Q & A: ACC's Swofford on football status, and -- oh, yeah, Notre Dame

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It has been a busy 12 months for ACC commissioner John Swofford.

Last September it was announced that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would leave the Big East for the ACC. After some difficult negotiations between those schools and the Big East, both Pittsburgh and Syracuse will become full members for the 2013-14 academic year.

This past summer was a bit tense for a couple of reasons. The SEC and Big 12 put together a blockbuster deal to create the Champions Bowl. With the Big Ten and Pac-12 already tied together by the Rose Bowl, the narrative became that those four conferences would rule the future of college football with the ACC relegated to second-tier status. It didn't help that a member of the Florida State board of trustees started making noises about his school jumping to the Big 12. Then there were rumors that Clemson might be willing to jump, too. The school denied those rumors.

Swofford told his presidents and those who would listen to stay patient. Things would fall into place. And they have.

The ACC has locked its champion into the Orange Bowl for 12 years starting with the 2014 regular season. The Orange Bowl already is assured of being one of the "contract bowls" in the new four-team playoff system that starts that same year.

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Then, last week, the mother of all deals came for the ACC. Notre Dame agreed to join the ACC in all sports except football and hockey. But Notre Dame also agreed to play five games -- almost half its schedule -- against ACC teams. It is a game-changing agreement that enhances the ACC's television package (five Notre Dame games in ACC stadiums over every two-year period) and certainly will help sell season tickets.

And it ends talk that the ACC will not have a seat at college football's big boy table.

I caught up with Swofford this week when he joined me for a segment of The Tony Barnhart Show.

Question: You have called the deal a win-win for Notre Dame and the ACC. Why is it a win for Notre Dame?

Answer: What helps Notre Dame is their ability to remain as a football independent while at the same time being a part of the ACC bowl structure below the BCS. Those two factors were extremely important to Notre Dame.

Q: Why is it a win for the ACC?

A: First of all, Notre Dame is just a great fit for us athletically and academically. And when you look at the sports beyond football in which they excel -- basketball and Olympic sports -- it is just perfect for our conference. Obviously, having five football games with Notre Dame each season enhances a lot of things for us.

Q: In the last round of expansion talks your presidents were adamant that any school that joined the ACC would have to be a member in all sports. What changed?

A: I don't think there was any one thing. As much as anything it was a change in the landscape. Jim Barker, the president at Clemson, probably summed it up very well. He said what was best 10 years ago or 20 years ago isn't necessarily the best thing now.

Q: So ultimately why did your presidents sign off on this deal?

A: Through our discussions and the pluses that could come with Notre Dame being a member on the basis on which that they have become a member, the optics of that played itself out in a very positive way. Our presidents thought it was time to cross that threshold and bring Notre Dame in on the basis they are coming in. It was simply time to do that.

Q: Do you have a timetable for Notre Dame to join the ACC?

A: I'd say the same thing I said on the timetable on Syracuse and Pitt (which join for 2013-14). We totally respect the Big East and what they need to do. The decision on when Notre Dame will come will really come down to the discussions between Notre Dame and the Big East. We'll be ready to accept them at any point that they can come -- the sooner the better from our perspective. But really that's a decision between Notre Dame and the Big East conference.

Q: How will you allocate the five Notre Dame football games to your conference members?

A: It's up to the ACC to do that. Notre Dame will accept whatever five games the ACC gives them on any given year. Conceptually what we intend to do is rotate through the entire membership -- 14 schools for those five games. We do have some teams that currently have contracts with Notre Dame and we need to take a look at that. We would like to accomplish this without disrupting those particular games that are currently under contract. But once we reach a clean point the idea is to rotate the games through the membership. So that every school knows they will get Notre Dame once every three years either in their home stadium or at Notre Dame.

Q: With the addition of Notre Dame games to your television inventory, can we assume that you will have discussions with your television partners because of their additional value?

A: You're correct. We will be in discussion with our television partner, ESPN. Obviously we've done some analysis of what the value might be there. With the five games, two will be on our campus one year and three the next. That's five Notre Dame games on our campuses in any two-year period. Obviously we think that has value.

Q: When you add Notre Dame you'll have 15 teams for basketball. You said last week that the ACC would not be looking for a 16th team and that it didn't make sense. Why is that?

A: If we went to 16 teams without Notre Dame being in football that would give us an imbalance in our football divisions. We do not have divisions in basketball so we will be a straight 15-member league in basketball. So to bring in a 16th member isn't very logical.

Q: When the Notre Dame agreement was announced, the ACC also announced that its exit fee would be raised to $50 million. Why did you do that?

A: That is something the presidents and the schools wanted to do for each other. It shows a great deal of solidarity in the belief that we're together and we're going to be together for a long time to come. In the environment in which collegiate athletics operates, our presidents and our institutions felt like that was an important step to take. It is a very strong statement on their part.

Q: When the SEC and Big 12 made their agreement earlier this year, there was discussion that the ACC was going to lose its seat at the table with the major football conferences. Does this move put an end to that idea?

A: I think it does, particularly when you put it (the Notre Dame agreement) on top of the exit fee decision, with Pitt and Syracuse coming into the league, with our Orange Bowl agreement and the next BCS postseason situation and the ACC's firm place in that. We've had three or four months of very positive news moving forward.

Q: There has been talk that at some point in your relationship with Notre Dame that the school might want to become a full member of the ACC. Can you see that conversation happening sometime down the road?

A: If Notre Dame decided it wanted to join a conference in football we would certainly want to have that conversation. But that is a very, very big if in my opinion. At this point it is very important to Notre Dame that they maintain their status as a football independent. We're happy that we were able to each reach a conclusion that helps them do that and is also very positive and beneficial for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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