CHARLOTTE, N.C. – How will Notre Dame football’s relationship evolve with the ACC Network for the long haul?
That’s one of the residual questions from the ACC Kickoff, where talk of the network’s Aug. 22 launch on ESPN dominated the two-day event. ACC commissioner John Swofford answered those questions, making it clear the Irish are a full-and-equal partner in the new venture. Notre Dame will maintain its five-game football arrangement with the other 14 football schools.
That’s the continued agreement for now, but Swofford answered the big question about the future.
“If Notre Dame reached a point where they were interested to join in football, we would readily have that conversation,” Swofford told Sporting News. “I don’t expect that to happen. When we made the arrangement with Notre Dame, some people thought, ‘Well it’s just a matter of time in football.’ I’ve never really thought that.”
It’s the same open-door policy knowing the Irish would prefer not to work through – even in the College Football Playoff era.
As it stands, the current arrangement has produced mixed results on the field. Notre Dame began playing a rotation of ACC schools in 2014. The Irish are 17-9 in those games, but that includes an 0-3 record against ACC teams ranked inside the top 10.
Those were high-profile matchups against No. 2 Florida State in 2014, No. 7 Miami in 2017 and last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 2 Clemson. Swofford, who reiterated that he respects Notre Dame’s independent status in the current college football landscape, said that Irish-Tigers matchup did not test his allegiances.
“You pull for the ACC team,” Swofford said. “With all respect to Notre Dame when it’s a football game, you lean toward in this case Clemson or the ACC team because it technically is a nonconference game. Notre Dame against everybody else I’m pulling for them.”
How will the ACC Network affect that relationship? Notre Dame’s television agreement to have home games on NBC runs through 2025 and draws approximately $15 million per year. ESPN’s contract with the ACC runs through 2036; Swofford said if the Irish choose to join a conference in football, they would be contractually obligated to join the ACC.
While that’s not in the cards now, Swofford emphasized the benefits of Notre Dame’s membership. It gives the ACC a sixth private institution, and the Irish won the 2018 women’s basketball national championship.
“It’s been a win-win for the ACC as well as for Notre Dame,” Swofford said. “Their membership in the league has been everything that we would have anticipated. It’s fully met expectations for us, and I think Notre Dame would tell you it has fully met expectations for Notre Dame. Institutionally it’s just a really good fit.
“The reason for that is they bring just as much value to the ACC Network as any other school in that league,” he said. “The five games we play each year in football, any of those games that are in a home stadium of the ACC could be on the ACC Network.”
In 2019, that means the Nov. 9 matchup against Duke is slated to be on the ACC Network. The Sept. 2 opener at Louisville is on ESPN, and the home matchups against Virginia (Sept. 28), Virginia Tech (Nov. 2) and Boston College (Nov. 23) will be on NBC. In 2020, Notre Dame’s marquee matchup is a rematch with Clemson on Nov. 7 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Speculation about Playoff expansion and realignment will always involve the Irish given they are a perennial power coming off their first playoff appearance. Notre Dame, however, does not play a conference championship like the other Power 5 conferences.
Swofford maintains the Irish are one of college football’s brands that will be a huge part of the ACC Network’s longterm plans. Swofford believes the Irish’s role within the conference is a story worth telling.
Could the network’s story influence Notre Dame football as college football continues to evolve into the next decade? That question will never have a definitive answer as long as the partnership exists.
“Possibly, yes,” Swofford said. “I’ve said many times we’ve been open to the conversation and I know our television partner would be as well. But again, I would say, because I don’t want it to be misconstrued, that it’s not something I would anticipate in the near future.”