Is Wake delivering Notre Dame?

A friend and alumnus from another ACC school sent this to me in regard to some emails we had been exchanging about Notre Dame joining the conference. He presents some interesting historical connections Wake and others in the ACC have with Notre Dame. So LouC and the rest of TN, what do think?

So you asked for my thoughts on ND. I’ll tell you, but I want to make it clear that I am not some Swofford cheerleader. He strikes me as a maniacal ego and I’m irked about how he continues to look the other way at all the smoke coming out of Chapel Hill (which I guess is technically more of an NCAA thing). As for expansion, I think he’s done fantastic with the cards he has been dealt. I realize that last comment may make your skin crawl…but hear me out.

You say this is the "Best move ACC has made in years." I couldn’t agree more. Just understand that it’s not as if the ACC woke up this morning and said "hey, today let’s call up Notre Dame to see if they want to join." Getting Notre Dame to join has been on the top of Swofford’s to-do list since the day he took over the ACC -- since long before the recent conference shuffling began. In fact, Swofford’s predecessor (Gene Corrigan) was ND’s Athletic Director before he became the ACC Commissioner. Corrigan and Swofford have been positioning the ACC for this since at least the 90’s.

The cast

Well obviously there’s Swofford and, to some extent, Corrigan. But I think one of the least-talked about factors in all of this has been ACC schools hiring employees with Notre Dame backgrounds in the years leading up to this announcement.

Continued after jump.

Since at least the late 90’s, a lot of ACC institutions have been strengthening ties with Notre Dame by hiring various folks with extremely strong Notre Dame ties. Coincidence? Maybe. But I don’t think so. For example, Wake hired Nathan Hatch – a career ND man who had most recently been the ND provost (and who sent his 3 kids to ND) – to be its President in 2005. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wake hired Hatch solely with athletics in mind – obviously, the provost of ND is qualified to run a University. But, as we’ll see, Hatch is a key cog in all this.

More recently, Duke hired ND’s old AD (Kevin White) to take over the same role in Durham. UNC’s new AD (Bubba somebody) also has ND ties. I think also some UVa folks ended up at ND and vice versa.

The details are probably not important, and maybe these hirings had nothing to do with athletics. But these strong ND relationships – particularly the coziness between Wake’s President Hatch and ND’s AD Jack Swarbrick -- have been instrumental in making today’s announcement possible. It’s worth noting that both Wake’s Hatch (former ND provost) and Duke’s White (former ND AD) have been on the ACC’s "expansion committee" for years.

The pre-2004 era

At this point, it probably makes sense to go back in time. Pre 2004. As I’ve said…the ACC had their eyes on the ND prize even back then. In an underreported sports revelation, Hatch recently admitted in this interview (,0,45305.story) that the ACC and ND had been in expansion talks since at least ten years ago: "When I was provost at Notre Dame (1996-2005), there were discussions (with the ACC), and that decision (to remain an independent) was made".

I know people have long speculated about ACC/ND overtures…I could be wrong but I think this is the first confirmation from someone ‘in the know’ that the ACC asked ND to join back in the 90’s.

So, let’s review the pre-2004 landscape (seems like a generation ago)

· The good ole days. Traditional rivals played each other in conferences that made sense from both a geographic perspective and a naming-convention perspective. Every conference was relatively stable

· But…the ACC wanted Notre Dame. And Notre Dame had just stiff-armed the ACC. Corrigan, Swofford and crew were not going to take that laying down

· Why wasn’t ND interested? Well, the Big East had offered ND the ultimate ‘have your cake and eat it too" arrangement. They got all the benefits of conference membership, AND they got to keep their private TV deal and Bowl money. Plus, a ton of traditional ND rivals played in the Big East (Pitt, BC, Miami, and to some extent Cuse). So, ND had absolutely no reason to leave their perch. But if they did, the Big East obviously had the inside track.

Swofford knows ND isn’t going anywhere unless the Big East is dismantled. So, what happens? Swofford orchestrates Big East raid Part I, targeting traditional ND rivals (BC and Miami) as well as the NY TV market (Syracuse). People forget that Syracuse was Swofford’s original target. VT wasn’t involved until they started whining to Virginia’s Governor…who then strong-armed UVa into vetoing any expansion that didn’t include Virginia Tech. So, ‘Cuse gets replaced by VT.

Was ND the sole reason for Swofford’s Big East Raid Part I? Nah. There was the Conference Championship revenues, a strengthened football presence, and some TV reasons for expanding… But it’s worth noting that all of this just so happened to occur right after we know that ND said "no thanks" to the ACC.

Say what you want about Swofford, but NONE of the ACC’s moves in the past ten years have been reactionary. The ACC has been first or second domino every time. Big East Raid Part I started the mind-numbing conference re-alignments. 23 schools changed conferences in the wake of the BE Raid 1 alone.

