The Fighting Irish have (partially) given up their fight for football independence.
Notre Dame officially announced today that they will join the Atlantic Coast Conference for all sports, except for football. The school has agreed to play 5 ACC teams in football each season.
The football deal essentially calls for the Irish to play half an ACC conference slate without being eligible for the ACC Championship. By not playing the other 4 games of the ACC schedule, the Fighting Irish are still able to claim football independence. Whether the golden domers want to admit it or not, they are no longer truly independent and are now in a situation comparable to Greenland with Denmark: appearing to be independent while owing fealty to a foreign ruler.
They can claim to be independent all they like, but the truth is they are far closer to being in a football conference then they are to their historical independence. When you are contractually bound to play other teams annually, then you are in a football conference. It is only a matter of time until they give up the ghost and become the 15th football member of the ACC.
The move by Notre Dame is quite detrimental to any future expansion on the part of the Big XII. Just months ago, there was rampant speculation that Florida State and Clemson could make a move to the Big XII, restoring numerical sense to the Big XII, and bringing back a conference championship game.
The move by Notre Dame has solidified the somewhat unstable ACC, which now has instituted a $50 million buyout clause. There is now zero chance that any school from the ACC will jump ship, leaving slim picking on the conference expansion front.
If the Big XII wants to expand to 12 or 14 teams, which seems inevitable, then the conference will now have to look to the Big East, Mountain West, or worse for new members. While any Big XII expansion is not in the immediate picture, it would only be logical that the Big XII seek to expand its geographic (and television) footprint while also reaping additional revenue generated by a conference championship game.
The Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats are certainly pumped about the move by the Irish, because they are now hot commodities in the ever shifting conference landscape. Looks like the Cardinals and the Kentucky government might one day get their wish, for the Cardinals to join the Big XII. Inviting Louisville and/or Cincinnati makes sense geographically, and to a lesser extent, competitively. Both teams are better than average football schools located in decent sized television markets and would provide a “bridge” to West Virginia from the rest of the conference.
Again, any expansion beyond ten teams is not an immediate prospect, but you can be certain that the talk of conference realignment is far from done. But now when the topic of potential Big XII expansion is mentioned, it will focus on teams with far less prestige than the teams that were linked to expansion this past summer. You can thank Notre Dame for that.