Notre Dame and the ACC: 5 Reasons Why Move Is a Bad Deal for the Irish
The college football world is abuzz with the news that Notre Dame is bolting the Big East for the ACC, even becoming a “partial member” in football.
While this news is being heralded as a seismic change in the college football world, and it certainly is, much of the country is either ignoring or glossing over the negatives Notre Dame will face with its new conference quasi-affiliation.
Let's fill that hole by providing some reasons why this is a bad idea.
Independence? Not so Much.
Brian Kelly, like a good Notre Dame employee, quickly put out a statement in support of the move.
"Today is a great day for the University of Notre Dame and our athletics department, including the football program. Speaking strictly from a football standpoint, we have further solidified our future as an independent in college football, maintained our unique ability to schedule nationally and greatly improved our postseason bowl game options. I applaud Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for this move. They have set our entire athletics department up for great success in the future."
Okay, fair enough. But it sounds a little canned, doesn't it?
How can anyone honestly argue that Notre Dame still has the freedom to schedule nationally when five games are now pledged to the ACC? And unless Notre Dame gets Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson each and every season, it's not going to be much of an improvement.
Can you imagine what it will look like when Notre Dame draws Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland and Boston College all in one season?
And while Kelly mentioned strengthening the postseason bowl potential, there's been no word on whether or not Notre Dame will shirk its current bowl tie-ins or how Notre Dame will fit into the ACC selection process since they're not playing a full schedule.
Is a 3-2 Notre Dame team better than a 5-3 Miami team when it comes to handing out a bowl invitation?
So Long, Schedule Choices
In the aforementioned statement from Brian Kelly, he mentioned Notre Dame retains its ability to “schedule nationally.”
But is that really true?
In a 12 game schedule, Notre Dame will have five slots gobbled up by the ACC. Notre Dame also has a contract with Michigan to play each season through 2031. There's also annual rivalry games against Michigan State and Purdue. And don't forget about USC and Stanford. Add in Navy, and now you're down to one open week each season. Can the Irish really “schedule nationally” on one week per year?
Notre Dame has also benefited from a pretty difficult schedule over the years. With scheduling choices now extremely limited and the ACC traditionally fielding just two teams with perennial Top 25 rankings (and no guarantee Notre Dame will play both or either of those teams each season), you can expect Notre Dame's strength-of-schedule to take a hit.
It's seems clear that if Notre Dame wants to have any leeway in what teams it plays on an annual basis, there are going to be some sacrifices. We hate to say it, but it looks like that grand tradition of Navy-Notre Dame will be the first to go. The current contract between the two programs expires in 2016. If nothing else changes, don't expect Notre Dame to eagerly renew that contract.
But that still only frees up two weeks in a season.
The Irish will want to keep a game against USC, as it gives the Irish an “in” on the West Coast while earning some valuable strength-of-schedule points.
So does that mean Stanford could get left out?
What about the three Big Ten programs the Irish play each season?
Purdue might suddenly find itself without in-state rival Notre Dame on the schedule. Heck, it's even possible Michigan State, without a long-term deal with the Irish, could find itself looking for someone else to play every September.
And some of these changes won't come cheap. Reports have surfaced that Notre Dame may now have to buy out of a few individual game contracts to even out its football schedule once ACC play begins.
And what about Notre Dame's unique relationship with NBC? The ACC has its own television deal, so will both sides (plus ESPN) really be content, long term, with ACC conference games at Notre Dame not conforming with the rest of the televised ACC conference games?
Or will Notre Dame eventually be pressured to cut ties with NBC?
No Recruiting Advantage
51% of Brian Kelly's recruits at ND (33 of them) have come from the future ACC footprint.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 12, 2012
If this is true, why does Notre Dame need a leg up in the region?
Sure, the ACC recruiting footprint—which overlaps with the SEC—is a great place to find the next big football talent, but Notre Dame doesn't seem to be having any trouble recruiting players from the region and the Irish aren't have much of a problem staying near the top of the national recruitment rankings (currently fourth according to Rivals.com's 2013 rankings).
In the end, there's going to be no appreciable change to Notre Dame's recruiting success.
To Join or Not to Join
Five games is nice, and all. But what happens if and when the ACC expands again?
What happens if the ACC and its members get a little tired of having Notre Dame as a partial member?
What happens if Notre Dame goes 5-0, but isn't allowed a spot in the ACC Championship Game, or worse, is allowed a berth in place of a true division champion?
Eventually, even the coziest of relationships can sour and there are plenty of pitfalls for this marriage to go south in a hurry. That places tremendous pressure on Notre Dame and the ACC to make a lasting decision. But will the Irish completely give up their quasi-independence to become a full member of the ACC if push comes to shove?
It's not likely we'll see an overwhelming outpouring of support from Notre Dame faithful clamoring for full membership in a conference from which Notre Dame is geographically isolated.
If Notre Dame is pushed back into complete independence in football, how quickly will programs like Purdue, Stanford, Navy and Michigan State forgive? These programs will have already gone out and found other solutions to their scheduling holes left open by the Irish. Some of them may be a little hesitant to reopen the wound.
All in all, it looks as if Notre Dame has a sweet deal—on the surface.
But like those tasty Lemonheads that bring us instantly back to fond memories of childhood, the momentary sweetness can quickly give way to a very tart center.
Great in a candy, not so great in college football.
The immediate excitement of Notre Dame sort-of joining the ACC will turn out to be a fad and the end result will be a lot hurt feelings and a loss of respect for Notre Dame from its Midwestern compatriots while the Irish get no tangible benefit in recruiting or scheduling.
When all is said and done, this fairytale marriage will look more like a celebrity wedding: big hoopla up front ending in a massive and messy divorce.
Follow David Luther on Twitter!