UVa Coaches Applaud Addition of Notre Dame
Sept. 12, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the University of Virginia athletics department, the foremost authority on Notre Dame is probably baseball coach Brian O’Connor.
O’Connor was a Notre Dame assistant for nine seasons before coming to UVa in 2003. He and his wife, Cindy, were married in South Bend, Ind., and two of their three children were born there.
The announcement Wednesday that Notre Dame had accepted an invitation to join the ACC delighted many coaches at UVa, but none, perhaps, more than O’Connor.
“I think it’s very, very exciting,” O’Connor told reporters at Davenport Field. “I think the University of Notre Dame adds a lot to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Obviously [Notre Dame’s] academic reputation and what the university stands for is right along the same lines of what our conference stands for … I just think it’s a fantastic institution and an institution people want to be associated with.”
Notre Dame will be a full member of the ACC in every sport the conference sponsors except football. In that sport, the Fighting Irish will play five games each regular season against ACC teams.
One of the nation’s most prestigious academic schools, Notre Dame offers 22 varsity sports. Its football team, of course, attracts the most attention nationally, but Notre Dame’s athletic focus is not singular.
Since the all-sports Directors’ Cup competition was first held in 1993-94, Notre Dame has placed no lower than 31st. The Fighting Irish finished 17th in 2011-12.
“They’re fully committed to having success at Notre Dame in all their sports without compromising their principles from an academic standpoint,” O’Connor said.
“They fund their programs to the fullest, they’re very, very committed to winning, their facilities are outstanding, and they have a lot of pride in the athletic teams they put on the field.”
O’Connor’s boss at UVa, athletics director Craig Littlepage, was in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday evening when the ACC’s council of presidents met to discuss Notre Dame’s candidacy.
“I think everything had lined up pretty well last night, and it was late,” Littlepage said Wednesday afternoon. “There were just a few housekeeping matters to be attended to this morning, but as of early this morning it clearly seemed to be moving in a direction that they would be joining the ACC.”
Littlepage was representing the ACC’s athletics directors at the meeting, which UVa’s president, Teresa Sullivan, also attended. When he left Charlottesville on Tuesday, Littlepage said Wednesday, he knew there was mutual interest between the ACC and Notre Dame.
Even so, Littlepage said, “I didn’t anticipate that things would move quite as quickly. But that’s what it is. So we begin the process of getting comfortable with this configuration.”
Littlepage, like many others, sees Notre Dame as a natural fit in the ACC, “from the quality of their academics, the integrity of their program, the competitive success of their teams across the board in many of their sports. So I think it does line up extremely well.
“I know that when we look at schools that we would consider peer institutions, from every measurement, from every area, Notre Dame is one of those that I would put in that grouping of schools that does things the right way, has rigorous academic and athletic programs, has good people — the sorts of qualities that I think are very consistent with the schools that we have in the ACC.”
There were no major news leaks overnight, and when the story broke Wednesday morning, it surprised the national media, as well as coaches at ACC schools, including UVa.
Not until he walked off the practice field around 10:30 a.m. did football coach Mike London get word about the addition of Notre Dame.
Men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett was out of town recruiting Wednesday. Bennett knew the ACC was interested in Notre Dame, but he had no idea an announcement was imminent.
“I was shocked,” Bennett said.
When Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the league in July 2013, the ACC will grow from 12 to 14 members. Notre Dame is likely to become part of the ACC in 2014-15.
“With the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, I believe the ACC kind of set itself apart from the rest of the leagues in college basketball,” Bennett said. “And now you add Notre Dame, which is an excellent basketball program and a classy institution that obviously has everything the ACC is looking for academically.
“It makes it a very powerful and potent basketball conference, without a doubt. Coach Brey’s an excellent coach, and his teams have been very good. It’s another solid basketball school.”
Mike Brey’s assistants at Notre Dame include former UVa guard Anthony Solomon, who later coached at his alma mater. The Irish’s assistant coaches in baseball include Eddie Smith, who spent five seasons on O’Connor’s staff at Virginia.
