As the news of college football sticking to a conference-only schedule broke, it left Notre Dame with more questions than answers. College football fans and media alike were taking a victory lap and the barrage of “Join a conference” tweets came from every direction.
Unfortunately for them, Notre Dame won’t be pressured to commit to anything long term.
The ACC Needs Notre Dame
While so many believe this will force Notre Dame into the ACC, you have to look at who needs who. The ACC has been hanging onto Clemson’s coattails the last few seasons as the conference has underperformed. They were tied with the Pac-12 for last among power five schools in revenue for 2019.
The ACC and the Pac-12 brought in $29.5 million to each school. (Notre Dame received $7.9 million as a partial member. The other three conferences pulled in:
- Big Ten: $54 million per school
- SEC: $43.1 million per school
- Big 12: $33.6 million per school
Furthermore, the ACC is lagging behind other conferences in TV numbers. Clemson had two regular-season games in 2019 that drew more than four million viewers, Oklahoma had five.
A hyped game between Wake Forest and Clemson drew 1.91 million viewers. The ACC also had the least-watched ACC championship with 3.97 million viewers.
Now Clemson’s dominance definitely has a negative effect, but the conference still doesn’t come close. Just for a comparison, Notre Dame-Virginia Tech averaged 2.95 million viewers. That’s a million more than Clemson-Wake Forest. Notre Dame-Louisville to kick off the season averaged 5.6 million viewers
So to think the ACC would try and swoop into strong-arm Notre Dame is unlikely because they desperately need help. As Bryan Driskell pointed out in his article, extending an olive branch would be the best bet for the ACC:
“During World War II, the Naval Academy stepped up and helped Notre Dame to survive as an institution, and Notre Dame has repaid that with over 70 years of loyalty by playing the Midshipmen every single season. For much of the last four decades playing Navy has done absolutely nothing for Notre Dame, but that hasn’t stopped the Irish program from remaining loyal to an institution that stepped up to the plate in their time of need … Making small, short-term financial decisions that favor Notre Dame is the best way to lead to a more long-term partnership that would mean a lot more money for everyone. An ACC that has Notre Dame is going to be far, far more attractive to the major networks the next time the ACC is looking for a new deal. It would add a great deal of credibility to the league from a football standpoint.”
Even if the ACC decided they wanted to try and pull one over on Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish have other options.
A Household Name
Notre Dame hit a record low on NBC last season. They only pulled in an average of 2.13 million viewers. However, a poor home schedule that included games against Bowling Green (1.28 million viewers) and New Mexico (1.5 million viewers) dragged that down.
Last season, the Notre Dame-Georgia game averaged 9.29 million viewers. The 2016 season opener against Texas averaged 10.95 million. I mention those two because, at the time of writing this, both the Big 12 and SEC haven’t pulled the plug on non-conference games.
When you compare Notre Dame to the ACC’s top program, Clemson, the Irish are a more popular TV program. Notre Dame seven regular season games with an average of at least 2.82 million viewers. Clemson only had three such regular season games.
Notre Dame’s contest against Georgia and Michigan (6.75 million) were both bigger draws than Clemson’s top regular season game, which came against Texas A&M (6.46 million).
Clemson’s biggest in-conference draw was an average of 4.4 million against North Carolina, which was over one million fewer than Notre Dame’s biggest draw against an ACC team (5.6 million vs. Louisville).
They will also have to fill out their schedules with the other conferences cutting out some games. Not to mention the other independent teams that will need to rework their schedules.
Notre Dame is a massive draw and a moneymaker for just about every school. If the Fighting Irish get left out by the ACC, they can find replacements around college football that would make them both benefit. It would also sour the relationship with the ACC and would all but kill any future plans of eventually bringing Notre Dame on.
As much as the rest of college football wants Notre Dame to join a conference, they don’t need to. Between the NBC deal and the name power that comes with Notre Dame, they are just fine on their own. This also isn’t the new normal and is only a one year issue. If the ACC decided to shut Notre Dame out, it would only backfire long-term as the Fighting Irish would just look elsewhere once their deal is up.
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