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Owens: Deal is a win for Irish, ACC (Sept. 13)

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Well, Notre Dame has done it again.

Eleven days after 35,000 Americans traveled overseas to watch the Irish play a football game, the University has once again paraded its relevance as a national brand.

After all, who else could accomplish what Notre Dame did on Wednesday?

For years, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) had consistently and steadfastly rebuffed any notion of partial Notre Dame membership – it wanted the Irish to be all-in or all-out. The conference finally relented Wednesday and allowed the fabled football program to remain independent while moving its other athletic teams (except hockey, which will move to Hockey East) to the ACC.

Maybe it was the threat of losing Florida State and Clemson to the Big 12, as has been rumored since the schools were reportedly unimpressed by the latest ACC television deal with ESPN. Maybe ACC commissioner John Swofford and company thought the conference needed to appease Notre Dame now or watch the Irish – and the trail of money behind them – disappear forever.

“Notre Dame enhances the league’s unique blend of public and private institutions that are international in scope,” Swofford said. “The collective alumni and fan bases cover the entire country with exceptionally strong roots up and down the Atlantic Coast.”

In this deal, everyone wins. Well, except the Big East.

With the announcement of five annual Notre Dame-ACC matchups, the conference has guaranteed itself the opportunity to pursue a more lucrative television pact. If that doesn’t prevent discouraged members from departing, the newly-installed $50 million departure fee should do the trick.

But if the deal is a home run for the ACC, it’s a walk-off grand slam for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick has accomplished his top priority during the turbulent times of college football realignment and the tense transition from the Bowl Championship Series to the four-team playoff: preserve football independence.

That the Irish were able to weather the past two-plus years and come away in an even better situation is a testament to Swarbrick’s leadership. Call me crazy, but I doubt Notre Dame would be in this position if Kevin White were still in charge of Irish athletics.

“This approach allows us to help promote ACC football while maintaining our traditional rivalries and a national schedule,” Swarbrick said.

Football independence? Check.

National scheduling? Check.

Improved bowl tie-ins? Check.

Swarbrick made out like a bandit in a series of events that will impact Notre Dame for decades to come.

At first glance, some will postulate that Notre Dame has essentially surrendered its football independence with the annual five-game ACC commitment, but they are wrong.

Essentially, the Irish have participated in a form of this agreement the past two seasons, and adding a couple more – Notre Dame will play each ACC school at least once every three years – will hardly cripple a program’s ability to schedule USC, Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State and Navy on a consistent basis. If anything, it will eliminate the scheduling head-scratchers like Western Michigan (2010), South Florida (2011) and Massachusetts (2015).

The most underrated aspect of this agreement is the stability with non-BCS bowl tie-ins it affords the Irish. In 2012, Notre Dame could theoretically be left out in the dark if it fails to earn a BCS berth and if each conference achieves its bowl quota. With this deal, that’s no longer the case beginning in 2014, as Notre Dame can substitute an eligible ACC squad if the Irish are within one win of that team.

A New Year’s Eve date with a premier SEC school at the Chick-fil-A Bowl sounds like a better consolation prize for missing out on the BCS than crossing your fingers for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, does it not?

Swarbrick was able to achieve these ends for King Football without compromising the health of Notre Dame’s other athletic programs. In reality, Wednesday’s agreement strengthens it.

Men’s basketball coach Mike Brey might never hop off cloud nine. His program jumps from the top basketball conference of old (Big East), for the ACC, a conference steeped in rich tradition with North Carolina and Duke that has been elevated by the impending arrivals of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and, now, Notre Dame.

Alignment with like-minded universities? Check.

Top-notch athletic exposure? Check.

Recruiting along the eastern seaboard? Check.

There remains just one item on Swarbrick’s to-do list, and he’ll need approval from University President Fr. John Jenkins to open the pocketbook on this one.

Strike a deal with the Big East to allow the Irish to forego their final year with the Big East. Join the ACC along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse for the 2013-14 season.

Knowing Swarbrick’s track record, my guess is it will get it done.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu