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan served there as AD. New North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham is a Notre Dame graduate and worked there as an administrator.

“They would be a good match,” Hatch said. “The ACC already has five privates (Wake Forest, Miami, Duke, Boston College and Syracuse), and when you take places like UVa, Georgia Tech and Chapel Hill, they’re like public privates. So in terms of the ACC’s commitment to the well-being of student-athletes and to academic issues in general, Notre Dame would be a great fit.”

Hatch confirmed that the Irish are likely to be part of the opponents’ pool opposite the ACC champion in future Orange Bowls. The league and Orange Bowl recently extended their contract through 2025, mirroring the terms of college football’s new playoff.

“Discussions with Notre Dame did take place about the Orange Bowl,” Hatch said. “Not on our side, but as a potential (opponent). … I think Notre Dame would love to be one of the potential teams on the other side. I’m not sure about all the other negotiations (between) the Orange Bowl and so forth. But I think that would be a very positive thing.”

Stay tuned for a second post, in which Hatch discusses football’s playoff, the NCAA’s treatment of Penn State and the raising of academic standards.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP