But it was clearly a defensive move for the ACC, as well. No other conference wanted Notre Dame without getting at least a piece of its TV contract. Not the Big 10 or the Big 12, the most logical geographical choices. The ACC, which had once taken the same stance, compromised and agreed to let Notre Dame keep all of its football TV money and still get an equal (1/15th) share of the basketball TV revenue from the moment the Irish begin playing in the ACC.
“We didn’t want to wake up a few years from now and learn that Notre Dame had become a full member of another conference,” said one ACC official at Wednesday’s press conference at the Kenan Stadium Blue Zone. The presser was held there because a previously scheduled meeting of the ACC Presidents Council was wrapping up and a unanimous vote to accept Notre Dame had already been cast.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said that when Notre Dame is released from its Big East commitment, the Irish will join the ACC in all sports but football and hockey (N.D. is in the new Hockey East league). The ACC Basketball Tournament, which was already being pushed back to a Wednesday start with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, will just begin earlier in the day to accommodate one more game.
Swofford says the ACC will likely remain a 15-school conference now that it has upped the exit fee to $50 million. That should effectively end the Florida State-to-somewhere rumors.
Notre Dame officials say they didn’t join the ACC for more money, except what they would retain by not staying in the unstable Big East and that splitting the basketball revenues 15 ways is probably better than splitting the Big East cash from new smaller market schools that have joined the league.
And the ACC may get a little bump in its ESPN football contract, which constitutes 80 percent of the conference distribution, because the Fighting Irish will play five ACC teams each season, two or three on the road in alternating years. That could yield another $1 million per school per year because of Notre Dame’s audience and ratings power.
But if the ACC took in Notre Dame on a flyer, hoping the Irish would not renew their annual $15 million contact with NBC, it is baying at the moon. The Irish like their independence and keeping all of their home-game TV money, plus their bowl payout, while getting a cut of the ACC’s basketball distribution. And, despite flagging ratings in recent years, NBC needs programming more than ever with no other college football games and no college basketball, one NFL game per week, no Major League Baseball and no NBA. Right now, NBC Sports, which has started its own cable sports channel, has the NHL and the Olympics every two years. So it is likely to renew Notre Dame, perhaps for even more money.
Plus, Notre Dame gets into the ACC’s bowl rotation below the BCS level and will join the Big 10 and SEC in the Orange Bowl pool to face the ACC champion. So, in a great season for the Irish, they could be playing one of their conference brethren in Miami on New Year’s Day. And they will surely get a pro-rated cut of the ACC BCS bowl revenues.
There is a lot of sizzle in the ACC landing Notre Dame. But, for now at least, there isn’t a lot of substance to it.