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Relevant? ACC jump ultimate proof that Notre Dame still matters

Notre Dame can still make more news on a Wednesday morning than most schools make all year. This is part of being Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish live with the incessant talk that Notre Dame is not relevant, because all that talk just means Notre Dame is relevant.

You know who isn't relevant anymore? Princeton football. The University of Chicago Fighting Whatever They Were.

Notre Dame? Well, people love to say Notre Dame doesn't matter any more. I suspect these are the same people who claim baseball isn't as popular as it was 30 years ago, even though attendance and revenue are substantially higher. It's an easy claim to make, but it doesn't hold up.

The Fighting Irish are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference for every sport except football and hockey, and this should settle the debate once and for all. Notre Dame is still an enormous player on the college sports scene. Major conferences would rather kiss Notre Dame on the cheek than go all the way with Boise State.

Notre Dame gets to join the ACC in almost every sport, but still keeps its football independence, a sweetheart deal that the ACC was thrilled to make. The ACC gains prestige, power and five football games a year against Notre Dame.

Everybody wants to play Notre Dame in football, and no, that is not because beating Notre Dame is easy. It's because playing Notre Dame is an event, the way it's an event when the Yankees come to town. When the Fighting Irish travel to Duke, it will be such a big deal that Duke students might even learn where the football stadium is.

Relevant? Are you kidding? Is Nebraska relevant? The Big Ten wanted Notre Dame more than it wanted Nebraska. Is West Virginia relevant? The Big 12 wanted Notre Dame more than it wanted West Virginia.

During the big realignment juggling show of the last few years, Notre Dame was always a prime catch. The Big East was terrified it would lose Notre Dame. The Big Ten officially offered Notre Dame a spot in the late '90s, but it was really a standing invitation. If, at any point in the past 15 years, Notre Dame had wanted to join the Big Ten, Jim Delany would have pulled a contract out of his desk and had a pen ready.

The Big 12 would have loved Notre Dame -- before or after Colorado looked west and Nebraska looked east. The idea of Notre Dame in the Southeastern Conference is too far-fetched to be taken seriously, but since the SEC welcomed Missouri, it's safe to assume the SEC would have loved to have Notre Dame in all sports.

Nationally, Notre Dame still has cache very few schools can match. The Longhorns are bigger in the Southwest, the Gators are more important in the Southeast and the Trojans are the dominant name out West. But Notre Dame means something everywhere.

That will seem truer than ever in the coming months. Notre Dame's move to the ACC affects several conferences. The Big East just suffered another enormous blow. The Big Ten's dream that Notre Dame might join just took another hit. The Big 12 has to accept that Notre Dame never really had any interest. And as Notre Dame figures out its schedule, somebody is going to be pretty ticked off.

The Fighting Irish will play five of their 12 games each year against ACC teams. SI's Pete Thamel reports that USC and Stanford are priorities for Notre Dame. USC, because of history and location, is the Irish's most important rival. Stanford, based on location and academics, appeals to Notre Dame's image. By keeping both, Notre Dame guarantees itself a game on the West Coast every year, and makes those two Pac 12 schools quite happy.

So that brings Notre Dame to seven games a year. Add Navy, a traditional rival that Notre Dame almost always beats, and you get eight. Notre Dame also has traditional rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, and it is hard to see the Irish playing all three every year. Sure, there are enough games in the year. But if the Irish play USC, Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and five ACC teams each year, they might as well schedule the 12th game against the Patriots. That schedule would be too tough, even by Notre Dame standards.

I don't know what Notre Dame will do about that. The Irish were supposed to have a 25-year deal with Michigan, but Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told the Detroit Free Press last summer it is actually a four-year deal, and the schools won't play in 2018 or 2019. Purdue is a local rival. Michigan State has played Notre Dame almost every year since the late 1940s.

I suspect Notre Dame will play two of those three Big Ten schools every year. And that will rankle the fans at all three schools, because -- like almost everybody else in the country -- they get excited about facing Notre Dame. It will also raise the question that Big Ten coaches have occasionally asked: Why should we play Notre Dame if they won't join our league?

Answer: Because it's Notre Dame. And after all these years, after the infusion of television money and radical realignment and the growth of the NCAA tournament and a thousand scandals and a half-dozen attempts to create a college football playoff, there is still only one Notre Dame.