Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the program's partnership with the ACC for the 2020 football season was the result of "unusual circumstances unrelated to Notre Dame's long-term assessment of independence."
The ACC board of directors on Wednesday approved a plan in which all conference schools and Notre Dame will play 10 league games plus one nonconference game of their choosing -- only if public health guidance allows -- and the Fighting Irish will be eligible for the ACC championship game. There won't be any divisions in the ACC for this season only.
Although the Irish have clung famously to their independence, Swarbrick said this decision wasn't difficult because it made the most sense. As part of its contractual agreement with the ACC, Notre Dame had already had six games scheduled with the conference, including Clemson. The Irish added Florida State, Boston College, Pittsburgh and North Carolina.
"This is just an unprecedented and extraordinary year, and you recognize that going in," Swarbrick told ESPN on Thursday morning. "Could we have constructed a schedule without this? Yes, but given the uncertainties that everybody faces, you couldn't exactly be sure what you have. There was a greater level of control and certainty if we could do this with the ACC than if we had just constructed the schedule ourselves."
Currently, Notre Dame has nonconference games schedule against Arkansas, Navy and Western Michigan. Only the Navy game is on the road, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 5 after having been moved from Ireland.
Notre Dame is still evaluating its non-ACC opponents and is expected to announce a complete schedule in the near future. As conferences across the country have continually tried to figure out their next move amid the coronavirus pandemic, Swarbrick said he and ACC commissioner John Swofford had been discussing possible scenarios "over a series of weeks" and described it as "an evolving conversation."
"In the historical context, it is a big deal," he said. "It also reflects the great opportunity that our working relationship with the ACC presented under these circumstances. Very appreciative of commissioner Swofford and my colleagues for giving us this opportunity in the historical context it is. It is very significant."
Swarbrick said he still recognizes that the fate of the season depends on the pandemic and how it's impacted by the addition of the general student body to campus.
"I faithfully look at the national data every morning, and while there remain very significant hot spots, the trend lines have definitely improved," he said. "The problem is that we are attempting to navigate something no other sports teams are, and that's the return to campus and campus life. That's fundamentally different. We're going to be joined next week by 10,000 other students. Conscientious students are going to do everything they can to keep the university safe and themselves safe, but it's a different dynamic when you're in a residential environment like that."