A JERSEY GUY: A Legacy Move For Swofford

Mark Blaudschun

When John Swofford announced earlier this summer that this would be his final season as the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, his credentials of building the ACC into a Power 5 Super Conference were unquestioned.

But in his last hurrah season, Swofford wanted more. He wanted a legacy move that if he pulls it off probably will be the first paragraph of his obituary when he ends what we hope will be a long and happy retirement.

What Swofford wants, and was trying to get closer to in the last few days, is to get Notre Dame as a full time member of the ACC in FOOTBALL.

That move has been a Quixotic wish of commissioners ranging from the Big Ten to the ACC to the Big East for years, always without success, although the ACC has broken through the ND barrier in all other sports than football and ice hockey.

Notre Dame football has always been a different breed, with its history of independence guarded enthusiastically by its alumni and protected by its administration.

In a world where college football conferences and commissioners hold all the power cards, Notre Dame is the only independent that can contend on a semi-equal basis.

But the times they are a changing and Notre Dame right now is in the vortex of a multi million dollar power struggle that could secure the Irish's financial future for decades.

But the cost is also enormous: Notre Dame's independent status in football, even on a one-year, one-time basis.

Here is what is going on in this week of scrambling by the conferences deal with a COVID-19 world and still play football this fall.

The ACC presidents met today, considering two plans offered by the conference athletic directors.  Both included multiple conference games against Notre Dame. 

An 8 conference game, plus one or two non-conference game schedule, or a 10 conference (plus one non-conference game) schedule.

Both plans offer Notre Dame full membership this season, which means a potential conference championship game appearance as well a full share of ACC media revenue ( in the neighborhood of 37 million dollars). 

Which plan--the presidents were presented with schedule grids of both 8 and 10 ACC games--they may accept remains uncertain. They could even reject both.

But late this afternoon, the ACC announced a 10-game conference schedule with Notre Dame as a full member, sharing with other ACC teams in all television revenues.

The dilemma for both the ACC and Notre Dame was obvious. 

The Irish clearly wanted to remain an independent in football, which could mean for this season (already minus USC, Stanford and Wisconsin), a potential unbeaten and Final Four regular season if they can pull off an upset of Clemson in South Bend in November.

An 8 plus one or two game independent schedule would have been perfect for ND, which could play a full ACC schedule, as well as Navy and Arkansas. If they can beat Clemson, they very well could be 10-0 with an almost guaranteed spot in the Final Four.

That is the safer path for the Irish, but it would come without the huge financial boost from the ACC.

The ACC championship game caveat creates a problem, because as a full member an undefeated Notre Dame would have a spot in the ACC title game, where they are most likely to face Clemson again--in Charlotte.

Want to post the odds on Notre Dame beating Clemson twice in a season, including a second game in North Carolina? 

And if the Irish beat Clemson in South Bend and lost in Charlotte, they would be a long shot to even make the playoffs.

As an enticement to accept that, the ACC added the offer of a full ACC revenue payout, which combined with Notre Dame's share of its television contract with NBC would be a boost in income for ND of more than 35 million dollars.

For that, however, the ACC clearly wants Notre Dame to accept a permanent position in football sooner rather than later, a move which would guarantee ND's financial athletic security.

Tough moral choice for ND, which traditionally has ignored all money matters as a deciding factor.

On Wednesday,  they made their first choice, by accepting full membership and the money for one year.

According to several sources familiar with the process, Swofford clearly was the force behind getting ND signed. 

His term will come to an end in several months and his successor--a long shot could be long time ESPN executive Burke Magnus--will have to deal with the consequences or benefits of any moves made this summer.

The uncertainty of all of this is that there might not be any ACC season at all in 2020, but plans still have to be made, with the first games scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 7-12.

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Mark Blaudschun

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