For the past several years, the only constant in collegiate athletics has been change. Teams have been moving conferences, some have said they would move ultimately to change their minds, and surprisingly enough some have stayed put.
Without question, football has been the primary driver of the changing landscape. After all, it is the primary revenue-generator by a wide margin. Basketball and hockey have played a small part, but that is essentially it when it comes to revenue generators. Perhaps some ACC institutions would consider baseball to be in the black, but the majority of the country would disagree.
Speaking of the ACC, groundbreaking news was shared earlier today when the University of Notre Dame announced it accepted an invitation to join the ACC in all sports except football, which will remain independent, and hockey, which will join Hockey East in 2013. Hear firsthand from Notre Dame's Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick in this interview about today's historic announcement.
Many are quick to display their disgust and resentment of the Irish for retaining its independence in football, wondering why on earth the ACC, its commissioner John Swofford and each instutition's athletic directors would permit such an atrocity. If partisanship for the Irish, whether in favor of or against, is removed from the equation, the carefully trained eye uncovers that while the Irish certainly benefit from the move, members of the ACC benefit as well.
To get the sticking points of the football side of the deal out of the way, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools each season—three at home and two on the road—with the qualification that each ACC member must be scheduled at least once every three seasons.
Notre Dame will in turn be able to retain games against traditional rivals such as USC, Navy, and Stanford among others. There is also likely to be a rotation of traditional Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.
Moreover, and this is likely the biggest feather in the cap for the Irish, Notre Dame will gain access to the ACC's post-season bowl tie-ins. In possible scenarios, Notre Dame could actually play in the Orange Bowl as an at-large against the ACC Champion. No, the Irish will not be permitted to play in the ACC championship game since they will not be a full-time football member.
Additionally, a Notre Dame team within one win of an ACC school would be eligible for selection over that ACC school, though. In other words, a 7-5 Notre Dame team could be selected to take an 8-4 ACC school's spot in one of their bowl tie-ins.
Where do the benefits for the ACC start kicking in, you ask? It's simple—exposure. Like them or not, the Irish draw attention wherever and whomever they play. Unlike most schools, Notre Dame has a national fanbase that will naturally allow ACC schools—who, by definition, reside along the Atlantic Coast in eastern cities—exposure in markets they would not normally have an opportunity to take advantage of.
After all, there were two big announcements on Wednesday: Notre Dame's conference move, and the iPhone 5. Depending on your news outlet, it is difficult to discern which communication received more press.
Going back to the point on exposure, it is likely that the ACC will experience ratings boosts in games featuring the Irish, which will only help in future television contract negotiations with networks. To be sure, the ACC will only have broadcasting rights to games featuring the Irish on the road against its full member schools, but something is better than nothing.
This point on exposure is not based on pompous attitudes that Notre Dame's football is better than that of everyone else. As it is, the product on the field has been quite mediocre as of late so that argument is out of the question. Where Note Dame arguably does a better job of any other institution, though, is in terms of its fanbase.
Most schools have established fans in very specific geographic regions within close proximity to campus. Florida, for example has a strong base within Florida, USC has a strong base on the west coast, and Michigan has a strong base in the mid-west. Notre Dame has a tremendous fanbase everywhere, not just in the U.S. but also abroad.
What the move also does for the ACC is create excitement within each school's respective fanbases. After all, anti-ND fans look forward to beating the Irish. Of course, schools want to beat every team on their schedule, but given Notre Dame's illustrious history and boastful fanbase, victories over the Irish are relished more so than usual.
Traditional rivalry games, such as Virginia Tech versus Virginia and Duke versus North Carolina, will reign supreme for each respective fanbase, but games against the Irish will also hold special meaning.
Aside from football, other sports should benefit for all parties involved as well. Notre Dame's soccer programs, perennial national championship threats, will fit in nicely with the ACC's rich tradition in the sport. Lacrosse will also benefit as the Irish have quickly ascended the national ranks and are now one of the nation's top programs with trips to the final four in two of the last three seasons. In fact, one of their title losses came to ACC power Duke. Track and Field has been a strength of Notre Dame's as well as the ACC's so there is mutual benefit there as well. Golf and baseball in the ACC were probably better off without Notre Dame, but the addition will not hurt.
John Swofford and the ACC athletics director's clearly must have seen such benefits, else they would have had no reason to extend an invitation to Notre Dame in the first place. Let it be clear, Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame did not force the ACC into offering an invitation. A mutual agreement was reached between all parties due to the realization that each had something to gain from the deal.
Case in point, while Notre Dame retains its exclusive NBC contract for broadcast of its home games, the Irish will not share in the ACC's contract with ESPN. It's a give-take relationship and all parties benefit.
All in all, Notre Dame and the ACC are better off today than they were yesterday. At the very least, ACC fans can take solace in the fact that the conference raised its exit fee charge to $50 million. Suffice to say, the ACC will look like this for years to come. It is undoubtedly stable and perhaps now immune from future conference expansion threats and opportunities.