ND to ACC for Football is Inevitable
By Jacob Shoor
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Both the ACC and Notre Dame can survive nicely with the announced plan, but each will benefit more with ND as a football member.
ESPN's Ivan Maisel has nailed what the marriage contract between Notre Dame and the ACC means for the future of Irish football: "Notre Dame is not a full-fledged member of the ACC yet. But the trend is unmistakable."
I have been saying for some time that ND would be part of the ACC sooner rather than later, and that eventually, if not from the get-go, that would mean being a full member for ACC football. The die is now cast, and there is no turning back.
ND giving up football independence has to be done in steps. If ND were thrust into a conference over night, the revolution could crush much that is already weakened about its football program that is nearly a quarter of a century from its last national championship. Easing Irish football into conference play is the wise path. And I would not be surprised to learn that Jack Swarbrick and John Swofford have already agreed that ND will prepare to join fully within a decade, assuming specifics like divisions get ironed out.
One way to help see how ND playing five ACC teams per year in football will slide the Irish into ACC football races is to know that ND is going to play every ACC team Home-Away over the first six years it is part of the ACC. That will serve as ND's greeting tour of the entire conference. It will mean that ND has played every ACC member in football at least twice before joining the conference.
Both the ACC and ND can survive nicely with the announced plan, but each will benefit more with ND as a football member. ND's football boosters will see that in part from learning how this association makes many ND players want to play in a conference championship game.
College players today tend to have far more high school post season playoff action than NFL players in the 1970s had in their entire playing careers, high school through the NFL. Like basketball players, football players today enter college seeing post season play for conference and district and regional championships as the norm. That is going to lead ND players to start talking about how if they play five ACC teams annually, they might as well play the full conference schedule so they can win the conference title.
ND football boosters will be moved less by players wanting to compete for a conference title than by the fact that ND playing a total of eight games against schools in NC over a six year period is not nearly as good for ND football as would be playing a conference schedule if the members of ND's division were the ACC schools that ND most wants and needs to play, based on its football history and needs to please its subway alums and to recruit. Playing four games against teams in VA over six years is not much better for ND, especially considering it will play Maryland twice during the same period.
And that is Notre Dame's final bargaining chip: ND agrees to join for football if the ACC agrees to meet its needs to play the schools it most wants to play annually and to facilitate its playing games across the nation.
Before I proceed to show how that can be done, I first should reiterate that ND football has four regional needs that must be met to keep the ND subway alums fully on board and to recruit well. Meeting all the regional needs is necessary for ND to remain the only truly national football program. The four regions are the midwest, the northeast, the south, and California.
ND meets its midwest needs by playing home games in South Bend, regardless of the opponent. That is the reason that Swarbrick has already emphasized that it is more important for ND to maintain games with CA schools than with Big Ten schools. As midwestern talent is lesser in content and quality than southern talent, ND will be well served playing fewer away games in the midwest and more in the south.
ND will meet all its needs in the northeast and the south by playing ACC schools. ND will meet all its CA needs by maintaining the annual rivalry with Southern Cal and by playing Stanford occasionally.
If ND plays nine ACC games, its 10th game would be SoCal. Its 11th could be rotated between Stanford and Michigan State, and its 12th would be open.
That is how ND playing a full ACC slate would serve its needs to remain a national program.
But it could be even better for ND, in ways that also would be good for ACC football as a whole. It would start with the 16th member. Swarbrick has emphasized that Navy is a permanent fixture on ND's schedule. That would mean that ND football probably is going to demand to have Navy in the ACC for it to join and play a full league schedule.
For ND, that means barnstorming with a conference rival, because Navy will play its home games versus ND anywhere, at least as far from Annapolis as Dublin, Ireland. For the ACC, ND barnstorming with another ACC member - a military academy that already wields some national pull because it has a built in national TV fan base - means it will acquire a unique national fan base that no other conference can match.
That is essential for the ACC. Because the ACC schools are so small on average compared to the schools of other major conferences, and because the ACC has multiple private schools and only three flagship state universities, the ACC can never have average attendance remotely close to that of the SEC or Big Ten, nor can it acquire concentrated TV drawing in a region equal to what those two have. The ACC, therefore, must expand its national TV drawing power. And there is no better way to achieve that than to have ND as a football member and have it barnstorm nationally with another ACC member or two.
The seven schools that would best serve ND's needs as division fellows are: BC, Syracuse, Pitt, Navy, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Miami. BC gets ND into New England and makes the Catholic Holy War an annual rivalry. Syracuse is in the most important state for ND subway alums: New York. ND has played Pitt 65 times, and western PA is very important to both ND recruiting and ND subway alum gatherings. Navy has been discussed. Maryland is in the heart of the Baltimore/DC TV market, which has almost as many ND subway alums as the Philadelphia TV market. GT is in Atlanta, the heart of the south, easily accessible to ND fans from across the south, and ND has played GT more than any school in the south. ND's rivalry with Miami was important well before Catholics vs. Convicts, and ND has shown already it wants that rivalry back.
Swarbrick's demands should not stop there. He should demand that Syracuse agree to play all its home games versus ND inside the NYC TV market, in either Yankee Stadium or Giants Stadium. It is obvious ND would prefer that and why. But why would it work for Syracuse? Because to reach its football potential, Syracuse must truly become New York's team, and easily the best way to reach that goal is to play a game every year in the NYC TV market with that game every other year being against the Irish.
If Syracuse becomes New York's team, and ND playing in NYC at least once every other year makes the NYC TV market for the first time ever a true college football market, the ACC will reap nearly unimaginable benefits.
The final demand Swarbrick should make is to play Duke as annual cross-divisional rival with Duke agreeing to play all its home games versus ND at neutral sites. That would mean that ND would have one league game each year played in cities across the country, usually outside the ACC geographic footprint. That would guarantee that ND playing an ACC slate of nine games would play a truly national schedule every year. ND could play, for example, Navy in San Diego one year, followed by playing Duke in St Louis, Navy in New Orleans, Duke in Philadelphia, Navy in Houston, Duke in Cincinnati, Navy in San Francisco, Duke in Dallas, Navy in Seattle, and Duke in Denver.
And that would mean that the only objection ND football boosters and fans could offer to joining the ACC for football would be to keep the name independent. And that is silly at best.
Why would it be good for Duke to give up its home games against ND to barnstorm? As all ACC football fans know, it is impossible, considering the size of the Duke student body and the number of Duke alums who live within a four hour drive of Wallace Wade and, most important, the nature of the 'Durham community,' for Duke to average even 30,000 per game. The only way Duke football can serve the ACC well and help itself gain a TV audience, as well as significantly improve its ability to recruit nationally, is to barnstorm with the Irish. That would be the best thing for Duke football since hosting the Rose Bowl.
In making such demands, Swarbrick would be soothing the massive ND ego, which is going to be necessary in order for him to lead ND into the ACC for football without several football boosters going rogue. And the ACC would be insane not to accept such demands, because ND as a football member of the ACC will change the sports landscape forever so that all the factors that handicap the ACC vis a vis the SEC and Big Ten become helps. Every ACC football program will gain immeasurably.
That includes Irish football.
And the first time that ND plays in the ACC Championship Game, virtually all opposition to ND in a conference for football will evaporate.