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Allen: Storm of realignment uncertainty is over (March 12)

Chris Allen | Tuesday, March 12, 2013

 

The world of college athletics has seen a whirlwind of conference realignment sweep across its landscape in the last few years. With a definitive statement Tuesday morning, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick put an end to the whirlwind around the affiliation of Irish athletics.

Starting July 1, Notre Dame has a home – the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Notre Dame hockey will begin play in Hockey East in the fall. The football program is committed to scheduling five ACC opponents per year beginning in 2014.

This is what the calm after the storm looks like.

Swarbrick’s Tuesday announcement of the early move to the ACC comes in the middle of an extremely productive and successful period for Notre Dame’s athletic programs. Currently, the Irish have 13 teams in-season ranked nationally, including a No. 2 women’s basketball team, a No. 3 men’s lacrosse team, a No. 6 women’s lacrosse team, a No. 17 baseball team and a No. 24 men’s basketball team. All of this winter and spring success comes on the heels of a men’s soccer season that garnered a No. 1 ranking at one point and, of course, a national championship runner-up finish and undefeated regular season in football.

The bottom line is this: Notre Dame athletics are healthy, and thriving, across the board. The early exit to the ACC ensures the program will be able to seamlessly continue to grow and improve across the board in the new conference. With the turmoil surrounding the Big East, a 2013-14 season spent in the Big East would have been a detriment to the Irish athletics programs.

But with the move comes new challenges.

The new ACC will be an athletic gauntlet, especially in soccer, lacrosse and basketball. The Irish will join fourteen other programs, and soon Louisville, established in recruiting the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The challenge rests with the stable of incredible Notre Dame coaches to continue to compete nationally and on a week-by-week basis with Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, among others.

While the early defection to the ACC is a move that benefits the whole complement of Notre Dame programs, it is a move driven by basketball. And in basketball it offers its greatest opportunity. The exodus of the so-called “Catholic Seven,” a group of basketball-only schools, would have devastated an already-dying Big East. Much has been made of the lack of student support around the consistently successful men’s basketball program. The move to the ACC, along with Big East basketball powers Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville will serve to elevate the status of Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team. Irish coach Mike Brey, a man with ACC roots, will bring a stable of top guards to his debut season in the guard-dominated league. With student support lagging, the promise of home games against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke – arguably the most popular program in men’s college basketball – will only energize the Irish fan base.

In women’s basketball, coach Muffet McGraw will be in perfect position to continue to grow one of the nation’s elite programs, despite leaving longtime conference rival Connecticut. Duke and North Carolina will serve as Notre Dame’s new competition, but with the uncertainty removed from the equation, McGraw will be able to continue an impressive march toward her second national title.

So take a deep breath. The storm is over. Notre Dame has a home in the ACC. 18 years in the Big East are over, and on July 1 a new era of Irish sports will begin.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu.

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