Notre Dame’s partial ACC membership likely will cost his school short-term, but Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson envisions far more long-term dividends, and perhaps, the ultimate payoff.
The conference and Notre Dame unveiled their partnership – five football games annually and full membership in other sports – Wednesday, almost a year to the day after the ACC announced the additions of Pitt and Syracuse.
“I’m happy with the agreement that we got,” Pederson told me over lunch. “I think what’s very significant in that agreement is the fact that should they at any point in time give up (football) independence that they come to the ACC.
“That’s a huge commitment, one that they never had in the Big East. In fact, it was well-known they would not have gone to the Big East in football no matter what situation played out.”
Notre Dame has called the Big East home since 1995, and over time its partial membership seemed to irritate the fully committed. Search online for Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s classic rant for evidence.
But Pederson, whose school exits the Big East for the ACC next year, said he never felt any resentment toward the Fighting Irish, and doesn’t anticipate any in the ACC.
“We’ve had a great, long-term relationship with Notre Dame,” he said. “I just never saw that as an issue in the Big East, as much as you heard talk about it. … We never personally subscribed to that. They were really historically our closest partner in the Big East.”
Pederson relayed that experience to ACC commissioner John Swofford during negotiations with Notre Dame.
“John is great. He talks to everybody in the league about everything,” Pederson said. “So you always know what’s going on. And he and I talked about a myriad of things, including Notre Dame. You didn’t know how all of this would play itself out. I didn’t know if we’d get to an agreement. But I’m glad that we did.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and president Rev. John Jenkins said they have no intention of forgoing football independence and that it is “central” to the school’s identity. But if negotiations on a new television contract with NBC – the current deal expires in 2015 – deadlock, or if football’s postseason structure changes again …
“None of us could have predicted what transpired in the last two years,” Pederson said, “and so you can’t predict what the future might hold. But it’s nice to have the commitments that if things change, you know where they’re going. That’s pretty important.
“I think one thing they’ll find is, once they’re in the ACC and they’re dealing with all these people, they’re going to be just like us, which is, they’re going to be ecstatic at the relationships. Whatever our expectations were, everything has surpassed that.”
Even without full membership, Pederson believes Notre Dame will increase the ACC’s television value and give the conference more leverage in arranging its secondary bowl lineup.
Notre Dame’s agreement to play five football games each season against the ACC, rotating among the 14 full-time members, figures to curtail Pitt’s annual series against the Irish, contracted through 2016. The rivalry dates to 1909, and this marks its fifth consecutive season.
Pederson hopes the interruption allows the Panthers to renew a series with Penn State. So with sacrifice comes opportunity.
“I’ve always admired the fact that the NFL always does what’s right for the league,” Pederson said. “I think that’s the reason they’re so strong and so viable. They’ve always put the league above individual teams. And when I’m in the ACC I feel that same way.
“You know, people already made some scheduling concessions when we came into the league. Some people gave up some home-and-home basketball series they would have loved to continue. But they did what was right for the league. Now this is kind of our turn to do what’s right for the league.”
Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon, a confessed realignment junkie, said he was not surprised at Notre Dame’s ACC decision. In fact, shortly after the Panthers received their invitation last year, Dixon bumped into Irish coach Mike Brey.
“I’ll see you there,” Dixon said Brey told him.
The Notre Dame news resonated minimally with Pitt football coach Paul Chryst, whose team faces Virginia Tech and Logan Thomas on Saturday.
“They’re on our schedules anyway,” Chryst said, immediately launching into more pressing matters. “What’s Virginia Tech gonna do on third down, and how are we gonna stop the big quarterback?”
NOTE: I interviewed Chryst, Dixon and Pederson in conjunction with my trip here for Saturday’s game. Look for much more from them about Pitt’s 2013 ACC arrival in Saturday’s Daily Press and here online.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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