It's not the conversation the ACC wishes it was having with Notre Dame – at least not yet – but according to the Chicago Tribune, the conference is making headway toward bringing the Fighting Irish in the fold at least once every few years, courtesy of the new-look Orange Bowl:
Notre Dame officially confirmed discussions with the ACC about entry into the league's anchor bowl game in the new college football postseason landscape, which is perhaps a departure from athletic director Jack Swarbrick's initial vision of flexibility in bowl destinations.
"Since the development of the new plan for post-season football, the ACC and Notre Dame have had discussions relating to the Orange Bowl," spokesman John Heisler said Monday. "While presidents have been consulted, the discussions have been between ACC conference staff and Jack."
No surprise there: ACC commissioner John Swofford suggested as much last month, when he more or less confirmed that Notre Dame was on the Orange Bowl's radar, and vice versa. For its part, the ACC re-upped on its own deal last week, promising to continue sending its champion to Miami through 2026, excepting years in which a) The Orange is tabbed as one of the semifinal sites in the forthcoming four-team playoff, or b) The ACC champion qualifies for the playoff at a different site, in which case the Orange Bowl will take the conference's runner-up. (Option b)may be fairly rare.) Once that happened, the basic arithmetic of the new alignment left the Irish with no choice but to strike a deal or risk being cut out of the protected class.
Initially, Swarbrick indicated he preferred the "flexibility" of the new plan, and especially its ability to accommodate Notre Dame as a free agent with no contractual tie-in. Among the "Big Six" games that will confer the most prestige and highest payouts, though, two of them – the Rose and Champions bowls – have already been roped off, reserved exclusively for their client conferences (the Big Ten and Pac-12 in the former case, the SEC and Big 12 in the latter) and the occasional playoff game. The ACC's deal with the Orange Bowl means one less slot for the uninitiated.
With those contracts occupying five of the twelve slots in Big Six games, on top of the four slots occupied by the playoff teams, there will be many years, perhaps most years, when only three non-contract slots are available to the so-called "Access Bowls." Naturally, Notre Dame is interested in doing what it can to make sure it's one of those three.
Yes, that assurance could come at the expense of a mid-major outfit that can't promise a sellout or a huge TV rating, but old Notre Dame will never be handed a golden ticket based on echoes alone. Its current arrangement with BCS guarantees the Irish access to one of the big-money bowls if they finish with either a top-ten ranking in the BCS standings or nine wins in the regular season, hurdles they've managed to clear just three times in the Series' 14-year existence. Any deal with the Orange Bowl (or any other major bowl) is likely to come with criteria in the same vein, based on the selection committee poll that will replace the BCS standings. So before they start counting out their cut in full view of the poor, pauper conferences for whom nothing in the new system is guaranteed, they still have some work to do on the product on the field.