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October 17, 2012

Notre Dame to bring more prestige and competition for Tech and the rest of the ACC in Olympic sports

By: Jimmy Robertson

On Sept. 13, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University of Notre Dame sent tremors throughout the college athletics landscape by announcing that Notre Dame was moving to the ACC for all sports except for football.

In a much-publicized move, the Fighting Irish retained their football independence, and they get access to the ACC’s non-BCS bowls, but they must play five football games annually against ACC schools. In return, the ACC figures to get a significant boost in television revenue from its deal with ESPN, while having its football champion retain its BCS spot.

Everyone knows how this move affects the Virginia Tech football program, but what about the Hokies’ Olympic sports? Tech and Notre Dame share a lot of the same Olympic sports, though there are differences. Tech offers wrestling, which Notre Dame doesn’t, while the Fighting Irish offer fencing, hockey, rowing and men’s lacrosse.

For a closer look, some of Tech’s Olympic sport head coaches gave their insight on the impact of the Fighting Irish’s move to the ACC for their respective sports:


Q: How does Notre Dame joining the ACC affect things from a track and field and cross country perspective?

DC: “I think it’s great for the league, just for the name recognition of Notre Dame nationally – and not just in football, but also in Olympic sports. They’ve traditionally been a strong track and field and cross country program in the Big East. So I expect they’re going to add a lot to the league. It’s going to make things tougher competitively, but I think that’s good. I think it’s good to have top quality teams coming in, and they’re certainly one of those. Pittsburgh and Syracuse, too. The league was already good, and it’s only getting better. I’m looking forward to it.”

Q: You mentioned things getting tougher. Doesn’t this move make things tougher for you guys as coaches, just having to deal with more tough teams?

DC: “Yes, but I still like it. I like being able to recruit to a great conference. I think it helps in terms of motivating our kids to want to reach a high level because they realize how difficult it is to compete for and win a conference championship. It’s really tough, and it means a lot when you win it. We’ve been fortunate enough to win a couple [of team championships], and it means that much more because you realize it takes more than just showing up. You’re not going to win because you have the talent. You have to be prepared to come out on top. So I like the move. I think it’s a good thing – and down the road, I’m hoping that football decides to join, too.”


Q: How does Notre Dame joining the ACC affect things from a golf perspective?

JH: “I’m excited about it. I’ve been hoping we’d have more teams for golf [Pittsburgh and Syracuse do not have men’s golf programs], and Notre Dame is certainly a quality program. They fit in academically with all the schools in the ACC. Now they give us 12 teams for men’s golf. Everything makes sense about the move from our standpoint.”

Q: You and your program have fond memories of Notre Dame from the Big East days, don’t you?

JH: “Yes, we do. One of our biggest wins was when we won the Big East at their course [Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Ind.], and trailed by nine shots with three holes to play. We came back and won, and Brendon [de Jonge] won the individual title. That was our third straight Big East title. We had won at their course the previous year, and Johnson Wagner won the individual title then.

“So we’ve got good memories of going to Notre Dame, and we’ve got a lot of respect for their program. They’ve got an excellent facility for golf, and they’ve hosted regionals and conference championships. We’ve got a lot in common with them. I think they’re going to be a great addition for our conference.”


Q: What are your thoughts on Notre Dame joining the ACC?

NS: “I think it’s outstanding. In the ACC, Maryland recently dropped all swimming and diving and Clemson threw out men’s and women’s swimming and men’s diving, so all that remained was women’s diving. So selfishly, I thought about Notre Dame having strong swimming and diving on both the men’s and women’s side, and it will help bolster our conference, as does the addition of Pittsburgh, which has strong swimming and diving as well [Syracuse does not have swimming and diving].

“Frankly, I was disappointed that Notre Dame wasn’t a full conference member for football. But I listened to what [ACC Commissioner] John Swofford said and understand how it’s still an incredible move for the ACC and for Notre Dame. So all in all, I think it’s a great addition.”

Q: But doesn’t this move make the ACC just that much stronger in your sport?

NS: “I want it. I think Virginia Tech swimming and diving is thrilled to be in the ACC. It’s the perfect conference for us, and we’re in the upper tier as a program. Notre Dame adds strength to our conference, as does Pittsburgh. I was very disappointed for our sport to lose those two schools in Maryland and Clemson. So I feel like this gets us back to whole. I wish Maryland and Clemson would reinstate the programs, but at this point, I think we still will be hosting a very substantial conference championship, and to me, that’s what it’s all about – the longevity of our sport in the ACC and to send people on to the NCAA Championships.”


