ACC football teams will travel to Notre Dame in a regular rotation. GETTY IMAGES
CHAPEL HILL — So yesterday was a busy day.
In case you missed it, we had some good stuff both in print and online about Notre Dame joining the ACC. I’d recommend giving it all a read or two:
Here’s the big-picture story I wrote about the news of the day.
And a look at the frequently asked questions about Notre Dame’s move to the ACC.
And a column from Caulton Tudor, who writes that maybe this is just the beginning.
And I haven’t forgotten, by the way, about the Tar Heels’ game this weekend at No. 19 Louisville. But it has been busy. Some other media members and I had a chance on Wednesday to catch up with UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who worked at Notre Dame in a variety of roles from 1988 to 2002.
Cunningham spoke on an array of issues surrounding the Notre Dame news. Here’s the interview:
Q: Do you think it was a hard sell for the ACC not to have Notre Dame all-inclusive, including football?
A: I think the college landscape has changed so much in the last 10 to 15 years that I think we’re all considering things that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered 20 years ago. And I think it makes sense for both of us and I’m glad it’s moving forward.
Q: How much might the addition of Notre Dame help the ACC increase its TV revenue – is the league more attractive that way?
A: Absolutely I think it is. So now, Commissioner Swofford can negotiate five ACC games every two years. So those will be on our campuses, and I think that’s good for the league and I think it builds strength for our football part of the league as well.
Q: Financially that seems to be a pretty good compromise – that the ACC will keep its own football TV money while Notre Dame will keep theirs.
A: Right. Exactly – and the commissioner will negotiate that and we’ll see what those five years over two years brings.
Q: do you think that would have been the biggest stumbling block – giving them a piece of the pie without getting something back?
A: Oh absolutely. And I think financially you want to be made whole, and you heard Jack say that it’s kind of a revenue-neutral decision for them. It’s really about the association with the ACC that really drove it. And Father Jenkins said the same thing about the academic fit for them also.
Q: These talks with Notre Dame – is that something that was on-going when you arrived at UNC?
A: You know, I don’t know when it began. As I said earlier, I think the discussion about what’s the right fit for Notre Dame, and the ACC discussion, is probably 20 years old. So I think it’s been and off for probably 20 years.
Q: Being at Notre Dame, how do you think it fits into the ACC?
A: I think it’s a great fit … the ACC being built on academics and athletics and integrity, and that’s what Notre Dame has built their athletic program on. So I think it’s a great fit as an institution. I think competitively it’s a great fit. And I think there will be academic collaborations as well, which I think makes it really, really exciting for everyone.
Q: Some might assume this is the first step for Notre Dame to become a full member of the conference in football – what would be your reaction to that?
A: I think the same question was asked when they joined the Big East in all sports except football, 17 years ago. So I think what they’re doing is maintaining football independence, committing five games, and finding a home for their Olympic sports. And I think it’s good for us, and I think it’s good for them. But what the future looks like is anybody’s guess.
Q: Having been at Notre Dame, how difficult is it to be putting together an independent football schedule?
A: Putting together a schedule is difficult because everyone wants to play the non-conference game in the first month of the season. So they’re trying to schedule eight additional games after the first month. So that is a real challenge for them. So I think having five games with the ACC helps them, but I also think they like to schedule nationally where they can play in different parts of the country. They like to play in Boston and L.A. and Chicago. So that’s good for them. So that’s why I think it’s a good fit for everybody.
Q: When you were at Notre Dame did you ever imagine this day would come, when Notre Dame would be willing to enter into this kind of an agreement?
A: Yeah, we talked about it a lot. We talked about it, at that time, with the ACC. Before I left, we were talking about the ACC and we talked about the Big East. And I think if you go back, when you look at the original Big East agreement, there were games that we were committed to play over time. I think that’s kind of dwindled over time, but now we’ve got this as a five-game commitment each year.
Q: Why do you think the timing was right for Notre Dame now?
A: You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know. But I think just the changing landscape. Now it seemed to be the opportune time for them, and it was good for us as well.
Q: How does this move benefit UNC?
A: I think having Notre Dame strengthens the overall league. I think it strengthens [the league] from an Olympic sports standpoint. I like the idea that there will be a rotation of the schools that go up and play in South Bend in football. I think the basketball program will enhance the basketball tournament. So overall I think it will be good for Carolina. I think as you add good schools, that makes everybody a little bit better.
Q: Do you know exactly how that schedule rotation will work in football?
A: I do not. And I don’t know how you take into account games that are currently contracted. I know that Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College have all played [Notre Dame] and probably are likely scheduled going forward. So I don’t know how that fits.
Q: You have ties to Notre Dame and so does Duke athletic director Kevin White. Did that help this process along at all?
A: Well, I think there are relationships and people are familiar – whether it’s ADs or presidents. I think it does make the discussions a little bit easier but fundamentally it’s about what’s right for the institution and what’s right for the conference. And I think that’s obviously what drove the decision-making process.
Q: Will the addition of Notre Dame increase travel costs for non-revenue sports?
A: No, it doesn’t. We’re adding Pitt and Syracuse … Notre Dame. You know, I think we’ll have to take a look at some of our non-conference scheduling to make sure it fits more of a national schedule. When you have a regional conference, you can play national non-conference. When you have a national conference, you have to play more of a regional line-up. …The ACC is actually taking a look at our overall scheduling philosophy as it relates to our Olympic sports and trying to be as economically efficient as we can … we’re centrally located, so the travel for us is less significant than it would be for the people [on the extremes] – Syracuse, Boston, Miami, Tallahassee. They’re the ones that really end up traveling the most.
Q: Do you think it makes more sense having north-south divisions in the ACC?
A: You know, I really haven’t given enough thought to think about. When you build a league, you want to develop rivalries. If you split the league into divisions, it’s hard to build conference rivals. You can build divisional rivalries. In the long term, maybe that is the solution to these mega-leagues. But I haven’t given enough thought to really give you what I think is the right answer.
So there you have it. Thanks to Bubba Cunningham for his time.