By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
5:39 PM PDT, September 12, 2012
COLLEGE PARK —
A new partnership between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Notre Dame will help the ACC broaden its appeal in football and other sports, while allowing the school to retain the independence that is part of its identity in its marquee sport.
The conference announced Wednesday that Notre Dame will join the ACC in all sports except football and hockey.
"This is indeed a monumental day in the history of our league," ACC commissioner John Swofford said at a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Under the plan, Notre Dame will remain independent in football but will play each ACC team home or away in football at least once every three years. Each year, the Fighting Irish will devote five football games to playing ACC schools. Notre Dame hopes that arrangement can start in 2014.
"Anytime you can get a school with that kind of tradition and history and that kind of global marketing, there's no way you don't entertain it," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in an interview. "We had a coaches' meeting today and all my coaches looked at me and said, 'You know what? Now it's going to be even more competitive.' My coaches are great recruiters, and I think it will help them recruit."
Maryland men's lacrosse coach John Tillman immediately made several calculations when he heard the news.
First, he said, he realized his team's goals just became more challenging.
"Listen, winning that championship is going to be in some ways harder," Tillman said. "The positive spin is it's really going to force you to push your guys and challenge them to be the best they can be."
Tillman said he can't help but think about the impact of the move on lacrosse. "Long term for the sport, to have a team in Indiana and bring ACC teams out certainly doesn't hurt the growth of our sport."
Best known for basketball, the ACC has been eager to increase interest in its football programs. Even as the conference announced the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh last year, the ACC's expansion was not complete. Maryland was among those privately expressing interest in further expansion, according to ACC-member representatives.
One ACC school, Florida State, had indicated its interest in making sure whatever conference it is in — including a revamped ACC — had a high enough football profile.
The ACC remains interested in extending its football reach — and that could mean adding a 16th school in the future. But it's not clear what school might fit the bill.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that if Notre Dame ever must surrender football independence, the ACC will be its home.
"I want to reinforce that it's our intention to remain independent," Swarbrick said. "That's central to us and central to our discussions. If something drastic should change, we're committed to the ACC. We would expect this to be the home if we made a change. But I don't want to send the wrong message: Our intent is to remain independent."
The ACC can't help but imagine the possibility that Notre Dame might one day become a football member.
"Personally, yes, I wish they were all in for football," Maryland football coach Randy Edsall said.
Notre Dame hopes to join the ACC for the 2013-14 season, according to a school source, but various contract obstacles related to the Big East departure will determine whether that becomes reality. There are separate agreements in place for Big East football and nonfootball schools, according to a source, that must be squared with the league's bylaws.
A Big East spokesman confirmed that the bylaws dictate Notre Dame pay a $5 million exit fee and give 27 months' notice before departing. But Notre Dame could negotiate an earlier exit, as Syracuse and Pittsburgh both did earlier this year for their moves to the ACC.
Short of Notre Dame navigating the contracts for the earlier departure, the Irish would not start in the ACC until 2015-16.
We'll meet our obligations to the Big East and see if we can accelerate [the exit timetable]," Swarbrick said at the news conference in North Carolina.
Notre Dame has been a member of the Big East in all sports except football and hockey since 1995.
A central sticking point had been the ACC's unwillingness to budge on all-or-nothing membership: Either you bring your football program or you can't join. That changed, for any number of reasons, to bring Notre Dame aboard.
"We have always been an all-in, if you will, membership," Swofford said. "In more recent years, we've discussed this with a changing landscape out there, a changing world. ... What was best 20 years ago isn't necessarily best in today's world.
"Now's the time. This is a partnership that is a win-win, and good for both parties. The time had come to cross this threshold."
The Irish also will endeavor to protect its football rivalry games —specifically, Navy, Southern California and Stanford. As for long-running series against Big Ten foes, the Irish might rotate those opponents on a yearly basis.
The series between Notre Dame and Navy, which has been played uninterrupted since 1927, will not likely be affected. According to Midshipmen athletic director Chet Gladchuk, the current contract runs through 2025.
"We've got a wonderful friendship and relationship that goes back historically with Notre Dame. We just came back from Ireland, where we had a wonderful experience," Gladchuk said Wednesday night. "I was reading some of the press releases today and Notre Dame made a point to mention that the Navy series is something they appreciate and will continue. ... I really believe one of their priorities for more than 80 years has been Navy-Notre Dame, and I believe that will continue well into the future."
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus and Tribune Newspapers' Brian Hamilton contributed to this article.
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