On what should have been one of the most anticipated nights of his tenure as ACC commissioner, John Swofford was at home in Greensboro. He had plans to travel to Tallahassee for last week’s meeting between Notre Dame and Florida State, but he was sick. So was his wife.
So the Swoffords watched on ABC, just like 13,250,998 other people – ABC and ESPN’s highest-rated telecast of the season and best ever in October. What a tonic that was for the ailing commissioner.
“It’s all good as far as we’re concerned,” Swofford said. “The first year of this has gone really well.”
This is exactly what Swofford envisioned when he brought Notre Dame into the conference, even if he could only get the Irish to come halfway on football: The defending national champions and undefeated, second-ranked Seminoles hosting the undefeated and fifth-ranked Fighting Irish in the Saturday night spotlight game as an ACC-branded broadcast.
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‘Great for college football’
OK, so the Irish got a full introduction into the ACC’s real tradition of excellence – conspiracy theories surrounding officiating – but the game was played at a high standard, came down to the final play and was watched by millions of people. That the ACC’s legitimate national-title contender remained on track for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff was merely gravy for the commissioner and the ACC.
“It was great for college football,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Two national brand-name teams, two top-five teams going toe-to-toe for the entire game and it was a great contest. It was great for college football. It was great for the ACC – and great for us to be able to come out victorious.”
Bringing Notre Dame aboard was a gamble, one no conference had been willing to take, giving the Irish a conference home while allowing Notre Dame to maintain its beloved and sacred football independence. That may yet change – if a conference championship becomes an official or unofficial requisite for inclusion in a four- or eight-team playoff, Notre Dame’s independence will suddenly be of considerably less value – but for the moment, the ACC is reaping handsome rewards.
On Tuesday, the ACC announced the 12-year schedule of Notre Dame’s games against ACC teams, including two appearances in the ACC’s Labor Day showcase, a game against Boston College at Fenway Park and the continuation of the series with Syracuse played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. ACC schools quickly bombarded cyberspace with releases trumpeting the addition of three or four games against Notre Dame to their schedules.
Irish bring ‘a lot of excitement’
“Notre Dame is Notre Dame, from a football standpoint,” Swofford said. “They fill up stadiums. They bring a lot of excitement. Players enjoy playing against them because of all the history and tradition, wherever they play them. It’s been a challenge, but they’ve been very cooperative, as have our schools in putting together that 12-year schedule.”
With Notre Dame’s visit to Florida State a resounding success, the next step will be to see where Notre Dame fits in the ACC’s bowl lineup. There is quite a bit of uncertainty built into that process, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this winter if Notre Dame jumps over an ACC team with a better record and steals a slot in a preferred bowl.
Winners all around
For the moment, Swofford has few regrets – other than being forced to miss attending Notre Dame’s most dramatic ACC appearance yet.
“It’s rather obvious that relationship is good for Notre Dame and good for the ACC,” Swofford said. “And that’s the way it should be.”