Notre Dame needs the ACC, now more than ever. Just as much as the ACC needs Notre Dame.
The marriage of convenience that started in 2013 was never supposed to be consummated this way. In fact, it wasn't supposed to be a full-on marriage at all.
Notre Dame and the ACC started casually dating when the Fighting Irish went half-in seven years ago, joining the league in every sport but football. But now, the pair are cohabitating, even if only for this season.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame will play a full ACC schedule in 2020 and be eligible for the conference championship, the league announced Wednesday.
Yup, for the first time in the Irish's 132-year history, Notre Dame is a full-fledged member of a conference ... for one season.
Will it just be a one-off -- another marriage of convenience during the pandemic -- or a preview of what's to come?
It's interesting. It's tantalizing. It's time to think about Notre Dame as a permanent ACC member.
Maybe it's not as far-fetched as it once sounded.
For now, the ACC needs Notre Dame all-in to complete a conference "plus one" schedule similar to what is being adopted by the Big Ten and Pac-12. (The SEC and Big 12 are still publicly planning on playing 12-game seasons.)
It's already been established that, if Notre Dame joins a conference between now and 2036, it has to be the ACC. That's the length of the grant of rights deal signed in 2016.
New ACC grant of rights bascially means if ND joins a conference it will be — through 2036 — ACC.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) July 19, 2016
Sure, a one-year one-off would anger a lot of ACC types. The conference would be throwing Notre Dame a rope, allowing the Irish to parachute in and contend not only for a league title but the ACC's automatic Orange Bowl berth.
There is also a subtext here that needs to be mentioned. The ACC is still searching for a commissioner with John Swofford set to depart in June 2021. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has been mentioned as a candidate. At 66, Swarbrick was behind the ACC-Notre Dame union in 2013. He is at the top of his profession, one of the most powerful persons in college athletics.
But a commissioner is a commissioner: more power, more money. What if Swarbrick delivered Notre Dame as a full ACC member as his walk-off?
The same could be said of Clemson AD Dan Radakovich. His name has come up, too. On his watch, the Tigers have reached the pinnacle of their football existence.
Folding the Irish into the league preserves the Notre Dame-Clemson game this season. Maybe the winning AD gets the commissioner's job?
The ACC has already solidified itself with the aforementioned grant of rights and its own network. As a half-brother, Notre Dame is a curious partner. The Irish might be the No. 1 brand in college sports. That's why NBC is paying it $15 million to show its home games.
It's also likely the biggest stumbling block to Notre Dame's full-time ACC fantasy. But sooner or later, there will be factors that push the Irish toward that ultimate decision.
For now, it's the coronavirus. What started as Notre Dame needing a place to park its football program has turned into the ACC needing Notre Dame to bolster its season.
The Irish created their ACC scheduling agreement in football out of necessity.
When the College Football Playoff started in 2013, Notre Dame didn't have automatic bowl access. The Rose Bowl was taken by the Big Ten and Pac-12. The SEC and Big 12 partnered in the Sugar Bowl. The ACC champion played in the Orange Bowl during years when it wasn't in the playoff.
That's not to say Notre Dame couldn't go to a bowl. It just didn't have any spots reserved for it. Those went mostly to schools in conferences. It was amazing to see Notre Dame so vulnerable.
There continues to be a fine balance. There would be no legitimate CFP without the Irish. The ACC Network wouldn't be as valuable without them. In fact, there might not be an ACC Network at all without Notre Dame.
Viewed objectively, independence has been a blessing and a curse. Critics resent the program's ability to "massage" its schedule to its advantage. The Irish don't go through the week-to-week grind of a conference schedule, but history reflects that deficiency.
In the BCS and College Football Playoff eras (since 1998), it's clear Notre Dame has to go to undefeated to contend for a national championship. We know this because that's the only way it has qualified -- in 2012 (BCS) and 2018 (CFP).
Notre Dame also doesn't have to put it all on the line in a conference championship game -- by choice. The Irish play only 12 regular-season games. That means they also don't have that extra data point to add their resume.
The prospect of seeing Notre Dame play for a conference title is enticing. If nothing else, 2020 could serve as a look-in or trial run for Notre Dame as an ACC member.
Swarbrick told The Athletic last year that Notre Dame would be "much better off" going all-in with the ACC. The money would definitely be bigger. Even with and the CFP distribution, Notre Dame's revenue doesn't approach that of an average Power Five program.
That doesn't mean Notre Dame is walking down the aisle with the ACC. It's a different program. Independence cannot always be clearly quantified. Notre Dame considers itself a separate entity. That was never more evident than last year when president Dr. John Jenkins basically threatened the NCAA at the end of a contentious investigation.
National championships don't necessarily figure into the equation of Notre Dame being on its own. Some Irish fans will hate that, but they'll have to accept it.
Independence allows scheduling freedom. It allows coast-to-coat marketing of the school. Swarbrick is especially fond of the Shamrock Series that allows high-profile neutral-site games. This year, that was scheduled to be Wisconsin at Lambeau Field.
Independence allows Notre Dame broad exposure on other networks. CBS chose to televise last year's Notre Dame-Georgia game in primetime. It was the second-highest rated game of the season behind LSU-Alabama.
For one season -- if it is played -- Notre Dame in the ACC will to be a blast: a conference schedule, possibly a conference championship game.
The world would finally get a glimpse of the Irish in a league. We can dream, question, criticize and revel in it.
Then we can ask: Will it ever happen again?