Notre Dame to ACC Just Makes Sense
By Jacob Shoor
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The only way Notre Dame can revive its football glory is to become the lone midwestern school in a primarily southern conference: the ACC.
In a recent article, Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free Press inadvertently makes a case for why the longer Notre Dame takes to join the ACC, the more that Notre Dame handcuffs its football and prevents its possible re-emergence.
Sharp never mentions the ACC, and most of the paper's midwestern readers, like Sharp himself, will never see the implications of what he says. After all, Sharp's primary focus is how the playoffs for major college football will hurt the Big Ten.
Sharp correctly says that once the euphoria about a playoff is over, people will see the problems with this particular playoff and begin complaining. The chief complaints, he asserts, will come from the Big Ten and Notre Dame: "the biggest losers in this reconfiguration. An actual playoff rewarding performance more than personality effectively places a tombstone on Midwestern football relevance."
Every fan of Southern football loves to hear that. We tend to see midwestern football as plodding and dull and propped up by the media. Add that to our cultural memories of the Big Ten at least seeming to want to cut Southern teams out of the center of college football, and it is not hard to understand why many fans of Southern college sports would love to see the Big Ten significantly and irreversibly reduced in stature.
Sharp comes to this conclusion: "There is nothing 'geographically balanced' about college football. It's a Sun Belt-dominated sport. A playoff will exacerbate that disproportion."
Sharp seems amazed that the Big 12 has gone from nearly dead to being partnered with the SEC. SEC commissioner Mike Slive is no dummy. He knows that the less the Big 12 is helped, the more quickly it can die, with Texas and Oklahoma heading to the Pac, the ally of the Big Ten. And so Slive maneuvered to make Texas and Oklahoma, the only two Big 12 schools that matter, help him deal a crippling blow to the Big Ten. As Sharp phrases it, "The SEC-Big 12 neutered the Rose Bowl -- the Big Ten's longtime trump card -- when they created the Champions Bowl. The Big Ten couldn't threaten to pull the Rose Bowl and its regality out of the playoff rotation if its demands weren't met because there was a ready replacement. So the grandfather of all bowls capitulated to a game that wasn't even around two months ago."
As the Champions Bowl most likely will prove to be nothing more than the Cotton Bowl controlled 100% by the SEC and Texas/OU, Sharp's assertion is way overblown. But his main premise, that football power and exciting attractiveness has shifted hard, and perhaps for so long we might see it as virtually permanent, to the South, is unquestionably right.
And that brings us back to Notre Dame, which keeps hanging onto its football independence in hope that Irish independence in football is somehow more magical and powerful a tradition than the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame became the nation's only national program because the Big Ten, spurred on by Michigan especially, not merely rejected the school for membership, but also tried to boycott it. With little chance of playing Big Ten teams, Notre Dame barnstormed, especially in the northeast. And as a result, the Irish became the darlings of the northeastern sports media (well, at least that part of it that wasn't openly anti-Catholic).
Notre Dame became the Notre Dame of absolutely unique mystique and status precisely because it was not in the Big Ten and did not play a midwestern based schedule. Notre Dame was the school in the midwest that focused on the east coast and on its rivalry with Southern Cal, which together allowed it first to survive the Big Ten boycott and then to thrive. Notre Dame has never been, and may not be able to be, the Notre Dame of mystique if it is bogged down in the midwest tugging at the coattails of the Big Ten.
College football has become Southern-centric, and the only way that Notre Dame can revive its football glory and leave the Big Ten in the dust is to become the lone midwestern school in a primarily Southern conference: the ACC.
Notre Dame still needs the northeast, and the ACC has BC, Syracuse, and Pitt, as well as Maryland. But Notre Dame football now, and for the foreseeable future, needs the South and multiple games against schools in the South as much as Irish football required Army and Navy from the 1920s through the 1950s.
It is a given that the ACC would be considerably better than the Big East for Notre Dame in basketball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, golf, tennis, etc. It is a given that the ACC's academic stature is exactly what Notre Dame wants. It is a given that Notre Dame prefers associations with as many private schools as possible, and the ACC already has five private schools. And it is becoming more obvious that because football power and prestige have made a hard shift to the South that Notre Dame football in this era can transcend the Big Ten and recapture the full national status and respect of its past glory most easily, perhaps only, by joining the ACC and becoming tied to the South.
What better way to stick it to the Big Ten and bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened SEC fans and Southern good ole boys, whose region is predominant in college football, than to have the Notre Dame marching band jamming on Charlie Daniels' "The South's Gonna Do It Again" at the ACC Championship?