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Notre Dame to join ACC as 15th member

There has been speculation about this for about 6 months to a year but it appears that everything is now finalized. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will join the ACC as the 15th member in every sport except for football, in which they will play 5 games a year against conference opponents. One has to believe that this is the first step in a process that will get Notre Dame to be completely in the ACC in football as well.

The official release from the report does not indicate whether the Fighting Irish will join in 2013 or 2014, but I am guessing that it will be as soon as possible. Pete Thamel reports that the earliest Notre Dame could leave the Big East without penalty would be 2015:

The timing of the departure is "very murky," a Notre Dame official said. The earliest Notre Dame could leave the Big East without penalty is 2015.

The other part of this release is that fact that the ACC agreed upon increasing the exit fee to three times its current amount and now rests at over $50 million. This almost guarantees the long term success of the ACC for the foreseeable future by hopefully locking up FSU, Clemson, Virginia Tech and anybody else that may have been looking to move out.

Click through for some more thoughts on this move.

Personally I love the Notre Dame to the ACC move. People will no doubt complain about how it should either be all or nothing with regards to their football program, but you have to figure that this is the first step in a movement to get their football team to be a full time member as well. Even if it isn't, the addition of all of their other sports programs makes the ACC extremely more valuable in the eyes of television networks.

Along with the new television deal and seat at the Orange Bowl table, adding Notre Dame and increasing the buyout to leave the conference John Swofford has been extremely progressive in making sure that the ACC will remain a serious player at the big boy table for years to come. While I am not the biggest fan of the commissioner I will certainly tip my hat to him for these moves.

The only thing left to speculate on right now is who the 16th member of the conference will be. I'm sure that the schools took Notre Dame immediately without thinking too much about leveling the conference out in terms of how divisions will play out in football, but with 15 members there needs to be a 16th and presumably final member to round out the numbers.

There has been speculation about Rutgers, UConn and South Florida, but one has to wonder how those schools fit into the current "academic-first" landscape of the ACC, which was enforced with the press release this morning as well.

"The ACC was founded on the cornerstones of balancing academics, athletics and integrity," said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford. "Our partnership with Notre Dame only strengthens this long-standing commitment. Notre Dame enhances the league's unique blend of public and private institutions that are international in scope. The collective alumni and fan bases cover the entire country with exceptionally strong roots up and down the Atlantic Coast. This is a terrific milestone in the evolution of the ACC and showcases tremendous solidarity and vision by our Council of Presidents."

"The ACC is composed of some of the most highly respected universities in the country, and we at Notre Dame look forward to joining them," said Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. "With a mix of institutions - many of which are also private, similar to Notre Dame in size, and committed to excellence in research and undergraduate education - the ACC is an exceptionally good fit for us academically, as well as athletically."

According to the most recent US News and World Report release on best colleges, UConn ranks 63rd, Rutgers ranks 68th, and South Florida ranks 170th. The low ranking of South Florida likely eliminates it, but the other two are not nearly as bad as I thought they would be. Another dark horse could be Central Florida, who is ranked 174th, but also ranked as a top 5 up-and-coming school in a recent article released by US News and World Report.

If I had to take a guess I would go with UConn because of the mix of success throughout their athletic history, as well as their above average academic reputation as well. While a lot of people may laugh at those two statements, they are backed up by the numbers and make the Huskies the most viable candidate because of their visibility nationally as well.

One of the biggest roadblocks to having UConn join the ACC is the opposition of Boston College. It is clear that the Eagles do not want them in the ACC and wish to remain unique as the only northeastern presence in the ACC. That is a hurdle that will have to be avoided if the Huskies are to join the ACC.

What I think will happen though, at least for the time being, is that the ACC stays with what they have now to keep the conference even at 14 for football purposes. If and when ND joins for football (when the NBC contract runs out in all likelihood), the ACC can then look at these other schools.

That will be figured out later, now we can all relish in the fact that the ACC may be on its way back to the top again and welcome the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and their fan base to the ACC!