Report: Irish looking into ACC move

Updated: November 14, 2003, 12:40 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Once again, the rumors are swirling that Notre Dame may join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Irish have made serious overtures about joining the ACC, two officials within the conference with knowlege of the moves told USA Today in Thursday's editions.

Notre Dame is a member of the Big East in most sports, including basketball -- but the football team has been independent for more than a century. A move to the ACC would certainly change all that.

One of the officials told the newspaper that Notre Dame also contacted the Big Ten.

In response to the USA Today report, athletic director Kevin White said Thursday the university would "continue to monitor the landscape."

John Heisler, Notre Dame's associate athletic director for media relations concurred.

"It's the same thing we've said, the same thing we're going to continue to say," he said. "We're going to stand by that, and we're going to stand by that for some time."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday the league "has not initiated discussions with anyone regarding further expansion."

"We are very satisfied with where we are as a 12-member conference," Swofford said in a statement. "We have received some informal inquires concerning potential membership, but our schools are not pursuing any institution for membership at this time."

Notre Dame would certainly provide a huge boost to the ACC as a football conference. The conference recently approved adding Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

In September, several newspapers reported that ACC presidents began discussions with Notre Dame about becoming the conference's 12th member. At the time, Notre Dame officials denied the reports.

Staying independent gives the Irish more flexibility in scheduling, as well as a profitable TV deal with NBC. However, Notre Dame's independent status may jeopardize its future status in the Bowl Championship Series. The current BCS contract -- which links the Irish to the six big conferences -- expires after the 2005 season.

If, as the report in USA Today suggests, the Irish go to the ACC, the number 13 would be even more awkward for the conference in football and men's basketball. Trying to go to 14 schools would involve another Big East program potentially and that could open even more lawsuits. That would seem the least likely, a number of sources told ESPN.com.

Notre Dame, like all Big East members, agreed to a new exit fee in the Big East of $5 million and 27 months notice, according to Big East spokesperson John Paquette. The exit fee applies to all 16 members in the Big East for the 2005-06 season. Boston College and the Big East are at odds as to whether the Eagles are subject to this fee instead of the $1 million, one-year notice Miami and Virginia Tech are paying and going through before leaving for the ACC next season. BC's departure for the ACC cannot be set until this matter is resolved.

Meanwhile, Paquette said the 16 schools didn't make a formal five-year commitment to the Big East. But they did agree to periodic evaluations of the 16-school format. There is also an understanding that the schools will stay together during a five-year period, but nothing in writing.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten has taken a different approach during the expansion issue during the past year. The Big Ten doesn't feel the same pressure that the ACC does to go to 12 schools and have a football championship game. But a Big Ten chancellor told ESPN.com last month that there is a standing offer for Notre Dame if the Irish want to join the conference. He said that the Big Ten wouldn't need to go through the process of visiting Notre Dame or putting it to a vote. But, as Heisler said, Notre Dame hasn't officially asked the Big Ten to join.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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