There are other ties, of course, between the schools. Jim Daves, Virginia’s assistant athletics director for media relations, worked at Notre Dame from 1986 to 1992. The men’s lacrosse coach at Notre Dame, Kevin Corrigan, is a UVa alumnus. His father, Gene, was AD at Virginia and at Notre Dame and also is a former ACC commissioner.
UVa and Notre Dame have played only once in football. The Fighting Irish romped 37-13 at the Kickoff Classic in 1989. London is eager for the series to resume and for Notre Dame fans to visit Charlottesville and see the Grounds.
“It will be a great rivalry,” London said in a statement. “We might have to call it the Gene Corrigan Bowl.”
Kevin Corrigan, in a statement released by Notre Dame, discussed his family’s ties to the ACC.
“I had uncles that went to Maryland,” Kevin Corrigan said. “My father went to Duke, coached at Virginia, worked at Virginia and Notre Dame and ultimately at the ACC office. We are filthy in the ACC. It’s been part of my life growing up. Along with Notre Dame, I can’t think of a group of schools that I’d rather be associated with. It’s just a thrill for us.”
The younger Corrigan’s team eliminated UVa in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal in late May.
The addition of Notre Dame will give the ACC six of the top 10 programs in men’s lacrosse — maybe even, Virginia coach Dom Starsia suggested Wednesday, six of the top seven, along with Johns Hopkins.
“Notre Dame actually over the last 10 years is the one program that has actually gotten to the entrance of the door,” Starsia said. “I think this is the piece that probably pushes them through.
“This is dramatic news. A super conference in lacrosse just got better.It certainly doesn’t make my life any easier, but it’s an exciting development, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
That seemed to be the consensus among UVa coaches Wednesday.
“The ACC made a huge statement today in adding Notre Dame,” said Bryan Fetzer, Virginia’s director of track & field and cross country. “They’ve traditionally been one of the best teams in the Big East in track & field. It gives our conference another school that’s had proven success at the national level.”
In volleyball, the addition of Notre Dame will “make the conference better immediately,” said Dennis Hohenshelt, UVa’s first-year coach.
In women’s basketball, the Fighting Irish were NCAA champions in 2000-01. They were NCAA runners-up in each of the past two seasons.
In women’s soccer, Notre Dame has won two NCAA titles (1995 and 2010). The Irish were NCAA runners-up in 1994, 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2008.
“Obviously, they’re one of the best teams in the country. So to add them to women’s soccer, which is already top to bottom the strongest conference in the country, it just makes it even better,” Virginia coach Steve Swanson said.
The Irish haven’t won any NCAA titles in men’s soccer, but they have “an outstanding program,” UVa coach George Gelnovatch said, “and I think this year they’re a College Cup contender. Very well-coached, great program, great facility. This is a big-time program coming into the ACC.”
Notre Dame has grown accustomed to success in its Olympic sports. At the NCAA women’s swimming-and-diving championships last season, the Notre Dame women placed 22nd. At the NCAA men’s meet, the Irish finished 28th.
In 2002, with a coaching staff that included O’Connor, Notre Dame’s baseball team advanced to the College World Series.
The Irish have struggled on the diamond in recent years, O’Connor noted, but “there’s a lot of pride in that program and a lot of success at the major-league level … Certainly I have a tremendous amount of respect for their program on the field, and I think it can add a lot to the conference.”
In women’s lacrosse, the ACC will be adding a program that has top-10 potential, UVa coach Julie Myers said.
“They’re good,” Myers said. “The hardest part for Notre Dame is that they always have to get through Northwestern to advance in the NCAA tournament.”
With such perennial powers as North Carolina, Maryland, Duke and Virginia, the ACC women’s lacrosse tournament is already challenging. Once Syracuse and Notre Dame join the league, Myers noted, “We’ll be [effectively] playing an NCAA tournament in April, and then get to do it all over again in May.”