Q: What are your thoughts on Notre Dame joining the ACC?

PH: Any time our football program is strengthened, it helps us, especially at the Olympic sports level. Any time you can add a university with a high academic profile, I think that helps our conference and our university. I think it’s a great partnership for both the ACC and for Notre Dame. I think that Notre Dame gets a lot out of this thing, too, and I think it will be exciting. Again, like I said, any time the profile of our football and basketball programs improves, it helps all of us, and I think that's what Notre Dame's membership does.”

Q: How much do you know about the baseball program at Notre Dame?

PH:I'm familiar with Notre Dame through my Big East days at Boston College. It's always enjoyable to compete against Notre Dame, and even more so now with one of my best friends in the profession – he was a former assistant of mine at Boston College and now the head coach at Notre Dame in Mik Aoki. So that will be fun to get back on the playing field and competing against Mik and going back to South Bend.”


Q: Your thoughts on Notre Dame joining the ACC?

MB: “Love it. From the Olympic sport perspective, you can’t beat it. You’re adding a school with the same academic goals as all our ACC institutions, and they’re competitive in both men’s and women’s soccer. I can’t imagine they’re not competitive in everything. They’re just another piece of the puzzle that solidifies that the ACC, when it comes to men’s soccer, is one of the best conferences in the country. You’re bringing in a top-20 program into our league and that only helps us.”

Q: Doesn’t adding a tough team like the Fighting Irish make it more difficult to make the NCAA’s in men’s soccer?

MB: “From an RPI perspective, it’s great for you. You want to play those teams. If you get a win, it helps you tremendously. If you lose, it doesn’t hurt. We lost at North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, and our RPI went up 20 spots. So when you add that kind of team, it can only help you. Plus, we want to test our guys. That’s another game I don’t have to schedule to get another good team.

“But as far as the NCAA’s, the reality is we’re getting closer to the day when we can get seven or eight teams in from our conference. The top eight teams go to the ACC tournament, and I think that puts you in a good spot to make the NCAA’s.”


Q: What sort of impact will the Fighting Irish have in the ACC in volleyball?

CR: “They’re good. They’ll come in and be competitive with everybody. They’re not as good as Florida State, but they’ll have their opportunities to win. They are in the top four in the Big East. They’ll be good. They should be able to get in on just about every kid recruiting wise.”

Q: “How much will adding Notre Dame help the ACC secure more NCAA bids?

CR: “Notre Dame will help. We’ve been a four-bid league consistently over the last four years, so I think we could go to five. I don’t know if we could get to six, but we’ve been at five before. Notre Dame being in will help with RPI, but they also make it more competitive for those top five spots.”


Q: Your thoughts on Notre Dame joining the ACC?

ST: “I like the move. I guess I’m like most fans in that I’d like to see them, as an institution, completely buy in to the ACC. I’m not crazy about the partial football piece, but if long term, we’re able to draw them in as a full member, then I like that. As far as the Olympic sports go, they’re solid in a lot of sports, and softball is one of them. Any time you can bring in something of quality to our Olympic sports, that’s a positive, no matter how you get it. Certainly, the Notre Dame name is not a bad thing to be associated with. It’s just like being associated with the ACC name, and we’re certainly proud of that.”

Q: How much do you know about the softball program at Notre Dame?

ST: “They’ve got a solid program. They add to the league. They’re a perennial top-25 program. They’re similar to us in a lot of ways. They’ve made a higher commitment to softball than when we were in the Big East with them. They’ve got a new facility. They’ve tried to step up their game. Deanna Gumpf [Notre Dame head coach] is an interesting piece of the equation because her dad is Larry Mays, and he’s like the Boo Williams of softball [Williams is a well known AAU basketball coach in the Tidewater area]. She’s from Southern California, and she’ll be able draw kids because it’s Notre Dame. A lot of the top kids are from California.”


Q: What sort of impact will Notre Dame have in men’s tennis?

JT: “They’ve historically been a top-20 program. They’re always up there in the national rankings, and they usually make the NCAA Championships. We used to play them in Blacksburg every other year, and we had that rivalry with them in the Big East, so we know them pretty well.”

Q: Doesn’t this move make the ACC just that much tougher in your sport, though?

JT: “If you look at who we play, we’re not exactly trying to pad our won-loss record. Our philosophy is to play the best teams we can play. Sure, Notre Dame is another tough opponent and another obstacle in our way of winning an ACC championship. But I think their coming into the league is going to help our recruiting and everything else. We want to play the best. That’s how you get better. I think it’s a win-win for us.”