With college athletics landscape shifting dangerously beneath its feet, Notre Dame solidified its future in football and other sports with its move to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in a limited way. The decision will pay big dividends for the Fighting Irish athletic program, and will be a boon to fans and alumni like me.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was able to strike the best deal imaginable for the football program. The Irish get to keep their traditional independence. But they solve a scheduling problem - especially for late season games - that left traditional rivalries in jeopardy. Now, Notre Dame can continue to play Big Ten rivals Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan early in the season, before they begin their own conference matchups.
The Irish can continue their long-standing matchups with USC, and the Stanford series, ensuring exposure in the important ND recruiting territory of California. Now, the five annual games against ACC opponents can help open recruiting efforts in the talent-rich southeastern United States as well. Meanwhile, the Notre Dame television contract gets bolstered by games with new ACC members in major markets like Boston, Washington/Baltimore, New York and Pittsburgh.
But the biggest impact on the Notre Dame football program will be its access to ACC bowl tie-ins. In the past, the Irish had to scramble for bowl invites in seasons - all too frequent in recent years - when the team didn't finish high in BCS rankings. Now, the Irish will slot into the ACC's bowl deals for schools that finish in the middle of the conference standings.
But there is a bowl upside for Notre Dame as well. Fresh off the announcement about its plans to associate with the ACC, Swarbrick is working on a deal with the Orange Bowl to make the Irish a preferred invitee in successful seasons.
"We needed a soup-to-nuts solution for the postseason and we have achieved it," Swarbrick said. "We're going to keep some traditional rivals and we're going to get around the country. We're still going to be in California every year and we're still going to find a way to get into the Southwest. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too. We'll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country."
The ACC will be a great conference for the Notre Dame basketball program, where it will be joining the likes of North Carolina and Duke. The other Irish athletic programs, with the exception of hockey, which the ACC doesn't play, will benefit as well.
Swarbrick has navigated the choppy waters of college athletics and found Notre Dame the perfectly protected harbor. It gets everything it wants for its football program - independence, scheduling flexibility, its strong television contract and a path to postseason success. What more could Notre Dame fans like me ask for?
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.