Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford has spent nearly two years working to bring in new schools, refuting reports of departures and securing a media rights deal to pump the brakes on realignment.
The end result comes Monday when Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame officially arrive to form a 15-team ACC.
“It’s a very exciting time to be a part of this league,” Swofford said. “In a lot of ways, it feels like Pitt and Syracuse and Notre Dame are already in the league. They just haven’t been in it competitively but they’ve been in our meetings and been a part of our discussions and the decisions that will move us forward. ... We’re just in a really good place right now.”
The changes began with the ACC inviting Pitt and Syracuse in September 2011. A year later, Notre Dame said it would join in all league sports except football, though it will play five games annually against ACC teams and gain access to its bowl tie-ins starting next fall.
Then, after Maryland’s surprise defection to the Big Ten for 2014, the league reached out to Louisville as a replacement and secured a grant-of-rights agreement giving the ACC control of TV money for schools that leave before the broadcast deal ends after the 2026-27 season.
The changes have strengthened the ACC’s East Coast presence, expanded its footprint west into Indiana and offered protection from future realignment.
That’s why Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said there’s excitement in South Bend about the move for the Fighting Irish, who will remain a football independent. He said a man stopped him on the way to his office Friday to say it was “the best thing Notre Dame could have done.”
“You want to go into a conference where you know the members are fully committed to the conference,” Swarbrick said. “They were saying that publicly, they were saying that privately, but (the grant of rights) was a very significant manifestation of that commitment. That’s a great place.”
It’s the second ACC expansion in 16 years under Swofford, who lured Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East a decade ago.
This time, he expanded campus visits with presidents and athletic directors to include university trustees during stops at Florida State, Clemson and Virginia to answer questions about the ACC’s future.
“The Maryland move was disconcerting in the sense that it caught all of us by surprise,” Swofford said. “But on the other hand, I’ve always been confident about the future and the stability of this league because I see firsthand the commitment at the presidential level, at the AD level, institution to institution and to the league itself.
“When you lose one, you kind of look sideways a little bit about the trust factor. But I never had any reason not to trust any of our other schools or the people representing those schools.”
The ACC has sued Maryland for payment of an exit fee of nearly $53 million, set after the Notre Dame announcement that also allowed the league to renegotiate its TV deal with ESPN.
The 14 football members will receive an average of more than $20 million annually, a person familiar with the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league isn’t releasing the financial details of the TV deal.
Notre Dame will get a basketball share worth about 20 percent of the ACC’s TV package — roughly between $3 million and $4 million — because of its football partnership with NBC.
The per-school payouts are up from an average of $16.9 million for 12 teams for the 2011 tax year with adjustments for bowl revenue and other compensation, according to the league’s Form 990 tax filing.
The league is also researching the creation of its own TV channel.
Florida State President Eric J. Barron said the changes bolster football before the College Football Playoff begins in 2014, and make men’s basketball — long the league’s most tradition-rich sport — even tougher.
“I think that it provides fresh opportunities,” Barron said. “I think that we’re moving more and more into a phase in which who you play (in football) is critical as you start to compete for a national championship. You’re getting Notre Dame on your schedule, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse are solid schools. I think the conference is scary in terms of basketball.”
Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach with a men’s Division I record 957 career wins, has said the league should aim for 10 NCAA tournament bids.
“All I see is the fact that we can do that,” he said. “And if we couldn’t do it, then you wouldn’t talk about it. ... When is the last time ACC coaches have talked about number of bids boldly? Tell me. I don’t know if that’s ever been done. So we should do that. And maybe it will get everybody in the conference to think as the conference and not to think individually.”
That could mean changes for the ACC tournament, which had been held in North Carolina for 49 of 60 years. The league is considering whether to hold the tournament in New York, and could move the championship from Selection Sunday to Saturday night for the prime-time audience.
It already is taking over the “Big Monday” broadcast slot formerly owned by the Big East on ESPN.
Swofford will ring in Monday’s changes at the Nasdaq closing bell ceremony in New York with league representatives including Hall of Fame men’s basketball coaches Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and North Carolina’s Roy Williams along with Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer.
It’s all part of a new world for the ACC.
“There’s just potential opportunities that have never been there before and we need to recognize those, evaluate what’s best for the future, and respect what has brought us to where we are today,” Swofford said. “We’re still the ACC. Our cornerstones have not changed. We’re bigger and better and stronger than we’ve ever been in our history.”