Notre Dame and the ACC didn’t need one another 10 years ago, five years ago or even six months ago. But after an historic, seismic and downright bizarre spring and summer, they do now.
Their partnership, announced Wednesday, is imperfect. But as Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, the move is mutually beneficial and rooted in “shared values.”
Sure, the ACC preferred that Notre Dame forgo its football independence and join as a full member. ESPN would have written a blank check, and fans would have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day year-round.
But despite a 24-year national-championship drought, Irish football remains unique, with a coast-to-coast cache that makes annual games against the likes of Southern California and Navy non-negotiable.
“We didn’t think we could give (independence) up without losing our identity,” said Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president.
So starting in 2014, the Irish will play five ACC teams each football season. The opponents will rotate, meaning each league school will face Notre Dame once every three years.
“I’m excited that Notre Dame will be coming to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech and that we’ll be going to South Bend to play them,” said Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver, who, like many of us north of 50, grew up watching Irish highlights on Sunday mornings.
“You’re talking to a guy who coached at Boston College," Virginia football coach Mike London said, "so I’ve had the chance and experience to go there and coach in that stadium. They have all of those historical artifacts - the Golden Dome and Knute Rockne and Touchdown Jesus. Some schools have an atmosphere that is special to play in. There’s no doubt Notre Dame is one of those places."
Notre Dame also will be part of the opponent pool opposite the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl and will be eligible to represent the conference in bowls other than the Orange.
As soon as negotiation and/or litigation allow, Notre Dame’s other sports programs will exit the Big East for the ACC, especially enhancing the league in basketball, lacrosse, tennis and soccer.
Commissioner John Swofford said he expects the arrangement to increase the conference’s 15-year, $3.6-billion contract with ESPN and that negotiations have started. The ACC will keep its football revenue from ESPN, while Notre Dame retains its windfall from NBC.
For basketball, which accounts for about 20 percent of television monies, Notre Dame, as the 15th school, will receive one-fifteenth of ACC revenue.
"With the additions of Syracuse and Pitt, and now Notre Dame, this is going to be as powerful of a basketball conference as I can remember,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement.
So why now?
The tipping point for the Irish was this summer’s adoption of a football playoff and the trickle down effect on other bowls. Teaming with the ACC improves Notre Dame’s postseason options outside the playoff exponentially.
Long opposed to accepting partial members, the ACC began reconsidering during a turbulent spring and summer replete with uninformed criticism of its new television contract and wanderlust rumblings about member schools such as Florida State and Clemson.
Quoting Clemson president James Barker, Swofford said: “What was best 20 years ago isn’t necessarily what’s best in today’s world.”
In unanimously inviting Notre Dame, Barker and his fellow presidents also doubled the ACC’s exit fee to approximately $50 million. So please, no more realignment foolishness.
The $50 million penalty lets “everyone know that we’re ACC brothers ... now and forevermore,” Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton told the Orlando Sentinel.
Fans and media love to roll their eyes when presidents and commissioners mention academics as a driving force in conference decisions. But that is absolutely the case, especially here.