New ACC settles into era of stability
Welcome to the new Atlantic Coast Conference.
It's where a founding member is out, a fast-rising program is in, Notre Dame is there, too -- sort of -- and nobody else is leaving.
Where a one-time punchline of a conference now boasts the Heisman Trophy winner, the reigning national champion and a handful of other individual award winners.
And where stability finally has arrived â with its status as a power conference secure entering the College Football Playoff era â leaving its members optimistic about its future.
"I think everybody is where they want to be," Commissioner John Swofford said. "That's real important."
So, here comes ambitious Louisville into its fourth conference since 2004. There goes Maryland, off to the Big Ten.
And Notre Dame is at least dipping its toe into the league, starting a scheduling arrangement this year in which it will play a handful of ACC teams every season while keeping its prized football independence.
Notre Dame will play host to North Carolina and Louisville, travel to Florida State and take on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
The Fighting Irish joined in all sports except football and hockey last year, with Pittsburgh and Syracuse also coming on.
In the board room, Swofford said the new schools have "meshed so comfortably with our league, and that's a real credit to the individuals around the table. It feels like we've been together a lot longer than we have, and that's really a good thing."
These 15 schools are bonded at least through 2026-27 by a grant-of-rights agreement that was announced last year and pumped the brakes on realignment.
So, what appears to be the final reshuffling â for a while, at least â shifts the ACC's footprint into the Midwest, moving into Kentucky and Indiana.
"I think the benefit comes from the quality of schools and athletic programs," Swofford said. "The quality is really what's brought to the table and along with it, from a pure marketplace standpoint, our footprint now has the largest population and the most television sets of any conference's footprint in the country. And that's only going to grow in the future if you look at projected population disbursement. That's all part of the positioning of the conference for the long term."
So, the incessant realignment chatter was replaced this year by discussion of a possible ACC-only television channel similar to the ones the Big Ten debuted in 2007 and the Southeastern Conference is launching later this summer.
Swofford had few details to offer about the possibility, saying the ACC "will continue to have our discussions with our partners at ESPN" about the potentially lucrative channel "and I remain pleased with how productive and insightful those discussions have been to this point."
On the field, it helps that the ACC doesn't have to deal with any more cheap shots about its struggles in games of national significance.
A league that combined for two wins in BCS games from the 1998-2011 seasons more than doubled its total in the last two years by winning three of them.
Florida State has done its part, winning two of those BCS games. The Seminoles produced last year's Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston while capping their perfect season with a come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the final BCS championship game.
League coaches overwhelmingly called that title a good thing for the ACC because it could help the other 13 programs rise to Florida State's level.
"In a sense, (the ACC is) new in that we're stronger," Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson said. "We want to be a football powerhouse, the ACC."