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DeCock: Controversial ACC - Notre Dame affiliation already paying dividends

By Luke DeCock
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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While the grumbling continues both inside (Mike Krzyzewski) and outside (Steve Spurrier) the ACC over Notre Dame’s unique status as a half-member, let’s be perfectly clear about one thing: The ACC is getting something out of this, too.

The agreement that allowed Notre Dame the benefits of ACC membership while retaining football independence was the only way Notre Dame would join a conference at this point. It was controversial. It was unusual. It was one-sided in Notre Dame’s favor. It was contrary to decades of ACC tradition. It was a massive coup for the conference.

It also engendered resentment. Krzyzewski said he “would never have accepted personally them coming in and not being totally in.” At SEC media days, Spurrier questioned why Notre Dame’s athletics director was making decisions about the future of college football alongside the five major conference commissioners, including the ACC’s John Swofford.

Both Krzyzewski and Spurrier make good points – no one has a decent answer for the man in the visor – but the addition of Notre Dame, even on a limited basis, continues to pay dividends for the ACC, not the least of which is a bowl lineup that offers the most compelling set of bowls, destinations and matchups the ACC has ever seen.

With Notre Dame participating in the ACC’s bowl rotation starting next season, the ACC was a more attractive dance partner in this negotiating cycle. And it showed.

Starting in 2014, the ACC is back in the Gator Bowl, has a back door into the Capital One Bowl, obtains entry into the suddenly coveted New York market via the Pinstripe Bowl, upgrades to an SEC opponent in the Belk Bowl and retains existing ties to the popular-among-fans Music City Bowl and popular-among-teams Sun Bowl. Agreements with bowls in Annapolis, Md., and Detroit appear to be done deals, while St. Petersburg, Fla. remains possible as well, among others.

With potentially as many as five destinations in Florida on offer, along with easy trips to New York, Annapolis, Charlotte and Nashville, the travel options for fans are considerably more varied and far more appetizing.

And among the others, El Paso may be a long way away, but it’s famous for its hospitality, with a coveted TV slot on CBS. Detroit isn’t Miami, but it would be indoors and against a Big Ten opponent.

That’s another crucial factor: The opponents are upgraded as well. All of the six tie-ins announced so far are opposite the other four power conferences. Of the ACC’s eight tie-ins this year, only five are. The mere presence of Notre Dame was a huge bargaining chip there, the lure on the end of the line that reeled in better bowl deals at the top of the pecking order.

Nevertheless, it remains an awkward arrangement with the Irish. Swofford was asked last weekend, what if Duke or North Carolina wanted to be independent in basketball the way Notre Dame is in football? The grant of rights closed that door. Or what if Notre Dame wanted to join another conference? Through 2027, Swofford said that could only be the ACC.

“I’m really pleased and I know the vast majority of people in our league are very pleased that Notre Dame is a part of our family, under the conditions that they’re currently under,” Swofford said. “And certainly if they ever make the decision to join football-wise during that period of time, they would be welcomed with open arms.”

That may take a while. (It may not, if Notre Dame decides a conference affiliation offers an easier path is to the national-championship playoff.) It may never happen. But that didn’t stop Swofford from grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @LukeDeCock; 919-829-8947
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