Commentary

DeCock: When Notre Dame is ready, the ACC will be, too

ldecock@newsobserver.comOctober 17, 2012 

— John Swofford was talking about Notre Dame leaving the Big East when he said, “we’re ready,” but the ACC commissioner might well have been talking about Notre Dame joining the ACC as a full football member.

Whenever Notre Dame is ready, and it may take a few years or it may take a decade or more, the ACC will be ready to welcome the Fighting Irish.

Speaking at the ACC’s basketball media day, Swofford wouldn’t entertain that specific notion, and he has said from the moment he secured Notre Dame’s everything-but-football membership that the ACC is perfectly happy with 15 teams for basketball and 14 teams for football.

Swofford also made it perfectly clear that the league is working, behind the scenes, just as hard on contingency plans for Notre Dame’s full membership as it did getting the Irish to the communal table in the first place.

“If, at some point, Notre Dame decides to join on a full membership basis in football, we would definitely look at a 16th team to give balance there,” Swofford said Wednesday. “I will say that, and then tell you I don’t anticipate that happening. Do we take a look at that? Yes, but it certainly isn’t something I look at as being imminent. We try to be prepared for anything.”

Some signs of that work are overt. The ACC’s decision not to go to a nine conference games in football as planned, and remain at eight games, gave the league the flexibility it needed to incorporate Notre Dame into its football schedule on a limited basis as currently planned, but it also reduced the level of commitment that would be needed to get Notre Dame into the league as a full member, someday down the road.

And the road does lead in that direction. It always has, which is why landing Notre Dame as a member in everything but football was so important for the ACC. The world of college football is going to reach a point where it’s going to take a conference championship trophy to be guaranteed a spot in a playoff, and while Notre Dame has always been able to trade on its tradition to demand at-large priority, it’s never had an SEC this powerful to contend with before.

One day soon, full membership in the ACC and the chance to play for a conference title is going to look a lot more appealing to Notre Dame than its commitment to football independence. That’s been the foundation of the Notre Dame program for decades, but the foundation of college football is shifting.

“If I had a crystal ball, in my opinion, that’s something that will eventually happen,” said Boston College coach Steve Donahue, who works for the ACC’s first Catholic school. “I guess it all depends on NBC, and who knows what’s in that contract.”

For the moment, Donahue and Boston College are just excited to play Notre Dame twice a year in basketball, in addition to the football rivalry that already exists. But the ACC is thinking about more, just as it was thinking about Notre Dame even before Pittsburgh and Syracuse, quietly laying the groundwork for the Fighting Irish to jump to the ACC instead of the Big Ten or Big 12, both of which would have made as much sense for Notre Dame.

Swofford also left the door open for Notre Dame to join along with Pitt and Syracuse in July 2013, even if that’s a discussion that’s entirely between the Big East and Notre Dame.

“Whenever they can come, we’re ready to take them,” Swofford said.

And when the time comes, and it will come, the ACC will be ready to take not only Notre Dame as a full member but a 16th team as well. Plan on it. The ACC is.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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