Notre Dame (Kind Of) Joins The ACC -- 4 Winners, 4 Losers
Times change, and in the constantly evolving (or if you're the Big East, constantly imploding) landscape of college conference affiliation, they can change at the drop of a hat.
Change comes even to the Fighting Irish
We found that out once again on Wednesday.
In the last two years, with conference realignment effecting virtually every FBS conference institution either directly or indirectly, much had been speculated on how things would shake out for college football's only true remaining free agent -- the University of Notre Dame. The Big Ten, the Big 12, the ACC, and even the Pac-12 had been bandied about in recent years as a potential landing spot for Notre Dame sports, including football.
And in the end, ironically, the move that probably calcifies college football's conference structure for the foreseeable future sees Notre Dame actually retaining its football independence, but moving all of its Olympic sports (other than ice hockey) to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Contractually, Notre Dame would be unable to leave the Big East until the 2015-2016 season, but it is working diligently to accelerate that schedule, according to school president the Rev. John Jenkins.
This is obviously huge news, and there are several ways to break this down, but let's stick with the ever familiar "4 Winners, 4 Losers" format, shall we?
4. Notre Dame's football independence
When it was really starting to go down with college football realignment two summers ago, and again last summer, the question wasn't whether or not Notre Dame would be able to retain its independence, but which conference it would be forced to join to remain on the inside looking out in college football's brave new world, especially with the home for all of its Olympic sports (the Big East) being looted by other conferences like a Vancouver storefront after a Canucks playoff loss.
Conventional wisdom was that no conference that met Notre Dame's standards for academics (Big Ten, ACC) would allow Notre Dame to park its Olympic sports there without Notre Dame's bringing football along for the ride. In fact, check out these quotes from ACC commissioner John Swofford, in chronological order, dating back to last year, in response to the question of partial ACC membership for Notre Dame:
October, 2011: Adamantly anti-partial membership
"We're an all-in, revenue-equal conference. That's very basic to us. That's what works for us. ... I think going forward we will continue to consider equal revenue sharing and full membership or no membership (important) in our conference. I don't see that changing."
July 2012: Coming around on partial membership, i.e. negotiations with ND underway
"All I can tell you is that in the past, and this pretty much goes back to when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College came into the league, our schools felt at that point in time that they were not interested in anything other than full membership with anybody. Has that changed? I don't know. ... The only thing I have to go on is based on those previous conversations."
September 12, 2012: Welcome (partially) to the conference, Notre Dame!
"We've always been all in as far as full membership. In recent years, we've discussed this in a changing world. What was best 20 years ago is certainly not always what is best in today's world. That transition and thinking evolved over a period of time."
Notre Dame's partnership with the ACC, which will also include five football games per season against ACC opponents, further solidifies Notre Dame's future as an independent in football, building upon the new playoff structure which goes into effect in 2014 and does not require a team to win a conference title to participate in the four-team playoff structure.
In short, in a world where a year ago people were assuming Notre Dame would have to join a conference for football imminently, their independence is now stronger than it's been since the late '90s when they publicly turned down an offer to join the Big Ten.
3. Notre Dame's bowl outlook
It's no secret that the Big East's recent slide had a detrimental effect on Notre Dame's non-BCS bowl outlook. In years past, Notre Dame had a cooperative agreement with the Big East and the bowls affiliated with the Big East whereby Notre Dame would be available to those bowls for selection if the Irish had a record within a game of the potential Big East schools available.
With this new alignment with the ACC, Notre Dame will enjoy similar benefits:
According to commissioner John Swofford, Notre Dame will have a provision that requires the Irish to be ranked higher than, equal to, or within one win of a full ACC member to be selected above them in the league's non-BCS bowl selection order. Swofford also confirmed that Notre Dame is one of several potential opponents for the ACC in the Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl revenue, along with all football-related revenue, will be shared equally among the 14 all-sports members. The Irish will be equal sharing members for all television revenue for Olympic sports, which Swofford estimated as "20 percent" of the ESPN deal.
Speaking of the ACC's television rights fees....
2. The ACC's future television rights fees
....one of the key reasons that the ACC raided the Big East to pilfer Syracuse and Pittsburgh last year, in addition to protecting the ACC borders from an SEC or Big Ten raid of its own, was to allow the opportunity to re-open television contract negotiations with ESPN. With two additional teams, rights fees would need to be increased. However, even after renegotiating, the ACC wound up with a $17 million annual per school deal that was relatively disappointing, especially considering the ACC also forked over its rights to sell its own third tier games. (By comparison, the Big 12 schools each receive $20 million annually and retain their third tier rights to sell their own content, hence the Longhorn Network.)
Well, with the Notre Dame brand in the fold and a handful of Notre Dame road games each season in ACC territory guaranteed, the conference essentially gets a mulligan on last year's shank into the rough. Notre Dame, not surprisingly, will retain all of its revenue from its contract with NBC.
Professional wrestling loudmouth "Rowdy" Roddy Piper has a famous saying: "Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions." That quote could just as easily be attributed to whichever football gods are responsible for realignment each of the last few years. Just when we think it's over, it happens again.
Well, I don't want to jinx it, but I think this should tie things down for a little while. The whole movement to four 16-team super conferences (which seemed to be everybody's assumption mostly because 16 seems like a tidy, math-friendly number) has stalled and given way to conferences only looking to add members if said member brings up the per school television rights fee take.
Specifically, with the ACC, they also happen to be the conference with the most ripe members that would appeal to the Big 12 and SEC if they decided to expand. Now, with the association with a strong brand like Notre Dame, the ACC schools feel better about the future of the conference. Well, that as well as....