CHAPEL HILL—When Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey and atheltic director Jack Swarbrick first talked about conference realignment, Brey had one request.
"I told our AD when conference movement was being talked about and the Big 12 was coming after us for this same kind of setup, I said, ‘Jack, we just can’t lose the East,'" Brey said. "'The East is important to our school, especially our basketball program. Please don’t take me to the Big 12.’"
Brey, who recruits heavily in the Washington, DC area, got his wish when Notre Dame announced Wednesday it was joining the ACC as a full member in every sports expect football.
"I’m really thrilled that we stay in the East, and we stay in the East with a really neat product to be unveiled with the new-look ACC, and I’ve already been through a new-look league with the Big East, and that was exciting to be a part of," Brey said. "I feel like I’m doing that again here with the Atlantic Coast Conference."
While he did say he had mixed emotions about leaving the Big East because of the identity the Fighting Irish have built, Brey, a former Duke assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, did acknowledge that the league has lost some of its luster in the latest wave of conference shuffling.
"We just had a league in the Big East that had unbelievable depth," Brey said. Matter of fact, everyone was jealous of the depth. Maybe that’s why some of the people were picked off, and I guess we followed today. So the depth is now in this league, and I’m thrilled that we’re in it because you want to be a part of the NCAA tournament. If you get half your league in, which this league is probably going to start pointing to."
Notre Dame's discussions with the ACC began in earnest after the departure of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, Sawrbrick said. With those additions and the added security the league now has with its new $50 million exit fee, Brey and the Fighting Irish have the (East-aligned) conference home that they've sought.
"What this was always about was would there be a fit out there that was compatible with the institutional values and our goals for the University athletically," Swarbrick said. "And in so many ways, the ACC identifies that. The quality of the schools, their approach to athletics, the competitive results here, basketball, certainly, lacrosse, soccer, it’s pretty extraordinary. And so we’re very excited about it."
As far as introducing Notre Dame to a new audience goes, there's one person that Brey can count on to understand the Fighting Irish tradition.
"You’re talking about a Catholic guy from Chicago, so he certainly knows all about Notre Dame," Brey said of Krzyzewski. "And I think he was excited about the possibility of it happening."