Notre Dame To Join ACC

Sep 13, 2012

The Atlantic Coast Conference is adding a new member. Notre Dame will join the league in the next few years – as soon as it can get out of its current league, the Big East.  But Notre Dame’s most celebrated athletic program, football, isn’t coming with the other sports. Instead, the Fighting Irish football program will remain an independent, in order to retain its ability to negotiate its own TV contract. When Notre Dame eventually joins to ACC in all other sports, it will bring the number of conference members to 15 – and again expands the league’s geographic footprint. Dave DeWitt reports.

Dave DeWitt: No matter how you calculate it – by plane, train or automobile - South Bend, Indiana is hundreds of miles from the Atlantic Coast. But in a world where the Big Ten has 12 schools and San Diego State is in the Big East Conference, 700 miles and something as inconsequential as a conference’s name are easily and quickly turned into assets.

Jack Swarbrick: And by being part of a conference with such a perfect geographic fit for us, we are better able to promote our university.

That’s Jack Swarbrick, the athletic director at Notre Dame. He’s been a popular person in college sports circles for years, as university presidents, conference commissioners, and anyone else with a stake in college sports has begged him to join them. 

Notre Dame has a special place in college athletics. It’s one of the few programs with a truly national identity – with fans across the country and many alumni living in the east.

But most of that identity is centered around Notre Dame football… and, as it turns out, Touchdown Jesus isn’t coming to the ACC with the rest of Notre Dame.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

John Swofford: Notre Dame obviously will remain with their contractual agreements for football but in all other sports will be a full participant in the Atlantic Coast Conference, from a TV standpoint.

Notre Dame football’s contract with NBC is worth about $15 million a year just to televise home games. And the school’s desire to retain its football independence was not something other conferences – like the Big Ten – were willing to allow Notre Dame to retain.

But the ACC deal allows Notre Dame to keep that football independence. Despite that, Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, says the partnership is a strong one.

Father John Jenkins: I just want to say emphatically and clearly that we’re all in, in the ACC. We are committed to this conference for athletic purposes but even more deeply for the affinity of institutions and the affinity of values that exists. So on behalf of Notre Dame I want everyone to understand we are deeply committed to the ACC.

With the addition of Notre Dame, the ACC now boasts that it has 11 schools in the top 58 of the U-S News and World Report listing of top colleges and universities.

It was that like-minded commitment to higher education that was repeatedly cited by chancellors and college presidents as one reason the Notre Dame – ACC deal made sense.

And it plays well with those who walk the campuses, like UNC-Chapel Hill junior Abell Tesva.

Abell Tesva: I feel like that’s a good addition for the conference because it emphasizes that it’s not all about sports and education is a huge part of what we do here in the ACC.

But Tesva, decked out in Carolina gear, is also happy to point out that college athletics is about who wins and who loses, and the numbers many people pay attention to aren’t SAT results, but those on the scoreboards…

Tesva: I feel like we have the best division in basketball, hands down, now, because Notre Dame is actually a pretty decent team. We welcome all competition. 

Any competition that involves Notre Dame as a member of the ACC is still a couple years off. The school is obligated to stay in its current conference, the Big East, for 27 more months, and pay a $ 5 million exit fee. It can, and likely will, negotiate a quicker departure.

And in announcing this new partnership, the ACC also more quietly raised its own exit fee. In the future, if its “proud” and “happy” members start looking around for another conference, leaving will cost them a cool $ 50-million bucks.