Notre Dame football: Is it time for the Irish to join the ACC?

With five of their twelve games this season coming against ACC teams, is it time Notre Dame followed the basketball team’s lead and joined the conference?

Notre Dame is one of the most recognized brands in college sports, especially football. When the rest of the athletic department announced a move from the Big East to the ACC in 2013, it felt as though a big change was coming for the football program as well. The discussion grew when the ACC and Notre Dame announced an agreement in 2014.

Starting in 2014, the Irish agreed to play at least four ACC opponents each year until 2025. Discussion grew whether they should join the conference permanently. Everyone involved would benefit from Notre Dame joining the ACC.

Notre Dame football is steeped in tradition, and that’s most apparent in their schedule. Rivalries are what make college football great for fans, and the Irish have some of the best rivalries to watch. Issues could arise with those classic matchups if they were to join the ACC. However, there is a way to balance their required conference games and still maintain their rivalries.

A team usually has about four nonconference games in which they can choose to play anyone. Notre Dame would be able to balance their many rivals each year using that nonconference schedule. USC, Stanford and Navy are the main three rivals fans love to see the Irish play every season. Michigan, Michigan State or even Purdue could rotate for that fourth game before the team dives into ACC play. Luckily, old rivals will return in conference play.

Nov 21, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chris Brown (2) catches a pass for a touchdown as Boston College Eagles defensive back John Johnson (9) defends Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The ‘Holy War’ between the Irish and Boston College would be one of the classic match-ups being brought back. BC and Notre Dame have played 23 times since 1975. The Irish lead the series 14-9, including last season’s 19-16 win. The old ‘Catholic verses Convicts’ rivalry between Notre Dame and Miami heated up when they played 19 times between 1971 and 1990. Notre Dame leads 17-7-1, winning the most recent game 41-3 in 2012. Florida State against Notre Dame isn’t a historic rivalry, but longtime fans of both teams know the impact that each game between the two have had. The ‘Game of Century’ in 1993 that pitted No. 1 FSU against the second ranked Irish is one of the best games in college football history, and the rivalry could grow if Notre Dame were to join the ACC.

Money is the biggest incentive for any team to consider realignment. Notre Dame was the second most valuable team in 2015, behind only the University of Texas, with a value of $127 million. The program is far from being in a money bind, but if they can profit more by joining a conference, no athletic director can say no to that. The ACC is the perfect conference to join and increase revenue. For the 2015 season, the ACC announced a total revenue of $403.1 million, an increase of $100 million from 2014. This number averages about $23 million per school. With a value well over $100 million, the Irish would gain an even higher profit that will put them in competition with Texas.

Notre Dame wouldn’t only benefit financially, but in the eyes of the College Football Committee. Since its start before the 2014 season, the committee has stressed the importance of conference championships. By joining the ACC, the Irish would have a chance to compete for a conference title and fight for a playoff berth instead of waiting to see who loses and hoping to beat out another conference champ. Everyone saw what happened with TCU and Baylor is the Big 12, and by joining the ACC Notre Dame wouldn’t have that problem.

The ACC is a basketball powerhouse but has had struggles with consistent football success. To fix this issue, they brought in Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2004. Notre Dame could be the next piece to help push the ACC to new heights.

Money wise, Notre Dame and its fans will introduce new revenue to the conference. Irish fans travel across the country to watch the team play, which would increase ticket revenue. Notre Dame is consistently in a bowl game, adding a new revenue-sharing opportunity for the ACC and its teams.

And finally, Notre Dame has one of the biggest TV contacts in college sports with NBC, which would allow the conference to tap into that media revenue. When looking at the numbers alone, the ACC can only get richer by adding Notre Dame.

Finally, the existing ACC programs would benefit in many ways. The monetary impact has already been discussed, but ACC teams’ recruiting would also improve. While the Irish allure isn’t as bright as it once was, high school athletes still know the impact of playing for the Irish.

Being able to pitch to a high school athlete that they’ll be able to have national exposure by playing Notre Dame for at least three years will improve the talent across the board. With an increased focus on playing tough opponents, having Notre Dame on the schedule will always look good. By playing, and possibly beating, the Irish, teams will look much better in the eyes of the committee, which everyone hopes leads to playing in better bowl games.

Before Notre Dame joins a conference, details have will have to be ironed out. Everyone involved would benefit from a Notre Dame-ACC merge. In the past, the Irish have been reluctant to give up on their traditions, but the athletic department’s leadership should come around eventually. It’s only a matter of time before the football program follows the other sports and joins the ACC.

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