Mike Brey was optimistic about Notre Dame finding a place to land amid conference realignment, and Fighting Irish found one last week with impending migration to ACC. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)
I'll get the sentimental stuff out of the way now: I'm really going to miss Mike Brey when Notre Dame eventually joins Pittsburgh and Syracuse as Big East expatriates in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The affable head coach, who last year confidently predicted that his Fighting Irish would "land, and land on their feet" when asked about realignment at Big East media day, became the latest school to start the merry-go-round last week when Notre Dame announced it would become the ACC's fifteenth member; joining the conference in all sports except football, where it will continue its long and storied history as an independent.
However, there is no question that football ultimately played the biggest role in getting the gold and blue to jump ship. With the Big East seemingly looking to anyone and everyone remotely interested just to save their coveted automatic BCS berth, Notre Dame administrators were smart enough to realize that the ACC offered more stability for their programs despite the fact that Fighting Irish football would remain unaffiliated. On that note, marrying football to a conference would be somewhat of a lateral move for Notre Dame, which receives more out of its national broadcast rights contract with NBC than any conference can ever offer them. That is the reason why South Bend has spurned the Big Ten numerous times over the years, and the Big East as well.
On the basketball side, the move will renew Notre Dame's rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and gets more exciting to rabid and casual fans alike due to the prospect of perennial powerhouses North Carolina, Duke and Maryland coming into the Joyce Center on a regular basis. Moreover, Brey has come out and admitted that he would like to continue playing Big East schools such as Villanova and St. John's whenever possible, as our friends at Rumble In The Garden explain a little more in depth here:
Ultimately, the geographic terms of the move do not make sense on paper, but the potential for athletic success is greater. By playing five games against a generally weak ACC football contingent in comparison to conferences like the SEC and Big Ten, Notre Dame positions itself better for a potential bowl game every year; something that is just now being experienced in South Bend for the first time since the Lou Holtz era in the 1990s, when Rick Mirer was taking snaps under center and handing off to Jerome Bettis. For basketball, the eighteen-game conference ledger will be the same, albeit under the umbrella of a different league. Actually, Brey can use affiliations with North Carolina and Duke as an ace in the hole when it comes to nonconference scheduling, and should be able to attract higher quality opponents into the Joyce Center than the already stellar foes he has been able to lure to South Bend.
Very rarely do we see a conference move within two major leagues that is a true win-win situation. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have a lot more to lose leaving the Big East, and Missouri, for instance, may have sacrificed the potential for greater football success in defecting the Big 12 in favor of the SEC. However, by keeping their promise of remaining independent with football and also aligning themselves with arguably the greatest basketball league in the nation, Notre Dame has nothing to lose and much more to gain with their ACC affiliation.