As reported by ESPN, Notre Dame is indeed changing conferences.
However, it's not the conference that people expected, and it's not for full membership, which is what was driving most of the talk. They are still going to be an independent....well sort of.
Quotes from Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame's Vice President and Director of Athletics:
"We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us."
"We are able to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC's non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports."
They don't have a date set for the move, but the Big East's standard agreement requires a notice of 27 months to be given in lieu of a buyout. I would be surprised if the ACC agreed to cover a buyout with them already having 14 teams in their league, but they may be willing to soften that blow for the Irish to get them in sooner than later.
The membership will be for full membership in all sports except football and a unique arrangement for football. The Irish will play 5 games against ACC teams a year, at minimum, and will be included in the ACC non-BCS bowl package.
This gives the ACC gets a few things out of this deal. First, they get one more quality team, which will help with the standing of their teams relative to other power conferences. Second, Notre Dame brings with it a considerable nation-wide fan base. This will not only help the ratings of the and visibility of the conference, but I expect that it will help the conference when they look to negotiate a deal. After all, if Notre Dame can get their own deal, how big is the deal going to be when you throw in the Florida State and Miami fan bases. Third, the conference is taking the stance of a continuously growing conference, which is huge with the uncertainty of today's college sports environment. Finally, outside of football, Notre Dame basketball is a very solid program that regularly resides in the top 20, which will make the ACC likely the top basketball conference in the country.
It allows Notre Dame 3 things. First, they can preserve their contract with NBC, which is a huge financial boon for the University. Second, having a non-BCS bowl affiliation gives covers them when they are not quite good enough to make the BCS. This additionally will likely help the ACC in their negotiations with bowls, which will make the secondary bowls available potentially better. Third, this helps the other sports (other than football) as the Big East is seen, nationally, as a dying conference. This was going to hurt these teams in recruitment considerably. Moving over the ACC, which is tremendously strong, historically, in Basketball and Baseball, will allow Notre Dame to drive those programs to a strong point.
On the flip side is the Big East. They have made moves to shore up their football league by bringing 5 teams (Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Central Florida, Houston, and Navy) to play at least football. As you can see, none of those teams are of the caliber of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, or Notre Dame in basketball. The Big East is quickly becoming a secondary league in basketball. Where once it's weaker members were strengthened by their ability to sell the opportunity to "play the best" in the big east, that effect will now be felt by the ACC. Of course, the ACC already had some premier clubs with UNC and Duke leading the charge, and secondary schools like FSU, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Maryland making noise regularly. Adding Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse just puts them over the top from a basketball POV.
The questions in my mind.
1. What happens when Notre Dame's NBC contract is up. They have not been the premier squad that NBC envisioned. Will they be able, or allowed by the conference, to sign another independent contract or will the join the ACC to sign what would undoubtedly be a huge TV deal?
2. With Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech leading the charge while schools like Miami, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse try to regain their former glories, will the ACC be able to improve from the 4th best football conference?
3. Is this going to give ACC basketball a dynasty-like effect analogous to SEC football? After these moves, ACC members schools will have won 10 of 32 the championships since 1980. I know that's not like 6 in a row, there are over twice as many schools playing basketball than there are in football, and they are actually earning it on the court in a winner-take-all tournament.
4. Who will be the 16th team? There is no way that the ACC leaves the divisions unbalanced. They have been reported to want UCONN, who reciprocates that desire. If that's the case, then it make 13 of 32 since 1980 and 9 of 13 since 1999.
Oh, and the Big Ten has to be pissed. Notre Dame was a perfect fit, and they didn't get it done. One of these days, they are going to realize that they don't carry as much weight, nationally, as they think they do.