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Is ACC Membership Better for Notre Dame Football Than B1G Mega-Conference? //




Let’s start with the preface that when talking about the football independence of Notre Dame, one is currently discussing the level of independence and not absolute independence. True, complete independence is a thing of the past, as 42% of football matches at Notre Dame are already scheduled by the ACC with little to no involvement from Our Lady. Suppose, however, that the Big 10 and SEC manage to make themselves the Big 2, with all other conferences largely irrelevant. In that case, Notre Dame will have little ability to maintain both its football independence and relevance at the same time. I argue that Notre Dame is the only entity left with any power to stop the seemingly inevitable foray into two mega-conference systems. But what will it decide?

Since Notre Dame is currently a member of the ACC for Olympic sports and a partial member for football as it plays five games in the ACC, the ACC is clearly the conference it is more closely aligned with and the Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick conference to be preferred over the Big Ten or the SEC. The SEC is not culturally or academically fit for Notre Dame, and the Big Ten just feels wrong on many levels.

The ACC is a much better match for the Fighting Irish in terms of academics, culture and feel. In addition, the ACC provides a much more fertile recruiting ground for football, as the ACC area from Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida is very important and talented. So while the Big Ten is certainly the conference seen as the most likely landing site for Notre Dame given the recent changes, there needs to be an argument for the benefits and viability of making the ACC its home.

Building the ACC into a heavyweight conference would be significantly easier than doing the same in the Big 12 or Pac 12. The ACC has won three of the last nine national football championships. By comparison, the Big 10 has only won one National Championship in that time. The ACC has a real strength program in Clemson and others that are certainly very capable of becoming that, including Miami and the state of Florida. When performing at or near potential, Miami’s top four teams, which include Cristobal, a Florida State resurgent, Clemson and Notre Dame, is nothing to sneeze at, and a conference that just can’t be ignored as the Big 12. or maybe Pac 12. But how can Notre Dame avoid a system of two mega-conferences while maintaining as much independence and self-determination as possible?

First off, I’m starting with the suspicion that Jack Swarbrick might not mind the Fighting Irish entering the ACC as full members. He set them on this path as members for the Olympic sports, with five of the twelve football games scheduled by the ACC. He included (or agreed to include) in that deal that Notre Dame would have to join the ACC if it entered a conference before 2036, seemingly tilting the playing field toward the ACC. The ACC recently decided to move to a 3-5-5 football scheduling system. Given that ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips’ top priority is to get Notre Dame into the ACC, it’s hard to believe that the move to a 3-5-5 scheduling system hasn’t at least passed by Jack Swarbrick.

Let’s see what this scheduling system can do for the Fighting Irish if they eventually join the ACC. The 3-5-5 system means that each team plays against the same three opponents annually and against five rotating opponents. There are no divisions. And herein lies the opportunity for Notre Dame and the ACC, should it be agreed that participation in a conference is now inevitable and that preserving three major power conferences would be preferable and would preserve more independence for Notre Dame than in one world with two mega conferences: Notre Dame would impact the teams that come in with it.

One possible scenario could be that Notre Dame agrees to join the ACC fully on the condition that both the Navy and Stanford also join. Marine is much more tradable and profitable than many people give them credit for. The fact that they currently have their own TV deal with CBS Sports speaks for itself. They have an established brand and match in academic and geography. They would provide a school in Maryland, a state where the ACC currently has no school. Stanford has a recent history of football success, outstanding academics, enormous resources and an established identity and brand that is highly respected. Stanford also provides access to a West Coast media market that would only bolster ACC’s media deal. With USC and UCLA losing the PAC-12, Stanford must be looking for an opportunity.

While Notre Dame would enter the ACC in full and be responsible for eight ACC football games a year, they would presumably have Navy and Stanford as two of their triennial opponents. So while they would add three ACC games to their current five, there would be two against opponents they would have played outside of the ACC had the three not been merged. Therefore, two of Notre Dames’ annual opponents who do not participate in the conference would become two of their opponents of the annual conference. Pittsburgh, Boston College, Miami, Florida State and Georgia Tech are the current ACC schools with which Notre Dame has had extensive rivalry or history and which would serve as the third annual opponent for Notre Dame. Notre Dame would continue their annual Marine and Stanford games incessantly and maintain four other non-ACC games to schedule whoever wanted them.

Along with these three schools joining the ACC, it would likely add a fourth from the west coast. Oregon would be the biggest prize, followed by Washington and others. This would bring the ACC to 18 members and with the kind of power, money and clout to remain a permanent survivor along with the SEC and Big Ten in the Game of Thrones saga currently played in college sports. This would prevent the Big Ten and SEC from monopolizing all the money and relevance of college football, preserve as much independence for Notre Dame as possible, help Notre Dame athletics financially, and provide a long-term guaranteed path to the playoffs.

So, while the Big Ten may be the favorite to eventually land Notre Dame, the ACC option is one that Jack Swarbricks is worthy of exploring. What will eventually be decided will become clear shortly. While the fate of the ACC is still in the air, too much has happened to think that the Pac-12 or Big-12 will remain viable, competitive alternatives to the Big Ten and SEC. The schools that stay in those conferences with great athleticism ambitions will have to move to one of the new power conferences, and time is certainly of the essence. Whether their choices will be three power conferences or limited to two power conferences remains to be seen. However, it appears that the University of Notre Dame is the only entity with the power to make that decision.




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