By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
Notre Dame loves its house, but thought its neighborhood was becoming run down. So it picked up its house and moved it to a new neighborhood.
Goodbye Big East. Hello Atlantic Coast Conference.
Most important, when it comes to football the Fighting Irish still have the independence they so treasure.
It's a big move. Here's the why, when and how much.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR NOTRE DAME?
Scheduling stability in football and a more desirable home for its other sports.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick realized the coming four-team major college football playoff and related changes to the postseason, as well as conference realignment, will make it more difficult for Notre Dame to thrive as an independent.
The Fighting Irish don't want to play FCS teams, and want to avoid scheduling more than the occasional Mid-American Conference school.
Now with five ACC opponents on the schedule every season, along with traditional rivals such as Southern California, Navy, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Navy and Stanford, the Irish don't have to worry about scrambling for quality opponents, especially with more leagues going to nine-game conference schedules.
The move also gives Notre Dame access to all the bowls contracted to take ACC teams. Why is that important? This season if Notre Dame doesn't go to the BCS, it could end up with no bowl spot at all.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR THE ACC?
Five football games per year for its members against Notre Dame might not sound like much, but add that to the ACC's current football inventory and it could boost the conference's television revenue.
The ACC just signed a deal with ESPN that will pay its members $17.1 million per year through 2027. The Notre Dame deal will give the ACC the rights to two or three Fighting Irish football games per year — it will alternate from year to year. Though the value of those games is hard to determine, it's likely they will add to the bottom line.
Also, as much as these things are always driven by football, the other sports do matter — at least a little. Notre Dame has strong basketball programs, both men's and women's, as well as soccer, baseball and lacrosse.
Plus, if Notre Dame ever does decide to put its valuable football program in a conference, the ACC is first in line. That alone was enough for the league to welcome a partial member.
WHAT ABOUT THE BIG EAST?
Losing Notre Dame is hurts the public perception of the beleaguered Big East more than the product on the field. But perception is important in the business of college sports and the Big East's brand has taken a beating over the last year.
Notre Dame's departure, on the heels of West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse bailing on the league, makes the conference look unstable and disorganized as it tries to land a new television contract.
However, Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco is right when he says Notre Dame's departure doesn't affect the league's plans. The Big East will live or die on whether it can sell the idea of the 12-team, coast-to-coast football league, which Notre Dame was never going to be part of it.
WHY THE ACC FOR NOTRE DAME?
The Big Ten courted Notre Dame, football and all, more than a decade ago. The Irish said no. The Big Ten wasn't about to get turned down again, and wanted nothing to do with a football-less Notre Dame.
The Big 12 was interested in making a deal similar to the one the ACC made with Notre Dame, but the ACC is a better fit for the Irish. Sure South Bend, Ind., is about 720 miles from Tobacco Road in North Carolina, but the Fighting Irish have a huge following up and down the East Coast. Plus, the small private schools in the ACC are a better academic and cultural match for Notre Dame — and that does matter when university presidents are making the decisions.
WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN?
Unclear. The Big East requires departing members to give 24 months' notice and pay a $5 million exit fee.
That would mean Notre Dame wouldn't begin competing in the ACC until 2015. That scenario seems unlikely since the Big East doesn't need Notre Dame to fill out a football schedule and will still have 17 basketball members without the Irish.
It cost Syracuse and Pittsburgh $7.5 million to leave a year early for the ACC and West Virginia $20 million to join the Big 12 this season.
Bank on the Big East and Notre Dame making a deal and the Irish competing in the ACC by 2014 at the latest.
WILL NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL EVENTUALLY BE A FULL-TIME MEMBER OF THE ACC?
Years down the road, when the playoff expands to eight, 12 or 16 teams, and major college football consists of four super conferences, then, yes, Notre Dame will probably end up in some version of the ACC.
Until then, Notre Dame has everything it wants and needs, and no reason to be anything but independent in football.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP
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