When word broke Wednesday morning that Notre Dame had agreed to join the ACC in all sports except football (and hockey of course) but would play five football games a year against the league schools, conventional wisdom pointed to some particular losers.
1. The Big East was doomed.
2. The Big Ten was humiliated.
3. BYU better join a conference, pronto.
We're not being contrarian when we say none of the above is necessarily true. Here's why:
1. This was a good day for the Big East.
|North Carolina State|
*Date hasn't been set on official membership
**Scheduled to join in 2013
Seriously, it was. No, losing Notre Dame in basketball and other sports isn't a plus. And yes, it will likely lower the amount of money the Big East can demand in its current television negotiations, but only a little. TV money is about football first and Notre Dame wasn't in the football league. As for basketball, the Irish program is fine, but hardly a big national draw that drove up hoops revenue.
The other developments, missed in the headlines, are far more important.
First off, ACC commissioner John Swofford clearly stated it has no interest in bringing in a 16th member. Other league sources concur. This ends the threat of the conference raiding the Big East again. Connecticut, Rutgers and Louisville all would've crawled to Greensboro, N.C. for an invite. Now none is coming.
Swofford always targeted Notre Dame, which is why he stopped at 14 members last year adding just Syracuse and Pittsburgh – and put pressure on the Irish. He could've easily gone to 16 by adding Rutgers and UConn, and had his league dominate the East Coast from Boston to Miami.
That was never the plan.
The ACC also agreed to a new $50 million exit fee, the kind of huge number that will prevent a school from jumping anywhere, even the SEC and Big Ten. That means the rumblings about the Big 12 raiding the ACC for Florida State or Clemson are done. Those schools have expressed strong commitment to the ACC (I doubt Clemson ever thought of leaving). There is committed and there is $50 million committed.
So if no one can raid the ACC then the ACC doesn't need to raid the Big East at a later date. Again, this is about stability.
The Big 12 could still come after the Big East's Louisville, Cincinnati or someone else, but that league is adamant, both on and off the record, that it is excited about having just 10 members right now. Everyone from commissioner Bob Bowlsby to Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has spoken of the advantage of playing a true round robin in football and basketball and avoiding the additional challenge of a conference title football game, which can knock a team out of national title contention.
Besides, the league just signed a huge new television deal. With Notre Dame and any ACC powers now no longer a possibility, there isn't any program out there that would make economic sense to add. Everyone else just waters the league down.
It's just not happening for the foreseeable future. So that bodes well for stability also.
Conference realignment could be entering a quiet period. If so the Big East is in good shape. No, it's not what it once was, but it maintains a strong basketball presence on the East Coast. The additions of Temple and Memphis actually bolster that sport. The Big East tournament is still a big deal, and there are still very strong hoops brands, including UConn, Georgetown, Villanova and so on.
If the Big East wants to add another team, either exclusively hoops or in all sports, then there are candidates. BYU would strengthen both. Xavier would be a big plus competitively in basketball. Massachusetts could add another school in the Northeast.
The options are endless, and by no longer fearing being hunted, the Big East can take a deep breath and consider its options.
Meanwhile in football, Notre Dame's departure means nothing. Again, it wasn't a football member in the first place.
The Big East now can exhale and see how the new 12-team, coast-to-coast league plays out. It's still adding a signature program in Boise State to a league that will feature Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers, South Florida, UConn, Central Florida, Houston, San Diego State and so on.
No, it's not the SEC. It's also not that bad. An unbeaten team from the Big East is very likely to be selected to the four-team playoff coming in 2014. In the end, that's what matters.
2. The Big Ten should just yawn and move on.
This isn't embarrassing at all. Notre Dame didn't rebuff the Midwest powerhouse. It was never willing to fully join a conference in football. Any conference. The NFC North doesn't have enough money to lure the Irish.
Since the Big Ten was never going to allow a school to join as a partial member, then there was never an option here. Neither side was going to budge. Big Ten teams should just continue to schedule Notre Dame in the non-conference because the Irish bring huge ticket demands and television ratings. Absolutely nothing has changed here.
3. It doesn't have to change for Brigham Young either.
Notre Dame's independence and BYU's independence are too entirely different things.
The No. 1 reason for Notre Dame's move was the Irish felt a scheduling crunch and needed the guaranteed five ACC games to lighten that burden. It abhors playing weak opponents. It's never played a team from the former Division I-AA and does everything it can to avoid a non-BCS team. It's basically 10 or 11 major conference opponents and the service academies.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick understands that the school cherishes its "independence" but rather than cling to a concept, he considered what the byproduct of that independence was. What it cherishes is playing a top-line nationally relevant schedule.
Expansion by the other leagues threatened Notre Dame's ability to do that. If it was willing to play three or four Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference teams, then it would be different and there'd be no need to go to the ACC.
When Notre Dame was forced to add UMass, now of the MAC, to its 2015 schedule, it showed the problems it was facing. The Irish aren't excited about that one. Neither is NBC, whose deal with Notre Dame is up in 2015. Playing big schedules is a point of pride, but it is also paramount to maintaining a lucrative relationship with its network partner.
That made scheduling very difficult.
It is willing to play opponents from non-power conferences. This season's slate includes games against Weber State, Utah State, Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State. BYU has its own TV network through the Mormon Church, not the concerns of pleasing NBC. It's looking to play 6-8 good-to-great teams, which is far easier to get done than 12. Notre Dame and BYU even have a future scheduling agreement.
So the assumption that Notre Dame's move shows that independence can't be done anymore isn't necessarily the case. BYU can do it because of its flexibility in picking opponents.
BYU could join the Big East if it chose (and if it's invited), but only if it feels like it's the best strategy. Besides, one of BYU's unique purposes is promoting the Mormon Church. Independence may behoove that.
There is no question the ACC and Notre Dame rightfully feel like winners today. The list of "losers" however is either short or non-existent.
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