When it was originally reported that Notre Dame was joining everyone in abandoning the Big East conference, the Big 12 emerged as the lead candidate. Notre Dame was set to make a decision or move as soon as the end of the summer. The unexpected element came with the final decision: Notre Dame will move to the ACC with the exception of football and hockey.
"We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us," said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics. "We are able to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC's non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports."
The football program will remain independent but play 5 ACC teams a year. The ACC does not feature competitive hockey, so otre Dame will look elsewhere with that sport, presumably with Hockey East. The 5 ACC games present issues for Notre Dame's football schedule, as USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Navy and Stanford have been traditional games -- but none are ACC schools.
Notre Dame plays some teams in the ACC or headed to the ACC this season: Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest. They also get to renew their rivalry with Miami. But next year they only play 1 ACC team, Pittsburgh, with Temple, BYU, Arizona State and Air Force filling out the rest of the schedule.
Theoretically, Notre Dame will have to wait 27 months before they can officially join the ACC, as the Big East requires 27 months notice that a school is leaving the conference. However, West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh were able to leave earlier by paying higher exit fees.
But what is really the most interesting piece of this story is that the ACC has increased its exit fee to $50 million. Many have thought that the Big 12 was looking to expand and the ACC was a big target with schools like Virginia Tech, Florida State, Clemson and even Miami. However with a $50 million fee to leave the conference it doesn't look like anyone will be jumping ship.
This could set ripple effects leaving other conferences scrambling to increase their exit fees to protect themselves from poaching and realignment. The Big 12 has said they're happy at 10 members and fewer slices of the pie create bigger slices. But they would like to get back to 12 teams to add the option of a championship game and the revenue it would generate for the conference.
The Big 12 is a very in-demand, desirable conference. They just signed a $2.6 Billion TV deal, and the creation of the Champions Bowl in partnership with the SEC only adds to the conference's appeal. Those moves paired with the addition of TCU and West Virginia have stabilized a conference that was once on the brink of extinction.
So if ACC teams are off the table, that really limits the choices to join the Big 12 and essentially removes the option of adding any marquee programs. Now there is the assumption that by leaving the conference immediately they could avoid those new exit fees which won't be in effect until 2013, but that would appear to be a herculean task in the middle of the football season.
With ACC teams off the table, as well as Pac 12, Big 10 and SEC teams, who is left for the Big 12 to add?
· SMU (Conference USA but headed to Big East)
· Louisville (Big East)
· Cincinnati (Big East)
· Houston (Conference USA)
· Memphis (Conference USA)
· Rice (Conference USA)
Not necessarily the best choices there. Realistically the old Southwestern Conference teams (Rice, SMU, and Houston) would be the front runners for the spots. Geographically they make sense, they're quality institutions with fairly big football programs. Houston has enjoyed success with Case Keenum at QB, being ranked at times. And SMU is a growing program that just won a bowl game and is moving to a BCS conference. Louisville is another program that has spent time consistently in the rankings.
The Big 12 could also conceivably wait it out to see when the next bit of instability begins. They have publicly maintained staying at 10 teams to be their preference and their new deal is evenly split amongst the schools at $20 million per year.
It will be interesting to watch how the dust settles.