When Notre Dame announced its new membership with the ACC as a partial member, it was only natural for schools like Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue to wonder what this move meant for the ongoing series between Notre Dame football and those programs.
And when it came out that Notre Dame was spending a full five games of its schedule on ACC opponents alone, well, it must have sounded like a death knell to some great Big Ten rivalries.
But worry not, Michigan and company. Per Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, not only is Notre Dame's move not a threat to the Big Ten rivalries, it essentially came about to protect those rivalries. If that sounds counter-intuitive, read on:
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick huddled over and over with his staff and tried to play out how the Irish would fill out their 12-game schedule in the years and decades to come, a Notre Dame source said.
That, more than any other factor, led to Wednesday's announcement that Notre Dame would join the ACC in all sports except football, according to the source. [...]
Notre Dame currently must schedule all of its 12 games per year. This drops it to seven games with the ACC scheduling the other five. ACC teams will likely be featured during the more challenging dates later in the season. It's a far easier task.
"People don't realize how difficult it is," the source said. "The outlook was very challenging. If the Big Ten does move to a nine-game league schedule down the line, and it could be 10 years from now, can we still count on getting Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan all in a row? And late October and November kept growing tougher."
Was Notre Dame's ACC affiliation the right move?
Now, this isn't the same thing as the source saying, "We are going to keep those three Big Ten teams on our schedule going forward." But the fact that they were explicitly a priority—or at the very least a concern—means Notre Dame is still counting on the Big Ten as being part of its schedule going forward.
Moreover, if a nine-game Big Ten schedule comes about and squeezes Notre Dame out of one of those games, that's on the Big Ten, not Notre Dame and its commitment to scheduling tradition.
It makes sense. The Big Ten and Notre Dame were never going to come to an agreement on conference membership. The priorities both sides have are too disparate—and both sides are too entrenched to make the necessary compromise. It is not an oversimplification to say that this comes down to full membership versus independence, and neither the Big Ten nor Notre Dame sees room for a middle ground.
Ah, but the ACC did, and that's why we're here today. At the very least, Swarbrick has found a way for Notre Dame to survive in a rapidly shifting conference landscape while still maintaining the scheduling traditions fans have come to expect (and they take traditions just a little seriously in South Bend), and for that Swarbrick deserves a tremendous amount of credit.