A JERSEY GUY: ACC  (Amazingly) Continues to Woo Notre Dame

Mark Blaudschun

It began with a mutual flirtation, progressed to a casual and then more intense relationship and is now on the verge of a legal, and somewhat binding marriage.

Say hello to the Atlantic Coast Conference  and which once again is--let's use a Jersey term--shamelessly sucking up to Notre Dame in its effort to get the Irish to become a full-time, all sports member.

The latest episode includes the ACC giving Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins a role as vice-chairman of a Presidential Search Committee involved in looking for a new ACC commissioner.

Considering that Notre Dame is not a full-time ACC member, this is a remarkable move. Unless you understand the history of the relationship.

The key issue here is Notre Dame's independent status in football, which has made the Irish the most popular girl at every conference expansion dance for the past 40 years.

For this football season--if there is one--the Irish are a full-fledged member of the ACC in all sports but hockey. But, they have also reportedly told the conference that the deal in football is one-time, temporary deal.

The official engagement process between the ACC and Notre Dame began in 2012, when the Irish signed an agreement to become a conference member in all sports but hockey and football.

That has worked out well for both parties, giving Notre Dame teams a safe haven provided by conference membership.

The Irish maintained their football independence, but signed a deal with the ACC to play five games each year against ACC teams. That gave conference teams the glamour of potential home games against the Irish and bigger TV audiences. 

In exchange, the ACC put Notre Dame in their bowl rotation for all games except the Orange Bowl, which contractually gives the ACC champion a host role.

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick made the deal to protect what was then a string of average Irish football teams that had no guaranteed bowl slots available for teams with multiple losses.

That agreement was not greeted with enthusiasm by the ACC football coaches who correctly summarized that a 6-6 ND team would get more bowl attention than a 6-6 or even 7-5 ACC team.

For ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who will retire by next summer, this was the first part of a master legacy plan to get the Irish to become football members.

The stakes changed this spring with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which has created chaos in the college football world.

As an independent, Notre Dame suddenly became more vulnerable when the pandemic forced many conferences to eliminate the non-conference portion of their schedule.

That move left ND with several openings, that eventually turned into six open slots.

The ACC's message was clear - We've got your back. They eventually signed  a deal with ND to play 10 conference games, as well as making them a full revenue sharing partner for this season only and providing a chance to compete for the ACC championship.

The deal which increased the Irish revenue by at least 20 million dollars was an offer ND and Swarbrick could not refuse, especially if it was for only one season.

For the ACC, it was another enticement to convince Notre Dame that married life was better than life as an independent in football.

The ACC had more.

In the list of candidates to replace Swofford, Swarbrick's name (coincidentally?) has been mentioned as a contender.

But it is the inclusion of Father Jenkins as part of the leadership role in the presidential athletic search which stretches the ACC credibility.

"You've got to be kidding,'' was the response of several college administrators when they heard of the arrangement.

The role of the ACC commissioner over the next 20 years will be extremely influential in determining the future of the conference.

If there were an agreement that Notre Dame was becoming a full-time permanent member or Father Jenkins has given the ACC presidents an understanding that he would look favorably on such an idea, then it would simply be good business.

But for all intents and purposes, ND remains only a PART-TIME member of the ACC, with the missing membership being the biggest revenue producing sport for the conference.

To allow Father Jenkins and ND to have anything more than a vote and a voice (one of 15) in any discussions is indeed mind boggling, explainable for only one reason.

The ACC is willing to make ANY deal with any arrangement to get the Irish to become a full-time permanent member of the conference.


Mark Blaudschun