Report: Irish still exploring ACC change

(U-WIRE) SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Is Notre Dame still considering changing conferences – even if it means losing its football independence?

In its Thursday edition, USA Today cited two anonymous sources who said Notre Dame had approached ACC officials about becoming full members in the conference.

Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, through the University’s sports information department, issued a statement saying the Irish were “staying the course with the Big East” but that officials are “continuing to monitor the landscape” – essentially the same statement White issued when the Big East announced a five-team expansion Nov. 4.

Although Notre Dame spokesman John Heisler did not specifically address the USA Today report, he said the school is standing by its statement.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement his conference “has not initiated discussions with anyone regarding further expansion,” although he later added that the conference had “received some informal inquires concerning potential membership.”

The ACC did not specify if Notre Dame was one of the schools who had made any inquires.

The issue of Notre Dame leaving the Big East in favor of the ACC isn’t a new one. Almost two months ago, numerous reports said the conference – which recently added Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College – was talking with Notre Dame to gauge the school’s interest in joining the ACC. At the time, Heisler said he had “no idea” if the Irish had been negotiating with the ACC and called the stories pure speculation.

White has repeatedly declined to comment on the conference re-alignment and Notre Dame’s potential conference future.

But on the day the Big East announced it had added basketball powerhouses Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida, Heisler said Notre Dame fans shouldn’t assume Notre Dame would remain a football independent forever.

“At some juncture, it doesn’t make any sense to say [we’ll stay independent forever],” he said Nov. 4. “We don’t know where the world is going to go. We’re not going to sit here and guarantee that we’re not going to be an independent.”

Notre Dame is currently a member of the Big East in most sports, with the notable exception of football.

The ACC officials who spoke to USA Today said Notre Dame is considering sacrificing its football independence because of its uncertain future with the Bowl Championship Series. The Irish, who also have a lucrative television contract with NBC, have an agreement with the BCS conferences to be included in the season’s four major bowl games if they finish high enough. But both the television contract and the BCS contract expire in 2005.

Were Notre Dame to leave the Big East, as the USA Today report suggests, it would have to provide 27 months’ notice and pay $5 million. And Big East spokesman John Paquette said the 16 Big East teams agreed to an informal five-year commitment to the league when the conference announced a week and a half ago it had expanded.

“Let’s not bury our head in the sand here and make some judgment that we have no idea is going to work forever,” Heisler said when the Big East announced its expansion. “Is [football independence] important? Of course. Will that change? Nobody knows.”