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ACC plots out 2020 football plan with Notre Dame

Clemson and Notre Dame compete in the 2018 College Football Playoff. As part of a new deal struck for the 2020 football season in which the Atlantic Coast Conference will incorporate the independent Notre Dame, the teams will be in-conference rivals. (Photo by Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X162392 TK1 )

The Atlantic Coast Conference reworked its football schedule to have nearly all-conference play in 2020 and incorporate prominent independent Notre Dame in the sport for the first time.

Largely following the lead of fellow Power Five conferences the Big Ten and Pac-12, the ACC’s Board of Directors will retool its football schedule due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and have each team play an 11-game schedule that includes 10 conference games and a single non-conference contest.

The start of the season will also be delayed by a week to the weekend of September 12. Each school’s non-conference game must be played in their home state, filling out the ACC’s preferred “10+1” scheduling model.

Notre Dame, which competes in the ACC in all sports with the exception of football and hockey, will play in a football conference for the first time in the 133-year history of its football program, which has steadfastly operated as an independent and cultivated its football brand heavily around that independence. 

Like the rest of the ACC, Notre Dame will be eligible to compete for the ACC Championship, and should they win that they would be eligible for the conference’s slot in the Orange Bowl if they are not selected as a semifinalist for the College Football Playoff.

ACC football programs will compete in a single division for this year only, and the conference championship game will be held either December 12 or December 19 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring the two teams with the highest conference winning percentages.

The one-year deal also notably will see the ACC and Notre Dame agree to share all of their 2020 football television revenue, including Notre Dame’s separate rights agreement with NBC Sports, across the entire conference.

“They’re a great football program. A great institution that fits well with the ACC, but recognize they need to do what’s best for Notre Dame,” said Blake James, athletic director for ACC member the University of Miami. “This year what was best is for them to join the ACC and we’re glad to have them as part of the league.”

But the effort is still entirely dependent on whether there can be a college football season at all, something continuing to grow more unlikely every day. Covid-19 case rates continue to surge in many parts of the United States, including the Southeast region that comprises a key part of the ACC’s market territory, and colleges are not equipped to construct heavily quarantined environments in the way that many pro leagues have done to resume their competition. 

Because of that, several smaller conferences including the Ivy League, Patriot League, and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference have already moved to shut down all of their fall sports. 

“The Board’s decision presents a path, if public health guidance allows, to move forward with competition,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford, who is set to step down from the post at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. “Our institutions are committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate the return in a safe and responsible manner. We recognize that we may need to be nimble and make adjustments in the future. We will be as prepared as possible should that need arise.”

The ACC’s other fall team sports will begin September 10 with a conference schedule meeting National Collegiate Athletic Association minimum requirements for games: 10 for volleyball, and six for field hockey, and men’s and women’s soccer. Additional games against either conference or non-conference opponents can be scheduled at schools’ discretion, must meet ACC medical standards, and would not count in ACC standings.

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