The Irish are off to the ACC and now that the panic has settled a bit and the shock has worn off, perhaps it is a good time to look at the positive side of the situation. Notre Dame won't be in the ACC soon, but the Big East will plow ahead, regardless with it's rebuilding and rebranding efforts.
"However, Notre Dame's departure does not change our plans," Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said. "We have prestigious institutions that are excited to be a part of the BIG EAST. We remain committed to making the BIG EAST stronger than it has ever been."
It wasn't a surprise to Aresco that the Irish were flirting, and it wasn't a surprise to Villanova either.
Notre Dame isn't an inconsequential loss for the conference, but it isn't a huge one either. The most important factor is that the Irish are not, and have never been, a Big East football participant. Losing the Irish is about as severe as losing Pittsburgh on the court, a program that had put together a string of NCAA appearances in recent years and that helped the conference maintain strong RPI scores — but never won big in the postseason.
Of the Big East's basketball four losses, two had been to a Final Four since 2000; Syracuse and West Virginia. Of the remaining and incoming schools, six have achieved that same mark; Marquette, UConn, Villanova, Georgetown, Lousville and Memphis. That's a net-loss of one school that has gone to a recent Final Four.
So in the end, basketball isn't as strong as it was or as it could have been, but it is still one of the stronger conferences in the nation, most likely — and it still offering a ton of inventory that adds value for a fledgling network like NBC Sports, as the league enters those negotiations for real in November.
Money is key
The Big East didn't lose any football members in the latest realignment move, which means they didn't lose any real significant amount of money. Notre Dame's value as a brand to basketball is perhaps not to be denied, but it probably won't be the straw that breaks the Camel's back — they could easily be replaced by inviting Xavier, Butler, VCU or another basketball school that has captured some national attention recently.
The other thing that hasn't changed is NBC's need for programming. They have Notre Dame football (and will for the forseeable future) and they have the NHL, but the rest of their college line-up consists of the CAA and Ivy League — neither of which will set the Neilsen Ratings ablaze. Big East basketball has produced some ratings (and still will), however, that can rival or beat those hockey games, and it offers enough television inventory to fill the airwaves on that network with live sports programming from November through March.
The football league looks the same today as it did last week, going forward and they will add at least one more program to that lineup — and that is going to be at least 80% of the conference's value.
Oh, and the departing members' NCAA tournament shares? Those will still get paid to the Big East for the appearances they made as a member of that conference. Notre Dame, like Syracuse, won't take their share of that. The Big East has owned the NCAA tournament shares in recent years, grabbing $24,925,057 from that source alone in 2011, so there is quite a bit of money coming in from that angle.
If you've been reading VUhoops long enough, you know that our sources have indicated that Villanova had previously explored the ACC's interest in adding the Wildcats and found interest lacking (with some surprising support from former Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo). At that time, the ACC was only looking to add schools that would be able to play a full football schedule, they weren't considering a partial-membership offer to Notre Dame.
Then something changed. Maybe the ACC was unhappy with their renegotiated ESPN payout or maybe they just thought that they could do more damage to the Big East. Whatever it was, the ACC added a school that wouldn't play ACC football and in the process, ended up with an odd number of teams.
So, naturally, speculation started early that the ACC would need a 16th member and that it would come from the ranks of schools without FBS football. There is one major, glaring, problem with that theory.
The ACC still doesn't really want to have non-football members. Notre Dame is more of an exception that a change of the rules.
With that said, the initial expansion with Pitt and Syracuse wasn't necessarily all that the conference wanted to do at that time. According to the Baltimore Sun, a number of ACC schools (including Duke and Maryland) actually favored expansion to 16 members at that time. ACC commissioner John Swofford has stated that there is "no need" for further expansion and that his league has "no intention" of doing so, but nothing is ever off the table — not even adding Notre Dame without their big-name football brand.
The Sun's Jeff Barker tweeted that, "[i]f the ACC were to expand by 1 more, the next candidate would need to elevate conference football, insiders say."
There's an issue, in that the ACC would unbalance it's football divisions if it added another football member now, even while balancing their basketball schedule to avoid inconvenient bye weeks in the heart of the season. So adding another football member seems problematic, unless Notre Dame eventually gives up it's independence — something that the ACC is clearly hoping to be the case.
The compromise could work in Villanova's favor. As the only high-major level basketball program that also has made a commitment to high-level FCS football, Villanova has an interesting pitch to offer the ACC: they can come in and offer balance and strength in basketball and Olympic sports immediately, and can continue to invest in football to be ready to join up whenever the Irish might pull the trigger on conference affiliation (which could be any time between tomorrow and never).
That's not a terrible deal when you consider that the Wildcats had been one of the Big East's elite basketball programs over the past decade, even despite some hard times recently, and reside in a large market that is within the ACC footprint but not currently represented by a team. A football upgrade would remain on the table with the ACC, though it would also be subject to Notre Dame's whim (which isn't much different than being subject to the whim of Rutgers or USF).
Would the ACC bite? I wouldn't be as confident as a certain Rutgers homer, but I wouldn't expect that anyone would hang up on Nova's AD or President if they called with that idea.
It would be interesting to see how the Big East would react to news of Villanova flirting with another conference as well. Would that give the Wildcats more leverage with the conference they helped build or not? Villanova is waiting to see what the Big East TV deal will look like in a few years before they decide how much they want to beg for a football invitation, apparently, so even if leverage could be gained, would they use it?
The move wasn't a surprise to anyone involved and it wasn't something that will severely hurt Villanova's bottom line. It's one less old rival to come to town, but fans will adjust to the new rivalries and new teams. When a ranked Memphis comes to the Wells Fargo Center to play Villanova, the Wildcat faithful won't be thinking, "I wish this were Notre Dame."
As long as the football league stays relatively intact and strong, NBC and other networks are going to put in reasonably good bids for the Big Easts' television rights, and if anyone but ESPN buys those rights, it will likely become a showcase sport on that network. That means more televised games and plenty of money going forward.
In the odd chance that the ACC is looking to add another member in everything but football, Villanova is uniquely positioned to offer flexibility going forward that could be attractive. If they aren't, then the damage to the Big East appears to have calmed, at least in the short term.
From earlier: Why the Notre Dame move is terrible for Villanova.