The Ninja Commissioner strikes again
Posted September 12, 2012
Updated September 13, 2012
Wednesday's announcement that Notre Dame will be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference has received mixed reviews from the masses. For some -- mostly fans of the Big East, but also by some snobbish ACC honks that want the Irish all in or all out -- this isn't a good day. They see one conference continuing to crumble beneath the weight of the growing power conferences. Or, they think that the ACC should have stood their ground and told Notre Dame that they either join the league in all sports, or they can take their leprechaun somewhere else.
Essentially, that would have been tantamount to calling their bluff, because over the last few years there has been a lot of speculation that the Irish would take their Olympic Sports to the Big 12 or Big Ten, or make a stronger commitment to the Big East. And, no matter how stable the ACC might appear, if and when the time came for Notre Dame to bring their football program into the 21st century, the ACC stood the most to gain -- or lose -- based on the destination.
So, here are just a few thoughts about what this means in the long and short term:
* Notre Dame enters the league in all sports, except for football and hockey. No arrival date has yet been specified, and remember that the Big East has a 27-month exit clause in their charter, so it's possible that this will not happen until the fall of 2014 at the earliest.
* Notre Dame will play 5 football games each year against ACC opponents. This year, the Irish are scheduled to play Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest. They also have Pittsburgh and Syracuse already on their schedule over the next four seasons, and have recently completed series with North Carolina and Maryland.
* Notre Dame will align themselves with the ACC in the bowl-selection process -- except in cases of the Bowl Championship Series. That means that from the Chick-fil-A Bowl down through the ACC roster of post season games, they will have the option of selecting the Fighting Irish to play in their bowl. While some of you have already posed this to me as a problem, I counter with the fact that it can't do anything but help your relationship with the bowls -- at least while they still exist -- to have a program like Notre Dame as a viable option. In the coming years, I'm sure you'll see the upper tier of ACC bowl tie-ins improve. Especially if the Florida State and Clemson revivals grow roots.
* I said this a dozen years ago and I've said it repeatedly since. College football's landscape is so drastically different from 25 years ago -- heck it's different from 10 years ago -- and that it's nothing more than romance that keeps Notre Dame from full-on conference affiliation. In my opinion, the ACC has always been the eventual destination for the Golden Dome and I view this partial-membership period as purely transitional. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we hear few practical details about how this machine will ultimately work and the the first time Notre Dame uses ACC letterhead it will be as a full member.
* This is another step forward in the goal to establish more of a football culture. Notre Dame's football following is legendary, even when you consider that they've not really competed for a national championship in more than two decades. Notre Dame Stadium becomes the third ACC football venue with a seating capacity of at least 80,000 (the others are Florida State and Clemson). That's a far cry from the SEC and the Big Ten, but you've got to start somewhere.
* This could also impact the ACC's deal with the Orange Bowl. It's very possible that in the short term, Notre Dame would be the first choice to play opposite the ACC champ -- providing the league doesn't send a team, or two, to the playoffs -- as long as it wasn't a rematch of a regular season meeting.
* I never thought schools would leave the ACC, no matter how much hot air emanated from Tallahassee, Florida. But, to do so now would cost the exiting school a $50 million penalty. As they were drawing up the plans for Notre Dame's inclusion, they locked all the doors from the outside.
* Not that this is about Olympic sports, because it isn't, but for the twitter age, I offer this ready-made tweet: ACC Men's Lacrosse > SEC Football. Seriously, the conference already boasted four of the best programs in the nation in Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. Between them they have 11 national championships, or as many as incoming member Syracuse has on their own. Now add the Irish, one of the rising modern powers in the sport. Fun fact: Based on current ACC membership, In the 42 years of NCAA men's lacrosse, only three times has there been a national championship game that didn't involve an ACC school. The last time it happened was in 1987. ACC schools have 22 titles and 22 runner up finishes. The ACC men's lacrosse tournament just became a hot ticket.
* We have no earthly idea how this is going to impact the scheduling for basketball. However, the truth is that producing an equitable slate of games for a 14-team league, utilizing an 18-game schedule wasn't ever going to be a comfortable process in the first place. How much more difficult can it possibly be? That's even more reason for the league to find a path to a 16th team and make this a nice, neat, balanced conference. I'll try not to mention the word "pod" in front of Mike Krzyzewski, but four groupings of four teams each sure does make life easier.
* While I'm confident that Notre Dame wasn't ever going to move even some of their sports to the Big XII, and they've been very reluctant to align with the geographically sensible Big Ten, this is a great move if for no other reason than the ACC keeps the Irish programs in-house.
* Finally, for purely image purposes, the ACC just added one of the premiere universities in the United States. While largely a national afterthought in football for the last two decades, Notre Dame still packs a punch in terms of fan interest, their other sports compete nationally for championships, and their academic reputation fits very nicely into the public perception the ACC loves to highlight (recent issues in Chapel Hill notwithstanding).
What we don't have any answers to at this point is where the league would turn for a 16th member. Would Connecticut and their three national championships in men's basketball -- not to mention the Roger Federer-esque success of the women's program -- be the most logical addition? Or, would Rutgers make more sense from a University and media market standpoint? If Notre Dame remains an independent in football for the long term, that might open the possibility for even more options, including basketball-only options like St. John's.
All of that is for another time. The Atlantic Coast Conference just got better today. John Swofford, the Ninja Commissioner, went below ground, did what does, and emerged with the New and Improved ACC, 25% more swanky than the old brand and just as collegial.