Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: ND's move as good as gold for the ACC

Admit it. You're trying to find the negative in this Notre Dame-kinda-to-the-ACC thing.

It's the natural response, like breathing or clicking one of those sneaky hacker links that promise crazy pictures of somebody you know.

Besides, it's Notre Dame. Those guys are so full of themselves, with their fancy TV contracts and dogged independence, they have to be up to something nefarious, right? Surely the ACC must be getting fleeced here somehow?

Nope. The ACC is not. There are downsides to the deal announced Wednesday, when Notre Dame agreed to join the ACC in all sports but football and hockey, but they are minor, and they are drive-blocked into submission by positives that make this conference stronger than it's ever been.

We'll start with the negatives, though, because they're always more fun. Yes, with Notre Dame becoming eligible to take ACC slots in non-BCS bowls, some team is likely to get bypassed in favor of the Irish.

The ACC knows this will happen. So confident are league officials in this eventuality, in fact, that they put in a rule saying Notre Dame's record can't be more than one game worse than a team the Irish are selected over.

Woe is Virginia, Maryland, Boston College? Maybe in the short term, if missing out on a trip to El Paso really bums you out. But in the long term, Notre Dame's eligibility for ACC bowl slots should create avenues for the league to secure bigger, more lucrative bowl ties.

Another sticking point for some is that Notre Dame will play only five games against ACC teams per year but will be treated like an ACC football member when it comes to splitting the non-BCS bowl revenue. In other words, the Irish aren't really one of the football-playing members, but they'll still receive 1/15th of the non-Orange Bowl cash.

So what, though? Duke receives 1/15th of the proceeds, too. Whether the Devils are a "football-playing member" is debatable; they haven't made a bowl appearance since 1995. (Relax, Duke fans. I know your basketball team rocks. The new ACC hoops landscape is a topic for another day.) The focus of all this should be on what Notre Dame brings to the league, not what it does not. The ACC allowed the Irish in on their own terms, yes, but that doesn't mean the ACC won't reap some huge benefits from the arrangement.

Start with the most basic: Five games against the Irish every year are better than no games against the Irish every year - or even the handful already on the schedule, for that matter.

Any conference that tells you it doesn't want its teams playing Notre Dame is lying. The Irish bring attention to your game like few opponents can. Yes, still.

Tell me you aren't excited about the prospect of Notre Dame rolling into Blacksburg or Charlottesville, or the idea of hitting up StubHub for a ticket to see your Hokies or Cavs storm South Bend. Under the rotational agreement, each of those opportunities will arise once every six years. Would you rather see Austin Peay?

Perhaps most importantly, consider the act of solidarity embedded in the tiny note tacked onto the bottom of the ACC's news release: "In addition to extending an invitation to Notre Dame, the Council of Presidents voted to increase the conference exit fees to three times the annual operating budget. Currently this would equate to an exit fee of over $50 million."

Essentially, the presidents have discarded their conference-realignment flexibility. For them to agree to this, they have to feel pretty good about where the league is now and where it's heading.

ACC fans should, too.

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