The ACC is basically saved and we can mostly thank ESPN. The network didn't break the bank on the Big XII TV deal nor pay a premium for a Big XII Championship game, making Clemson and FSU less desirable. ESPN also signaled to the ACC that adding Notre Dame would generate additional TV money (bringing us closer to revenue parity with the other major conferences). Now we have football stability, added prestige and a significant exit fee preventing future defections. Everything seems great. But there is still a looming crisis with Notre Dame at the center.
NBC and Notre Dame
As part of the ACC deal, Notre Dame gets to keep its football revenue. The Irish home games are currently broadcast on NBC and the average fan assumes that relationship will carry on in perpetuity. That's not the case. NBC is not happy with Notre Dame right now. NBC/Comcast planned on bidding for the Big East TV deal for its NBC Sports Network. Notre Dame's move just devalued and destabilized that potential property. The deal also strengthened NBC Sports' biggest rival in ESPN. While Notre Dame is still an important draw for NBC, will they pay a premium for the TV rights when their current deal expires? I don't think that is a given anymore. CBS, Fox and ESPN will also be eager to cut a deal with Notre Dame. If it becomes a bidding war, I don't know if NBC will still want to partner with Notre Dame. And if they do, will they still allow Notre Dame to dictate so many terms. NBC wants to build its cable network. The Irish so far are hesitant to play their games there. Also, Notre Dame wants the majority of their home days during the day. NBC would rather have them at night.
ESPN and the ACC
Although ESPN is the ACC's exclusive partner, they are not precluded from bidding on Notre Dame's football rights. Think about that conflict for a second. When the NBC deal comes up, ESPN could conceivably give Notre Dame $50 million a year. They could enrich one member of the conference far above all the others. They could give one member of the conference all their preferred time slots and create special programming. While the Irish are independent, they will be playing five ACC teams a year and taking a portion of our non-football money. How fair will this partnership feel if this situation plays out? Notre Dame would be dumb not to take the money and favoritism. It has always worked towards their advantage.
My advice to ESPN
Playing favorites with Texas nearly unraveled all of college football. No matter how enticing it might be to finally bring Notre Dame into the fold, do not do it at the expense of the ACC. Any ND football deal should have the same payout the Irish would get as if they were a member of the ACC. Who knows, that is more than NBC is paying now and may be enough to close the deal. Branding is important to Notre Dame and so is association. They might prefer to be with ESPN at the expense of more money from NBC/Comcast.
The ACC teams are currently powerless, so if ESPN gave Notre Dame a huge TV deal, there isn't much we could do initially. But the bad blood would undermine the league, ESPN's relationship with the ACC, and conference stability for years to come. These sorts of dominoes combined with the new playoff and NCAA frustration could lead to a football mega-conference split. If ESPN does value college sports and values its ACC deal, hopefully it will think big picture when it comes to dealing with Notre Dame.