Let’s make one thing very clear: losing Notre Dame to the ACC is not a good thing for the Big East.
It’s the fifth program — if we’re counting TCU — to make the decision to leave the conference in the past year and the sixth Big East program to make the jump to the ACC in the past nine years. All told, the Big East has lost eight programs that were affiliated with the conference in some way, four of whom have won a Big East tournament title in the last decade. That’s not a good thing, unless you’re John Swofford.
But in terms of conference stability, losing the Fighting Irish is far from a death knell to the conference. The TV money that everyone is chasing these days centers around football, and it’s no secret that the Golden Domers never wanted their football in the Big East. Yes, the strength of the Big East in recent years was hoops, but hoops doesn’t pay. So while losing a program like the one Mike Brey has built — the Irish have been to eight of the last 12 NCAA tournaments — is going to hurt the league’s basketball product, it doesn’t do much for the suits at ESPN that are making the decisions on just how many millions of dollars they can afford to throw around.
Notre Dame has made it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament just twice since 2003. They aren’t the kind of draw that Duke or Kentucky is. They don’t move the needle all that much, and they are getting replaced by strong hoops programs in Temple and Memphis. And who knows, maybe the Big East reaches their tentacles further into the Atlantic 10 and scoops up a program like Xavier or Dayton or St. Louis.
(It is worth noting, however, that the Big East and ESPN are two weeks into a two month window of exclusive negotiations in regards to broadcast rights. If those talks fell apart, there was speculation that NBC could swoop in and offer big money, pairing the Big East with their rights to broadcast Notre Dame football.)
If anything, this move adds to the stability of the current conference alignment. The Big 12 doesn’t want to add another program simply because there is no one worth adding. They already have their broadcast deal and bringing in programs like UConn, Rutgers or Louisville would only further water down the shares the schools currently get. The Big 12 could continue to go after schools like Florida State and Clemson, but with the ACC’s new $50 million exit fee, it’s unlikely anyone is leaving that league for a while. You’re not going to find that much money sitting under the couch cushions. The Big Ten was never going to add anyone not named Notre Dame.
The ACC wanted Notre Dame. It got Notre Dame. And the conference was adamant that it only wanted Notre Dame. Which is fine, but there is still one story line to keep an eye on: what happens when Notre Dame’s deal with NBC ends in 2015?
Does the ACC make a play for the Irish? Are they staying at 15 members right now to give themselves wiggle room if they are able to convince Notre Dame to become a full-fledged member and ditch their football independence? Who do they target if Notre Dame does make the unlikely decision to join the ACC? Do they add a non-football playing member — St. John’s? Georgetown? Villanova? — if Notre Dame re-ups with NBC?
If I had a vote, I’d say bring Georgetown into the fold. Their rivalry with Syracuse will be renewed, and it will force the annoyingly stubborn head honchos at Georgetown and Maryland to get off of their high horses and actually give the DMV a decent rivalry.