Last week, the University of Notre Dame, like so many other schools in the last year, announced that it was switching conferences and would join the Atlantic Coast Conference for all sports except football and men’s hockey.
This move brings another powerhouse school to the ACC, and while the conference certainly stands to benefit, the Irish will regret it in the long run. Notre Dame is one of only four independent Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the nation, and supporters take deep pride in this distinction.
But while the Irish football program may still be officially independent once it joins the ACC, it will be a part of the conference for all intents and purposes. Notre Dame will be required to play five football games per year against teams in the ACC. This is three games fewer than teams actually in the conference currently play, but still more than Notre Dame will play against other teams not in the conference.
The ACC is by no means a great football conference, and it only has two top-25 teams at the moment. This means that Notre Dame will be forced to play less skilled teams, such as Duke University, for every year that it continues to play in the ACC.
In NCAA football it is not enough to win – you must win convincingly and against strong competition. Strength of schedule is vital for teams that expect to compete for a national title, which Notre Dame expects to do every year, and its strength of schedule will almost certainly drop once it joins the ACC and loses its ability to pick and choose its opponents. Notre Dame won’t even be able to choose the teams it plays in the ACC, as the conference will make that decision. The Irish have been able to do that throughout its history.
At Notre Dame, tradition is everything. Any move that stands to threaten this tradition must be seen as having a negative impact on the school. The Irish’s classic rivalry games against University of South Carolina, Naval Academy, Stanford University and the like are put in jeopardy with the school’s move to join the ACC.
Given the current nature of college football, it is also not inconceivable to envision Notre Dame abandoning its football independence in the not-so-distant future and officially joining a conference. If this does happen, the ACC would obviously be the university’s current first choice. A permanent move to the ACC would result in at least three more in-conference games for the Irish and further threaten the team’s traditional rivalry games.
If you look at other athletics, the move makes more sense. Notre Dame will join recent Big East Conference departures Syracuse University and Pittsburgh University in the ACC, both highly competitive basketball teams. Notre Dame has never been a basketball school, however. They have always been, and will continue to be, a football school.
While the switch may make sense for other athletic programs, the move to the ACC hurts Notre Dame where it matters the most: its football program.
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