Christmas came more than three months early to the Jack Swarbrick home on Wednesday, as the Atlantic Coast Conference delivered through the front doors (the Golden Dome has no chimney) a bag full of gifts to the Notre Dame athletic director, and threw in a partridge in a pear tree just for good measure.
The Fighting Irish announced in a statement early Wednesday that it would be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports, with the exception of football (more on that in a bit). No timetable was announced for the switch.
"We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months,” Swarbrick explained in a release, “and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us.”
How great was this package for the Fighting Irish athletic department? More than could have reasonably been expected. But worth every single bit of it as far as the ACC is concerned.
Notre Dame will join the conference as a full member in all sports, with the exception of football. On the gridiron, the Irish will commit to play five games each season against ACC teams. And most importantly, this deal does not affect Notre Dame's status as an independent, nor does it impact its television deal with NBC Sports.
What? The ACC didn't throw in the outer banks of North Carolina too?
Notre Dame will still be able to maintain storied football rivalries with (up to) seven of its current traditional foes (think Navy and USC are locks, all others are on the negotiating table).
The Irish will still be able to continue its “Shamrock Series” (playing a home game in an attention-grabbing neutral site – this season's game is with ACC member Miami in Chicago) if it so chooses.
Notre Dame athletic teams will be able to perform annually in front of its East Coast alumni in cities such as Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Pittsburgh.
And if the college football landscape changes with the advent of the new playoff structure, which would precipitate a full move to a conference in order to benefit Notre Dame, the university is already sitting poolside with its legs dangling in the ACC water – all it has to do is slide on in.
This is like test-driving a terrific conference for Notre Dame.
"This will enable us 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,” Swarbrick said.
Indeed it does.
The proper parties made all of the politically correct statements about the importance of academics and this contract not being about finances. Which have some – not a lot – but some truth to them.
"The ACC is composed of some of the most highly respected universities in the country,” said Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “With a mix of institutions – many of which are also private, similar to Notre Dame in size, and committed to excellence in research and undergraduate education – the ACC is an exceptionally good fit for us academically, as well as athletically."
Don't scoff entirely at that notion. If it were simply about football, Notre Dame could have joined the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference if it so chose, but neither fit Notre Dame academically – or alumni-wise – like the ACC does.
But dollar-wise, this does immediately boost the lure of the ACC from a football standpoint. Like the Big East, to which Notre Dame has belonged for 17 seasons, it is primarily known as a basketball conference.
In regards to hoops, the Irish basketball program will now battle the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, as well as traditional rivals Pitt and Syracuse (both of whom join the ACC in 2013).
It also adds to the possibility of the ACC Basketball Tournament relocating to New York City from its traditional site of Greensboro, N.C., which is something that ACC commissioner John Swofford alluded to when Pitt and Syracuse announced their intentions to leave the Big East for the ACC last year.
Though a great day in South Bend, it does bring a touch of sadness to those who have followed the Big East through its infancy in the late 1970s to today.
The Big East was once a proud league that garnered everyone's attention for “Big Monday” nights on ESPN during the winter months. But with the defections of Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and now Notre Dame, the conference still has some very good basketball programs remaining (Cincinnati, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, and Marquette), but just as many middling members (DePaul, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, and South Florida).
And when it comes to football, the Big East is simply irrelevant and, in some regards, laughable geographically (Boise State and San Diego State are in the league).
“The collective alumni and fan bases cover the entire country with exceptionally strong roots up and down the Atlantic Coast,” Swofford said. “This is a terrific milestone in the evolution of the ACC and showcases tremendous solidarity and vision by our Council of Presidents."
News-Sentinel sports editor Tom Davis wrote a column on Sept. 21, 2011 regarding the need for Notre Dame to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Here is the link to that column: