According to reports released today by ESPN, Notre Dame’s non-football sports interests are leaving the Big East for the ACC.
Although the Irish football program will technically remain independent, ESPN’s report indicates that Notre Dame has committed to play five ACC conference games per year in football.
The announcement, especially the bit about five “league” games, should do a lot to quell rumors that the ACC is the next conference to be robbed from in order to form a potential SEC, Big 12 or Big Ten superconference.
Indeed, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and even Miami (Fla.) should now be expected to stay in the ACC now that Notre Dame has fully committed in every sport other than hockey (the ACC doesn’t hit the ice) and done so very partially in football.
Well, this all leads to what can be referred to as the “Shopping Mall Theory” of conference realignment.
To illustrate, a shopping mall needs at least a few big anchor stores to keep it afloat. These are the big department chains (with escalators) that basically keep the center a viable entity.
If Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Dillard’s, Belk, Bloomingdale’s, JC Penney or even Sears pulls out of your local mall, its days are numbered.
The same rule applies to college football conferences; you’ve got to have anchor teams to keep your league a practicable institution.
Case in point, if Oklahoma and Texas ever leave the Big 12, it’s all over but the crying.
And furthermore, if Florida State had left the ACC for the Big 12 this past offseason, the league would be either scrambling for another Macy’s-type team or they would become a basketball conference with a diminished football presence (i.e. the Big East).
And if you don’t think that a singular anchor store team exiting a league can spell disaster, think back to the beginning of the end for the old guard Southwest Conference. Yes, the SWC‘s tailspin can be directly traced back to Arkansas’ flee to the SEC after the 1991 season.
Adding Notre Dame, even as a fractional football member, changes the scope of the ACC "shopping mall" and strengthens its future stability as a league in the ever-changing BCS era.
Even though the Irish, minus a complete football commitment, are more like an Old Navy or Abercrombie and Fitch, they are like a Super Macy’s from a total package approach.
Additionally, you have to think that if they ever do shed the cloak of eternal independence, they’ll jump in bed with the ACC as the “other” sports' shift is the long-awaited first step in the unthinkable process.
Notre Dame’s move to the ACC won’t end the discussion of super conferences and league realignment, especially with the Big East dwindling, the WAC on its way out and the future unclear for the BCS and a bunch of effected teams.
However, conferences that can retain or add to their anchor store total will be the leagues that weather the storm of repositioning and survive as viable entities when college football stabilizes and reaches its next era.
Yes, shopping malls need a decent food court and shops like Bath and Body Works (Texas Tech or Michigan State) and Forever 21 (Arizona or Georgia Tech), but if a Michigan or USC walks out, it’s time to call the Dollar Store to lease the space.