The Post 2005 era

So…now the ACC’s got a more marketable football conference with a Championship Game and a larger footprint for TV purposes…meanwhile ACC schools keep hiring ND people in key positions (which, again, may just be coincidence. I’m certainly not suggesting Swofford got a vote when Wake hired their President…although it wouldn’t surprise me if he was contacted when UNC was looking for an AD…)

Anyway, you can’t look at any of Swofford’s moves in a vacuum. Big East Raid Part I; Proactive TV re-negotiation; Big East Raid Part II; ACC/ND joint Orange Bowl negotiations -- all of these moves had critics (and why not…seriously, who wants BC or Pitt football? Why bother?). Call Swofford lucky, or call him good, but this is a fact: today’s announcement does not happen without those moves.

Last October -- in the middle of a run in which ND was playing 3-4 straight ACC schools -- I heard something interesting. I heard it from a friend who heard it from an Assistant AD at an ACC school. Rough quote: there’s a 50/50 chance ND joins a conference. And if they join a conference there’s a 95% chance it’s the ACC. At the time, I dismissed this. Everyone had a conference expansion theory. I just tossed this into the pile with all the others. In hindsight…it looks like it’s played out exactly how I heard it might.

According to this source, the ‘best case’ was broken down in two parts:

Step 1: the ACC gently coerces ND to join the ACC’s non-football leagues…of course, it can’t look like ND is ‘forced’ into anything. Everything must look like they’re keeping their "have cake, eat too" arrangement, but just switching conferences. To soften the blow for existing ACC schools (remember, there’s that "no partial member" rule) they each get to take turns facing ND on the gridiron. While it doesn’t seem like it, this is actually a HUGE concession on ND’s part – they’ve always wanted to own their scheduling. They never did this for the Big East

Step 2: when ND’s TV deal comes up in 2015 or whenever, there’s a couple years of strong working relationships and potentially maybe even stronger negotiating power than ND would have on its own. (confession – I am no expert on the intricacies of college football TV negotiations…this is just what I heard ). Furthermore, thanks to BE Raid Part I and BE Raid Part II the ACC can guarantee ND a "traditional" schedule, which has always been important to them. FSU/Miami/BC/Pitt/Cuse….add Navy, USC and random Big 10 school and that’s essentially ND’s 1988 schedule.

I’m not kidding…this is exactly how it was laid out for me last October. And I’m telling you…everything that’s happened in the past year makes more sense when you look back at it through the lens of the "steps" above. Big East raid Part II (Many people are saying this is the ONLY reason the ACC went and got Pitt. They are a traditional ND rival with a series spanning over 100 years and 65 games); the proactive TV renegotiations; the private summer meeting with ND’s Athletic Director at the home of Wake’s President…when they ostensibly just discussed the Orange Bowl. You still think they were just talking Orange Bowl? Really? And a month later out of the blue ND joins the ACC?

Am I giving Swofford too much credit? Maybe. He’s either a genius puppeteer that orchestrated dozens of moving parts to pull this off…or maybe he’s just the world’s luckiest human being, and a series of questionable moves ended up landing him the ultimate prize. I’m leaning towards the former. The fact that today’s announcement mirrored the "best case" that was laid out for me a year ago suggests that something other than luck was involved.

Of course. Step 2 hasn’t happened yet. There’s a chance ND leaves the ACC at the altar come TV time. In which case, they’re the geniuses, not Swofford.

In closing

A couple of points I feel like addressing before signing off. (modified to TN format)

A. As I write this all out, it occurs to me that this whole saga has an extremely important character lurking more or less in the background. While Swofford gets the attention/blame/credit/ whatever, let’s not forget Dr. Nathan Hatch, President of Lil’ Ole Wake Forest. Hatch is the only ACC guy in the story that has ties to Notre Dame’s non-athletic administration (the guys who make the ultimate decisions), he’s on the ACC expansion committee, he’s the guy who hosted ND’s AD a month before the ND announcement. It’s a little bit ironic. Wake Forest – the dorky Top 25 academic school that has 4,000 students and doesn’t really like football – ends up an instrumental cog in landing the longest-standing and largest prize in college football.

2. I feel I need to address the Swofford UNC bias accusations that seem to beat down heavily from the greater Tallahassee area. Look, I don’t pretend to know all of these conspiracy theories…maybe some of them have legs…but from what I understand Swofford has voted against UNC’s wishes for pretty much every expansion issue. I’m not positive on that, but that’s my understanding. I dislike Tarheels as much as anyone….and I love a UNC conspiracy theory as much as the next guy…but for someone in UNC’s back pocket Swofford sure seems to vote against Tarheel nation an awful lot.

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