July 1, 2013
EDITOR'S NOTE: Monday marks the dawn of a new era in the storied 126-year history of Notre Dame athletics, as the Fighting Irish now are officially members of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 24 of their 26 sports (all except football and hockey, with fencing scheduled to begin competition in 2014-15). During the month of July, UND.com and Fighting Irish Digital Media will feature a multimedia series entitled "Irish in the ACC," giving Notre Dame fans a sneak peek at some of what they can expect in the coming days, weeks and years as a member of the ACC through the eyes of each of the various Fighting Irish sports that will compete in the conference. Today, we kick things off with a quick rundown on the ACC itself and a video interview with University vice president/director of athletics Jack Swarbrick.
By John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletics Director (Media and Broadcast Relations)
There's a whole new ballgame happening for University of Notre Dame athletics beginning in 2013.
The Fighting Irish are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It's arguably the most noteworthy across-the-board change in the history of Notre Dame's sports programs.
The Irish have championed their independence in football since a century ago when Notre Dame traveled to West Point and knocked off a more established Army team.
The ACC connection in that sport begins in 2014 when Notre Dame begins playing five football games per season against ACC members -- while also gaining critical access to the league's slate of postseason bowl options.
Even sooner, 24 other Irish teams (hockey becomes a part of Hockey East in 2013-14) begin competing for ACC championships in just a few months.
This represents the next step in the evolution of Notre Dame athletics. As Notre Dame's roster of varsity sport offerings began to grow in the late 1970s (largely because of the addition of women's athletics), the University needed a conference partner to help provide access to comparable competition and ease scheduling challenges. Membership in the North Star Conference and the Midwestern Collegiate Conference provided a temporary home for various sports as they moved from regional entities into national competitors. In 1995, Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in sports other than football, hockey, lacrosse and fencing, and that affiliation helped parlay a number of Irish programs onto the national stage.
Irish competitions in virtually every BIG EAST sport included some headline-making achievements. Notre Dame won national titles in women's basketball and women's soccer while a member of the BIG EAST and used league success as a springboard to many more NCAA Championship runs in other sports.
Irish teams won 126 BIG EAST championships over the course of the relationship -- and that doesn't count regular-season titles. The Irish won long series of consecutive titles in sports like women's swimming and diving as well as rowing.
Now, the scenes of Irish athletic competition shift.
The presence of former BIG EAST representatives Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech (with Louisville to come in 2014-15) means Irish teams and fans will still book trips to those campuses.
Beginning this fall, Notre Dame trades itineraries that read Providence, Storrs, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Tampa, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Newark and New Brunswick--for new bag tags that say Clemson, Durham, Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem, Tallahassee, Atlanta, College Park, Raleigh and Charlottesville.
In virtually every sport, the challenges ahead loom large -- yet they are the sorts of hurdles on which every athlete and coach thrives.
An ACC championship banner -- no matter the sport -- will come well-earned. More than 130 combined NCAA titles by ACC members since the league formed in 1953 tell the story.
In 2012-13 alone, ACC representatives took home NCAA first-place trophies in men's lacrosse (Duke), women's lacrosse (North Carolina), men's tennis (Virginia) and women's soccer (North Carolina).
Like the BIG EAST, the ACC built its reputation around basketball. Yet, sports excellence across the board is no stranger to ACC members. Four ACC members -- North Carolina, Duke, Florida State and Virginia -- stood among the top 25 schools in the final 2012-13 all-sports standings, as did Notre Dame.
Count on hearing that the new ACC is the best men's basketball league in the country (not even computing 2013 NCAA champion Louisville's addition a year from now). You can make a good case for that same branding in women's basketball and several other sports.
For its part, Notre Dame enters into its new assignment coming off the most successful athletic year in its history in terms of achievements across all 26 sports. The Irish didn't win a national title in 2012-13, but fencing (men's and women's combined) finished second, and the Irish women's basketball program advanced to the NCAA Final Four for a third straight year. Notre Dame's men's soccer team earned the number-one national seed in the 2012 NCAA bracket, and men's lacrosse in 2013 claimed the number-two national seed.
For the first time every one of Notre Dame's fall and winter sports teams scored NCAA Championship points -- including the football team's appearance in the Bowl Championship Series title game after a 12-0 regular season.
Speaking of football, that aspect of Notre Dame's ACC relationship doesn't kick in until 2014, the first year of the new College Football Playoff. Five games per year against ACC institutions means it will take three years for the Irish to match up against every other league member. It will take six years for Notre Dame to make a road trip to each member campus. The Irish expect to maintain football rivalries with USC, Stanford and Navy. The ability to be included in the ACC bowl lineup will provide future Notre Dame football teams with viable opportunities when the College Football Playoff is not an option in any given year.
Notre Dame's new affiliation will give rise to plenty of historical references based on past Irish competition against ACC foes. It may be simply a coincidence that two of the most memorable Irish football wins in Notre Dame Stadium came against top-ranked teams from Miami in 1988 and Florida State in 1993 (though neither opponent was an ACC member at the time).
Away from the fields of play, Notre Dame's entrance into the ACC means it will join a league that boasts more highly-ranked institutions in the U.S. News & World Report ratings than any other major athletic conference. Current league members Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Miami stood among the top 50 in the 2013 edition of that widely-respected listing.
There already are a handful of connections between Notre Dame and other ACC members. Wake Forest president Dr. Nathan O. Hatch is a former Notre Dame provost. North Carolina athletics director Bubba Cunningham and Georgia Tech athletics director Mike Bobinski both are former Irish student-athletes and Notre Dame athletics administrators. North Carolina executive associate athletics director Larry Gallo is a former Notre Dame head baseball coach. Virginia baseball coach Brian O'Connor is a former Irish assistant coach in that sport.
From a fan and alumni standpoint as well as a recruiting viewpoint, Notre Dame sports now will do business all the way up and down the Eastern Seaboard -- from Boston to Miami. The ACC's geographic footprint makes it the most valuable TV market in the nation when it comes to population and television households (13 of the top 30 TV markets).
Crank up your GPS device and set it for Charlottesville or Tallahassee or Chapel Hill.
Check out the hotels and restaurants and hot spots in places like Raleigh and Winston-Salem and Clemson.
Make sure you've got your Irish schedule cards, because it's a new day for Notre Dame athletics.
Notre Dame and the ACC -- coming soon both to South Bend and lots of campuses near you.