Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 14, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 NOV. 14, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he burning backdrop before Notre Dame's fly through the ACC as a full-time football member in 2020 was watching whether this single-season marriage might someday blossom into something beyond one of COVID convenience. Because of coronavirus con- cerns, Notre Dame needed the ACC to help the Irish build a full 2020 schedule, and the ACC was happy to oblige with the added atten- tion and earning power Notre Dame football provides. And during my first 25 years of covering the Irish program, I never imagined someday landing at a place where I support full-time conference membership, but I have and I do, because it makes dollars and sense. Let's start with the sense. The competition level in the ACC would provide Notre Dame a dramatic boost and a clearer route to becoming a regular College Foot- ball Playoff (CFP) participant, and ultimately a national champion. Since its miserable 4-8 season in 2016, Notre Dame entered last week- end's game against top-ranked Clem- son having won 15 straight and 19 of its last 20 regular-season games against ACC foes. Even on the road, the Irish are 7-0 in ACC games the last two-plus seasons, winning those seven by an average of 27.5 points per outing. So, when talking about keeping CFP hopes alive into late November every year, Notre Dame's recent results as a part-time ACC member provide plenty of evidence and hope that would be the case. Beyond Notre Dame's ob- vious competitive advantage in the league, there's also a popular belief that a one-loss Irish team could still make the CFP if it wins the ACC cham- pionship game, while as an indepen- dent, an undefeated regular season is virtually a mandate most seasons. Now, let's talk dollars. The ACC Network — a subsidiary of ESPN that launched in 2019 — annually pays its 14 all-in football members about $29 million. In a typical year as a non-foot- ball member, Notre Dame receives around $7 million from the ACC for its partial membership in the league, a university lineup that includes all sports other than football and Irish hockey, which plays in the Big Ten. Additionally, Notre Dame's broad- cast deal with NBC (which runs through 2025) is reportedly worth about $15 million annually. The university also receives $3.19 million each year from the College Football Playoff fund, even if Notre Dame fails to qualify. Add it up, and the university brings in about $25.2 million annually in rev- enue from its conference and televi- sion affiliations, which is about $4 mil- lion less than if it became a full-time ACC member — though, those finan- cial figures do not include any money Notre Dame receives from the Big Ten for playing hockey in its league. Since Notre Dame and NBC forged its lucrative broadcast agreement 30 years ago, the argument has been that playing football in a conference would mean financial suicide. But Notre Dame director of athlet- ics Jack Swarbrick even admitted to Pete Sampson last year in a story for The Athletic that the advent of conference television net- works leaves his football pro- gram "much better off all-in with the ACC or any Power Five conference," Swarbrick said, adding, "There is no fi- nancial advantage to Notre Dame being independent in terms of operations. It costs us money." Independence has been both a blessing and a curse for Notre Dame. It allows scheduling freedom. It pro- vides an opportunity to mar- ket the program from coast to coast, and it creates the broader exposure of playing on all of the television net- works, not just one. CBS slotted last year's Notre Dame-Georgia game in prime- time and it became the second- highest rated college football broadcast of the regular sea- son, behind LSU-Alabama. But again, as a football indepen- dent, potholes litter Notre Dame's road to a CFP berth without a confer- ence championship game that could bolster its résumé in early December. Beyond finances, another argu- ment against Notre Dame joining a conference is that membership would regionalize the program and shrink its national recruiting net. But with an ACC recruiting map that features schools from New York state and Boston in the Northeast, through Charlotte and Atlanta in the Southeast, and down to Miami and Tallahassee in the Deep South, Notre Dame would still enjoy a ro- bust recruiting radius and a larger geographical player pool than what the Big Ten or any other Power Five conference could provide. With revenue numbers about a wash between being an independent or an ACC member, and with a smoother path to the CFP every year as a confer- ence member, Notre Dame needs to consider joining the ACC ASAP. ✦ Changing Times Require A Change Of Thought UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at There are a number of reasons why Notre Dame — led by director of athlet- ics Jack Swarbrick — should consider becoming a full-time ACC member in football. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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