CLEMSON —The Atlantic Coast Conference made a stunning acquisition Wednesday, announcing Notre Dame will join the ACC as a member in all sports except football.
The move has far-reaching consequences and leaves one huge question remaining. Will Notre Dame — which has remained independent because of its lucrative television contract and strong national brand — eventually surrender its football independence and join the ACC as a full-fledged member?
What is known is Notre Dame’s football program will be partially integrated into the ACC, with the Irish agreeing to play five games against ACC teams every year, possibly as early as 2014.
Clemson and other ACC schools are guaranteed to play Notre Dame at least once every three years in football. Notre Dame will also strengthen other ACC sports like men’s basketball and add a new television market and powerful brand for the league.
That Notre Dame saw the ACC as a good fit might suggest the ACC has entered an era of stability after several years of dealing with rumors about schools leaving for other conferences.
Notre Dame benefits in many ways. It departs the embattled Big East while keeping football independence, and gains access to the ACC’s non-BCS bowl games. Notre Dame entered 2012 with no bowl tie-ins below the BCS level. The ACC’s non-BCS bowls will be able to select Notre Dame over an ACC team if the Irish are ranked higher in the BCS standings or are within one victory of an ACC team.
Clemson board of trustees chair David Wilkins said Clemson president James Barker helped spearhead the effort to land Notre Dame and is pleased with the arrangement.
“I think it’s huge for the ACC,” Wilkins said. “I think it’s a very positive step. It shows great leadership by (ACC commissioner) John Swofford and folks like James Barker who advocated for this. I’m very proud about what was done.”
ACC presidents also announced an agreement to increase the conference’s exit fee to $50 million.
“These schools aren’t going anywhere,” Wilkins said. “They are part of the ACC and the ACC is going to remain a very viable conference for a long time.”
With the ever-changing landscape of college athletics — expanding conferences, shrinking non-conference schedules, a four-team playoff on the way and greater conference television dollars — Notre Dame could be setting itself up to become a full ACC member in the future.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame is not ready to give up its football independence.
“We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us,” said Swarbrick, citing shared cultures and academic identities. “This will enable us to maintain our historic independence in football.
“We want to reinforce that our intention to remain independent is central to us. If something should happen, we are committed to the ACC.”
The ACC is banking on ‘something’ happening that will compel Notre Dame to join as a full football member.
“That’s what is ultimately (the goal), yes,” Wilkins said.
Maybe it will be an offer difficult to refuse from ESPN when Notre Dame’s television contract with NBC ends in 2015. Notre Dame’s contract with NBC is reportedly worth $15 million per year, a deal that has been trumped by the annual average value of every power-conference television contract.
Perhaps it will be scheduling difficulties as conferences expand and non-conference schedules shrink.
Swofford said he went into the negotiations knowing Notre Dame was intent on keeping its independence.
“That was not in the cards,” Swofford said. “While we would like to see that, we understood right off the bat that football independence was extremely important.”
Swofford said the addition of Notre Dame will allow the ACC to once again renegotiate its television deal. The ACC renegotiated its deal with ESPN this spring, signing a 15-year, $3.6 billion agreement.
Swofford said talks have begun with ESPN.
“I do think it will be an enhancement over our existing television deal,” Swofford said.
Notre Dame will earn a 1/15th share of ACC basketball revenue but will not earn any of the football dollars.
The ACC might also consider returning to an eight-game football conference schedule, Swofford said, though that will be up to the athletic directors.
Swofford also said the ACC will not seek a 16th member at this time because Notre Dame is not a football member, and adding another team would unbalance the ACC’s two divisions.