A year from now, Notre Dame men’s basketball team will be preparing for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament instead of its annual trip to New York, where the Irish are a frustrating 9-17 all-time in the Big East tournament and have never made it to the league title game. The school announced Tuesday it is leaving the fractured Big East a year sooner than originally anticipated for the ACC in all sports except football and hockey.
The switch was approved in a vote by Big East university presidents in the wake of a split announced last week of the league’s football schools and seven other Catholic schools that next season are forming their own basketball-focused conference with the Big East name. The vote means Notre Dame coaches can move forward with scheduling for the 2013-14 school year.
“It removes the uncertainty that made it hard for our coaches and athletes, so we’re very happy to resolve that for them,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a telephone interview.
The move means stability for all Notre Dame sports and has some familiarity to Irish fans, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the Irish in moving to the ACC next season and former Big East teams Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech already part of the ACC.
If the Irish had opted to stay in the football-centric league, they would have faced some not-so-familiar opponents in Memphis, Central Florida, Houston, Tulane and SMU, along with returning members Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida, Louisville and Rutgers. Louisville joins the ACC after next season, while Rutgers joins the Big Ten.
If the Irish had chosen to align with the Catholic schools, they would have faced DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova. Butler, Xavier and Creighton have been mentioned as potential members.
The ACC will provide some Notre Dame’s non-revenue sports with more challenging opponents. North Carolina’s women’s soccer team has won 21 national championships; four different men’s soccer teams from the conference have won national championships in the past six years; Virginia and Maryland played for the national title in men’s lacrosse in 2011; and Duke has won four national championships in golf in the past 11 years.
“It’s a better situation than the consequence of having the Catholic 7 and the Big East split,” Swarbrick said.
The move comes six months after Notre Dame announced it was opting to join the ACC in all sports except football and hockey. Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said the move made sense for the league.
“The Big East can now focus fully on its future alignment and rebranding efforts,” he said.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league welcomed the early arrival of the Irish, saying the additions of Syracuse and Pitt this year and Louisville next year will make the league’s basketball schedule “brutal, which is a great thing for our league and fans.”
Swarbrick said the decision to join the ACC early evolved over time, saying Notre Dame had been in constant touch with the ACC.
At a news conference later, before the Big East women’s basketball title game, he gave few details of the financial deal that made Notre dame’s early exit possible.
“The easiest way for me to describe it is that the deal struck by the Catholic 7 did provide a template that made a lot of sense to follow,” he said. “We’re a school that’s essentially the same. Our participation in the league was under the same terms. Our withdrawal under the mutual commitment agreement was the same, so it made sense to follow their deal in form.”
As recently as last month it appeared Notre Dame would remain in the Big East for one more season, with Swarbrick telling coaches to proceed with scheduling for next season under the assumption the Irish would be in the Big East for a 19th season. That was based on the assumption the seven Catholic schools would not be able to form their own league in time for next season.
Last week, Aresco said the seven Catholic schools were leaving effective July 1 and taking the Big East name with them. A person familiar with the negotiations said last week that the football members, which do not include Notre Dame, will receive a payment of about $100 million from the conference and NCAA men’s basketball tournament funds, with the bulk of the money going to holdover members Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida.
Swarbrick said it was best for Notre Dame to join the ACC as soon as possible.
“Once we made a decision like we made, everybody psychologically moves on. You’re better off getting there,” he said.
The ACC has already announced a basketball scheduling model for Notre Dame’s arrival. In October, the league said the men would stay with an 18-game slate that would pair each team with two scheduling partners that each team played twice a year. Notre Dame’s scheduling partners are Boston College and Georgia Tech.
On the women’s side, the league is going back to a 16-game schedule. Scheduling partners have yet to be determined.
The decision to join the ACC early had no impact on Notre Dame’s commitment to play five games a year against ACC teams starting in 2014, when it also will have access to the league’s non-BCS bowl tie-ins. For the 2013 season, Notre Dame has no bowl tie-ins, meaning that if the Irish don’t earn a BCS berth and are bowl eligible they will have to wait to see what bowls have unused spots to see where they will play.