Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past several months, you know that Notre Dame football has officially joined the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2020 season, the first time the Irish have joined a conference in their 132 years of existence. This opens up a 10-game in-conference schedule and a shot at the ACC Championship to cap off the season.
The question that now arises is whether the Irish should remain in the ACC after the pandemic has settled back down. First, we must ask ourselves what our goals for an Irish football season are. There is the clear goal of winning a national championship, but there are also historic rivalry games that provide yearly challenges. There is, of course, the goal of bringing in money through TV deals, ticket sales, concessions, etc. But in all of this, Notre Dame is always working to build its brand.
The brand of the Irish is married to a sense of independence, it’s who the Irish are and who their alums and fans expect them to be. In a poll conducted by SBNation, almost 90% of Notre Dame fans stated that they want to leave the ACC after 2020.
Not only is it what the fans want and what the brand is, but staying independent provides the Irish with unique leverage in the College Football Playoff race that the ACC simply can’t provide. Over the course of the 2010s under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame football ranks 23rd in the FBS in strength of schedule. In the same ranking, Clemson comes in at 61st. Strength of schedule is a critical factor in the choice of CFP teams. Clearly remaining in the ACC does not offer much of a challenge beyond Clemson.
One of the most unique things about Notre Dame football is its national presence, from its brand recognition to its fanbase. No matter what city you go to, once you look past the local schools, you will always find the Irish faithful cheer cheering for old Notre Dame. Deciding to remain in the ACC comes with eight games against conference opponents, eliminating opportunities to play Wisconsin in Lambeau, Navy in Ireland, USC, Stanford, Michigan and other big-ticket games across the country and around the world. Choosing to remain in the ACC removes the national identity the Irish have created of traveling anywhere to beat anybody. This identity was established by Knute Rockne when the predecessor of the Big Ten gave Notre Dame the cold shoulder in the early 1900s.
In reality, Notre Dame holds all the cards. Joining the ACC gives up that complete control and trades it in for a single vote at a table of 15 voices: 14 of which don’t have the Irish’s best interests in mind. The ACC offered the Irish a chance to play football this season, for which we ought to be thankful, but beyond the circumstances of the pandemic, the ACC doesn’t offer any benefits to the Irish and would only be taking from our strength of schedule, our revenue and our golden brand.