UPDATE: Here's a column from The Inquirer's Mike Jensen assessing the move, including its impact on Villanova and Temple.
The Big East's efforts to remain among the elite conferences in college sports has suffered another big blow, as Notre Dame has announced it is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Although independent in football, all of Notre Dame's other sports teams - most notably basketball - play in the Big East. This has brought some prominence to the conference in March, both on the men's and women's sides of the game.
Notre Dame is the sixth team that has left the Big East for the ACC in recent years. Miami and Virginia Tech made the move in 2004, followed by Boston College in 2005. Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced just under a year ago (on September 17, 2011) that they would be next to go, and will join the conference in the 2013-14 season.
Now the Fighting Irish have joined the party. Although the ACC's official statement on the move does not give a timeline for Notre Dame's arrival, it's a safe bet that it's just a matter of when an exit fee settlement with the Big East can be reached.
It so happens (or perhaps it's not coincidental) that the Big East is currently in the middle of its exclusive negotiating window for a new television contract with ESPN. Those talks just got a lot more interesting, to put it politely.
Here's the latest story from the Associated Press:
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Notre Dame is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference — yet keeping its football independence.
The school's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined league Commissioner John Swofford and three ACC presidents for a news conference Wednesday announcing the Irish's move from the Big East.
"This is truly a historic moment for the Atlantic Coast Conference," Swofford said.
The school will play five football games annually against the league's programs, but will be a full member in all other sports. The Irish will have access to the ACC's non-BCS bowl tie-ins.
The ACC also increased its exit fees for league schools to three times the annual operation budget — which would currently come to more than $50 million. Swofford said the exit fee goes into effect immediately and would apply to Notre Dame.
The move means the Irish can maintain football independence, while the ACC is making an exception to its all-or-nothing requirement for schools to be full members.
"It's a marquee brand and any time you add a marquee brand to your established tradition and the wonderful stuff you have, it enhances it," Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani said Wednesday morning.
Swofford said there is "no need" and the ACC has "no intention" of adding a 16th member.
It is unclear when the realignment will take effect. The Big East has a 27-month notification period for any member that wants to leave, and a $5 million exit fee. Swofford said that would be handled between the Big East and Notre Dame.
The Big East has also shown a willingness to negotiate an early exit, as it did with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who are scheduled to leave the Big East and join next year. The Big East received $7.5 million each from Pitt and Syracuse.
"The University of Notre Dame has informed us that it is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports other than football. Notre Dame has been a valued member of the Big East Conference and we wish them success in the future," Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said. "However, Notre Dame's departure does not change our plans. We have prestigious institutions that are excited to be a part of the Big East. We remain committed to making the Big East stronger than it has ever been."
In May, the ACC announced it had reached 15-year TV deal with ESPN worth $3.6 billion, which came after Pittsburgh and Syracuse decided to leave the Big East. Swofford said Notre Dame's move would allow the ACC to begin renegotiating its TV deal, though Notre Dame would keep its football revenue from its partnership with NBC and wouldn't receive TV revenue for other ACC football games.
Swarbrick said the deal was "financially neutral" for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has played basketball in the Big East since the mid-1990s. Now, in the ACC, the Irish will face traditional powers like Duke and North Carolina — and rekindle its rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh — while the league also fits other sports Notre Dame is competitive in, including lacrosse and soccer.
The ACC in turn cements a relationship with one of the nation's most storied football programs, adding to a group that already includes Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson. That would also seem to position the ACC as the easy choice if Notre Dame ever decides to give up its football independence.
Notre Dame considered giving up its football independence in 1999 to join the Big Ten, but alumni were staunchly opposed and the deal never got done. Throughout the dizzying conference realignment of the past few years, Notre Dame officials have been adamant about maintaining football independence.
The ACC decided to accommodate Notre Dame's desires.