CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Think of Notre Dame’s relationship with the Atlantic Coast Conference as a lengthy engagement rather than a marriage.
The Irish are entering their fourth year of a unique arrangement that allows them to stubbornly remain a conference independent. Notre Dame plays five ACC opponents as non-conference football games in exchange for full ACC membership granted its other men’s and women’s teams.
Notre Dame initially seemed to benefit the most with the independence it treasures, but the scales may be tipping toward the ACC.
“If we reach a point where (full football membership is) to be discussed, we would be ready to discuss that,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford on Thursday at the ACC Kickoff media event. “We’re very close to Notre Dame. We treat them as a full member. I feel like they are a full member by and large. But the one difference is football and the football postseason.”
The original 2014 contract extended through 2037 stipulates if the Irish join a conference it must be the ACC. More and more questions have been raised about Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff opportunities. The lack of a conference championship game to win may hurt the Irish more than was anticipated.
Swofford didn’t sound anxious about being jilted. He knows the ACC has a prenuptial agreement about joining a conference.
“I think it’s been positive for Notre Dame and I think it’s been positive for the ACC,” Swofford said. “That’s what we thought it would be. That’s what it is.”
He added the ACC isn’t trying to sell Notre Dame on full-time membership to enhance its CFP options. For now the conference is showing patience.
“There wasn’t an expectation that at some point in time Notre Dame would ask for full membership in football,” Swofford said. “That is not a point of discussion at this given point in time. Obviously, if Notre Dame reached the point where they wanted to have that discussion, we would readily sit down and speak with them about that.”
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren and Syracuse coach Dino Babers both said on Thursday that league coaches have to accept the agreement as it stands.
“As a league we have to support what they tell us,” Doeren said. “But we’d love to see them in our league. Anybody would.”
ACC schools have learned that playing Notre Dame helps recruiting. Syracuse was one of Notre Dame’s 2016 ACC opponents when the teams met last year at a neutral site at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, but Babers sounded like he’s ready for the rotation to take the Orange to Notre Dame Stadium.
“I think it’s cool to give the young men a chance to play in front of Touchdown Jesus,” said Babers, referring to the 13-story library wall mural of Christ with raised arms overlooking the stadium. “When you’re a dad and a grandfather and that same stadium is on TV, you can sit there and tell your kids and grandkids you played in that stadium. I think that’s strong.”
It helps even more when you beat the Irish — Doeren knows. N.C. State defeated Notre Dame, 10-3, in a home game marred by heavy rain from Hurricane Matthew last season.
“Beating Notre Dame is huge for your program,” Doeren said. “The game was crazy with the monsoon conditions, but regardless of when you play a team like that with the history and tradition, it’s a huge deal for your program. It helps your recruiting. We play at Notre Dame this year and it’s another huge opportunity.”
All it may take for Notre Dame to take the plunge is losing a CFP berth to teams that won conference championship games. The ACC is willing to bide its time.
Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055