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Forget Football: Notre Dame Strengthens the ACC’s Rep as a Basketball Conference (WOMEN’S Basketball, that is)

Skylar Diggins expresses her displeasure upon discovering that she will graduate before Notre Dame transitions to the ACC (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Skylar Diggins expresses her displeasure upon discovering that she will graduate before Notre Dame transitions to the ACC (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Some fans of ACC programs have been critical of the league's decision to accept Notre Dame into the fold because the 11-time consensus national champion Fighting Irish football program will remain independent, and of course ACC purists bemoan the geographical blurring of traditional conference lines since Indiana is not exactly lapped by the Atlantic. Increasing market share and national exposure through adding Notre Dame is likely a necessary evil in response to the similar moves made by other major conferences, and even if Notre Dame is not a full member of the ACC, its addition should cement the league's viability for the foreseeable future.

Another gripe shared by many ACC traditionalists is that the once men's basketball-dominant league has bowed to the football revenue stream as motivation for its expansion, but even with the additions of Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami over the years, the ACC has not evolved into a football league while its reputation in basketball has declined. The once-mighty Irish, a fringy top 25 program of late in both football and men's basketball, might change the league's geography, but they are not going to change the landscape in terms of the ACC's reputation in revenue sports. However, Notre Dame will have a major impact on non-revenue sports, adding talented teams to what are already arguably the ACC's two strongest sports: women's basketball and women's soccer.

Led by Skylar Diggins, the Fighting Irishwomen have played for the last two national championships in women's basketball. Muffet McGraw's squad has won at least 29 games in each of the least 3 seasons, including 35 last year. Notre Dame will join an already stacked ACC that saw Duke, Maryland, and Miami all finish in the top 10 last season. McGraw's career has been one of legend: she has made the tournament in every season as head coach, won at least 20 games in 16 of 17 years at the helm, and brought home a national championship in 2001. Kellie Harper's job just got a little tougher, IF the hot-seated Wolfpack women's hoops coach is still on the sidelines when the Fighting Irish join the league.

Notre Dame's most recent team national championship in an ACC sport* came in 2010 when the women's soccer team captured its third title by knocking off previously unbeaten Stanford 1-0. Entering this season, head coach Randy Waldrum has compiled an .841 winning percentage over 13 years with the Irish and also won the national championship in 2004. Welcome to the ACC, Randy, where Florida State (1st), Duke (2nd), Boston College (5th), Virginia (8th), Virginia Tech (9th), North Carolina (12th), and Wake Forest (14th) are all ranked in the top 15 in the latest coaches' poll.

Notre Dame, along with the other Big East carpetbaggers, will have a huge impact on men's lacrosse. Maryland, Duke, and UVA already have top 25 programs in the sport and regularly make the NCAA tournament field, but the ACC currently does not have enough member institutions competing in lacrosse to garner an automatic berth. Notre Dame, ranked 2nd nationally in the most recent lacrosse poll, will help change that.

The Fighting Irish will fit right in with the ACC's challenging men's soccer division as well. The 8th-ranked club will join previously #1 North Carolina, which just lost to James Madison, Maryland (3rd), Wake Forest (15th), and unbeaten North Carolina State (18th). Like the Wolfpack, Notre Dame has a strong tradition in cross country and should add top-25 programs in both women's and men's cross country when they officially transition to the ACC. The Irishwomen are 21st and the men are 25th in the most recent cross country rankings. Notre Dame finished last season 8th in women's lacrosse, 19th in women's tennis, and with an RPI of 29 in softball, so the school's inclusion in the ACC should boost the conference as a whole in those sports as well.

ACC fans are rightfully disappointed that the Fighting Irish football program will remain independent, but hopefully the partial membership is a step in the direction to a full partnership. Regardless, fans of entire athletic programs-not just football and men's hoops-should be thrilled at the prospect of strengthening the depth, quality, and notoriety of the league across the board.

*Notre Dame also won the men's and women's fencing national championship in 2011.