The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that it will add Notre Dame to its conference, a coveted program among colleges continually shifting conferences. The Fighting Irish will become the ACC’s 15th member in all sports except football and will play five football games against ACC opponents each season.
Notre Dame is most widely known for its prestigious football program, which has won 11 national championships and owns a private television contract with NBC. In addition to playing five annual football games in the ACC, Notre Dame will also be eligible for the slate of non-BCS bowl games reserved for high-placing ACC squads.
“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,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said. “We are able to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC’s non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports.”
The ACC has historically required “all-in” membership from universities. University President Teresa Sullivan said that before the decision, “the most important issue that was raised is Notre Dame is coming … without [football].”
The conference reevaluated its formerly strict requirement in response to a “changing landscape out there in intercollegiate athletics,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. Multiple conferences courted Notre Dame, and the school’s president, Father John Jenkins, said he appreciated the ACC’s respect for Notre Dame’s history as an independent football program.
“The ACC has allowed us to retain a tradition that’s so central to our identity in football while we’re joining a conference that athletically as well as academically fits Notre Dame perfectly,” Jenkins said. “I just don’t think there’s a better option out there than the situation we have. It wasn’t a tough decision.”
Beyond football, Notre Dame routinely features one of the strongest athletics programs in Division I and instantly enhances the conference’s reputation. The Fighting Irish have captured national titles in men’s tennis, women’s basketball, men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s soccer. The men’s basketball team has also made the NCAA tournament 28 times, including five of the last six years, adding another respected competitor to one of the ACC’s most historically successful sports.
“This is a terrific addition to our league,” Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett said. “Notre Dame embodies what the ACC is all about: excellent academics and athletics. They run their basketball program in a classy way. 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.”
Notre Dame’s sterling academic credentials also appealed to the ACC. With Notre Dame, the ACC includes 11 schools ranked in the top 58 of the U.S. News and World Report survey of “America’s Best Colleges,” the most of any conference competing at the highest athletic level.
“The addition of Notre Dame further strengthens the rich tradition and culture of the ACC as well as allowing for future academic collaboration and we enthusiastically welcome them into the league,” the ACC Council of Presidents said in a joint statement.
Notre Dame, which is located in South Bend, Ind., expands the ACC’s market beyond the eastern coast and into the Midwest. The move allows the conference to renegotiate its current television contracts with potentially more lucrative terms.
“In terms of the television contracts, yes, we will revisit that,” Swofford said. “We’ve had some preliminary conversations with our television partners that would be prudent to do so. We do think that this arrangement will enhance our television product and has value with our television product.”
Notre Dame’s move follows a recent flurry of universities defecting from the beleaguered Big East to the ACC. Last September the ACC Council of Presidents unanimously accepted Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the conference. Similarly, both Miami and Virginia Tech bolted from the Big East in July 2004. In 2005 Boston College followed.
The Big East now employs a clause requiring exiting schools to give 27 months notice and pay $5 million before leaving. Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia, however, all paid higher exit fees to break from the conference earlier, and Notre Dame could join the ACC as early as 2014.
“Under the current arrangement it would be the ‘15-’16 season, but we’ll meet our obligations to the Big East and have discussions about whether there’s any opportunity to accelerate that,” Swarbrick said.
When Swofford announced that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would join the conference last year, he said he was “not philosophically opposed to 16” teams in the conference. The commissioner essentially retracted that statement Wednesday and indicated Notre Dame would be the ACC’s final addition for the immediate future.
“There is no need to add a 16th team to the league, and there’s no intention of doing so,” Swofford said. “In fact, from a practical standpoint, it really is illogical … in football we’ll be 14, with two even divisions. Obviously if we brought a 16th member in, then that causes an imbalance in our football divisions. So we will be a 15-team league.”