Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame drives to the basket on Tiffany Hayes of Connecticut during the 2012 Women's Final Four in Denver. (Photo by Kelly Kline)
Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame drives to the basket on Tiffany Hayes of Connecticut during the 2012 Women's Final Four in Denver. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Two questions about Notre Dame's departure to the ACC

September 13, 2012 - 1:32pm

There are two questions remaining, one simple and one very complex.

First, when will Notre Dame officially become a women's basketball member of the ACC? It could be the 2015-16 season, if the administration wants to avoid spending any money. Or, if the Notre Dame folks feel it's worth a few million, the Irish could be gone from the Big East standings next year.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which already bolted from the Big East to the ACC, chose to pay the fines, but then again, those two schools will play football in the ACC, and thus tap into that revenue stream. Basketball, men's and women's, is far from as profitable, so there's really no financial reason to make the move in a hurry.

Then again, the Big East exodus is in full flood, so Notre Dame may not want to cling to the sinking ship. West Virginia, like Syracuse and Pittsburgh, already exited the Big East and is in its first season of play in the Big 12. The Mountaineers seized an opening in the conference after Texas A&M and Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference.

Confused yet?  Well, Houston, Memphis, Temple, Southern Methodist University and the University of Central Florida will be joining the Big East in all sports … while Navy, San Diego State and Boise State will only play football in the Big East. These moves have caused another wave of mid-major conference jumping in the Mountain West, Conference USA, Western Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt.

This massive shift is due mostly to football and the lucrative television contracts it generates, with all other sports having little or no say in the process -- which leads to the second, more perplexing, question: What will the impact be on women’s basketball? 

First of all, the rivalry between Connecticut and Notre Dame will become much less compelling because a conference title is no longer on the line.  The Irish are the one team in recent years that has consistently challenged the Huskies and since the demise of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry, this is the game that fans have circled on their calendars as must-see TV. This matchup also has the possibility of happening three times prior to March Madness, which heightened the rivalry.

You can rest assured that the two will continue to schedule each other for out-of-conference games, especially since this matchup has become one of the best in TV ratings for women’s basketball -- but it won’t be the same.

Yes, there are other competitive teams in the Big East that will try to keep it interesting -- Louisville, Georgetown, Rutgers, and DePaul -- but no one that will be able to give UConn a taste of its own dominant medicine like Muffett McGraw and company has done recently. 

Of the newbies coming to the Big East conference (Houston, Memphis, Temple, SMU, UCF), Temple seems to have the best chance at making an impact, although filling the shoes of Notre Dame is unlikely. The Owls have made it to the postseason 10 times, including a stretch of eight consecutive trips, from 2004 to 2011 but the rest of the bunch, well, they are rather pitiful, as combined they have three NCAA appearances in the last decade.

On the flip side, the acquisition of Notre Dame is great news for the ACC. The conference, from top to bottom, will arguably become the most competitive, but it hasn’t had a national champion since Maryland in 2006, and the only other title came in 1994 thanks to a buzzerbeating three-pointer by North Carolina's Charlotte Smith. (The ACC, though, has announced plans to expand its conference basketball tournament to 14 teams, which will soon be a problem with Notre Dame now the 15th team.)

Still the idea of seeing Notre Dame face Maryland, Duke and North Carolina multiple times year is going to make a lot of people tune in … especially recruits.

On a national scale, however, conferences beat their chests and attract recruits by bragging about the number of national championships they’ve won. Currently the SEC and Big East are tied for the lead with eight national championships, thanks mostly to the dominance of Tennessee and UConn. The Pac-12 is next on the list with four national championships, but haven’t seen one since Stanford rolled in 1992.

Recently the Big 12 has moved up the charts with a tally of three national championships, thanks to Texas A&M and Baylor winning back-to-back titles. With Brittney Griner, the Bears are the odds-on favorite to do it again this year, but in theory, it will be an easier road since they won’t have to face Texas A&M in conference, as the Aggies are now in the SEC.

Meanwhile, just when people were thinking the SEC was falling off of the national scene because the Pat Summitt era came to an end, here comes Texas A&M to liven things up.

So where does that leave us? In the Big Six conferences, the most competitive women’s basketball will be played in the ACC (when Notre Dame arrives, which has still not been determined), followed by the SEC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and Big Ten.  But as far as the arms race for national championships is concerned, the SEC and Big East will still rule the roost.

Another prediction for ya: The Big East will pass the SEC for the most national championships in 2014 during the sophomore year of incoming Huskies Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.