SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has picked its conference. Now it has to decide which football rivalry games to keep.
The announcement Wednesday that Notre Dame is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey came with a provision that the Fighting Irish play five football games a year against league opponents. That’s good news for fans who want to see the Irish play Miami more often, but may not be welcomed by some traditional rivals.
The deal calls for the Irish to play each ACC team once every three years, which means traditional games against Pittsburgh and Boston College will end. Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame will continue to play Navy, which bailed out the school in the 1940s when it was struggling financially by putting programs on the South Bend campus. The Irish also will keep playing Southern California and Stanford, to keep a presence on the West Coast.
But what of Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue? Swarbrick wasn’t ready to say immediately. He did say, however, the shift in scheduling wouldn’t be as big as some people think.
“We’re going to keep some traditional rivals and we’re going to get around the country. We’re still going to be in California every year and we’re still going to find a way to get into the Southwest. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too,” he said. “We’ll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country.”
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke expects the Boilermakers to continue playing the Irish.
“We have a long-time relationship with Notre Dame involving many of our programs, and we expect it to continue,” he said.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon hopes to keep the series against Notre Dame going after their contract expires in 2020, but said it will be Notre Dame’s decision. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said the Spartans have a contract that runs through 2031 that calls for games against Notre Dame for four years and then two off years.
But with five ACC games on the schedule, games against USC, Stanford and Navy, if the Irish played all three Big Ten opponents it would have just one other game on the schedule.
Notre Dame will begin playing five ACC teams in 2014. It wasn’t clear when it would join the league in other sports because the Big East has a 27-month notification period for any member that wants to leave, and a $5 million exit fee. The Big East has shown a willingness to negotiate, as it did with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who paid $7.5 million each to get out early. Swarbrick wouldn’t say when Notre Dame would leave, but indicated he would try to work out a deal.
“My own philosophy is, it’s in everybody’s interests to do it sooner rather than later,” Swarbrick said.
One of the key reasons Notre Dame decided to move from the Big East, which it joined in 1995, was because the ACC’s offer allowed the Irish to be part of its bowl rotation. For the next two seasons, if Notre Dame doesn’t earn a BCS berth it must wait to see what conferences can’t fill their bowl allotments to see where it can play. Notre Dame also could play an ACC team in the Orange Bowl in some years.
“We needed a soup-to-nuts solution for the postseason and we have achieved it,” Swarbrick said.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the deal helps the league as well because it will re-negotiate its recent ESPN contract worth $3.6 billion to account for Notre Dame’s arrival. Notre Dame will keep its broadcast partnership with NBC and won’t receive TV revenue for other ACC football games.
Swarbrick said he thinks Notre Dame’s move to the ACC might stabilize all the changes going on among conferences.
“I think this gives us a real chance that we are going to have a period ahead of us now in college athletics which is going to be pretty stable,” he said. “That would be one of the nicest possible legacies if five years from now we look back on this deal and say, ‘You know what, that ushered in a period of where we focused on what was going on on the field and not what was going on in the AD’s office in college sports. I think it will.”