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ACC: The “Almost Catholic Conference?”

Pass the collection plate.

The University of Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a merger on Wednesday that, as befits a conference that invokes a coast in its title, will create a tidal shift in college sports.

First things first: Football television revenue is what drives intercollegiate college athletics. Just last week the Big 12 signed a contract with ESPN and Fox Sports that will cover 13 years and pay the conference $2.6 billion, or the equivalent of the gross national product of Barbados. To put it in numbers we can get our brains around, each Big 12 school will reap $20 million annually simply from its football TV contract. That is before a single T-shirt in Kansas’ or Oklahoma’s bookstores are sold.

Of course, Notre Dame is joining the ACC in everything but football. And yet, beginning in 2014 the Irish have pledged to play five games per year versus ACC opponents (the Irish played four ACC schools last season – five if you include the bowl game versus Florida State). Also, the ACC is providing Notre Dame with access to its Orange Bowl as well as its non-BCS bowl tie-ins. To put it in terms mere buffalo wing eaters might understand, the ACC married Notre Dame but gave the Irish a perpetual hall pass.

What are the ramifications?

1. The Big East is now “The Walking Dead” minus the overly dramatic speechifying. With Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia already having departed the Big East, Notre Dame, a Big East conference member in all but football, was the conference’s sexiest school with the possible exception of Connecticut – and with Jim Calhoun announcing his retirement on the same day, who knows where the Huskies’ men’s basketball future is headed (have you been to Storrs?). Notre Dame had played – and lost at home – to schools such as Pitt, Syracuse and U Conn in just the past half decade, but those days are over.

Fielding Yost2. Notre Dame at long last closes the door on the Big Ten, a conference with which it was only ever geographically aligned. More than a century ago, Michigan coach Fielding Yost blackballed Notre Dame when the school attempted to join the Western Conference (the precursor to the B1G), and for two decades, even after the Irish had won national championships and provided ample evidence that it met the conference’s academic standards, the future Big Ten snubbed it. While Notre Dame has since played Big Ten schools in numerous sports, with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue competing against them in football every September, the environment is never collegial. Just yesterday a Big Ten Network writer suggested on Twitter, after learning of the Notre Dame-ACC merger, that the Big Ten should refuse to play the Irish in all sports. History has a funny way of repeating itself.

3. Notre Dame takes a step up in its Olympic sports programs – or is it the ACC that does? The Fighting Irish last won a national championship in football in 1988. Since that time the school has won national titles in women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and fencing while having played for one in men’s lacrosse. The ACC is a superior athletic conference in terms of Olympic sports than the Big East. Both sides will benefit.

4. If for some reason down the road the Irish are compelled to, or simply feel that it is the right time to, join a conference in football, they are better-positioned being inside the ACC. The SEC would never happen and the Big 12 and Pac-12 also are both geographically and culturally alien. The ACC, with schools located in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, provides much richer recruiting terrain than either the Big Ten or Big East. Besides, schools such as Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are academically similar.

5. Basketball. The ACC is to college basketball what the SEC is to college football, but recruiting is not as burdensome. Fewer spots to fill. Joining the ACC instantly raises Notre Dame’s hoops cache, and now it is time for coach Mike Brey to exploit it.

It’s worth noting that the athletic departments of ACC schools are littered with administrators who have either attended or worked at Notre Dame, or both, and who appear to have fond memories.

*North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham played on Notre Dame’s golf team in the early 1980s and has both his bachelor’s degree and his MBA from Notre Dame. Cunningham worked in the Notre Dame athletic department from 1988-2002.

*Duke athletic director Kevin White was previously the athletic director at Notre Dame (2000-2008) and directly preceded Jack Swarbrick.

*Clemson associate athletic director Tim Bourret is a class of ’77 alumnus who worked in the sports information department as a student in the 1970s.

*Gene Corrigan was Notre Dame’s athletic director from 1981-1987 (he hired Lou Holtz) and then left to become the commissioner of the ACC, a post he held for 11 years. Corrigan served as a consultant during this merger for ACC commissioner John Swofford.

*And, of course, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz once coached at N.C. State (then again Dr. Lou also coached in the SWC, the Big Ten and SEC).

In other words, there were a lot of powerful men behind the scenes endeavoring to make this marriage occur.

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