CHARLOTTE, N.C. – News surrounding the ACC Network deal with ESPN was dominated quite naturally by its financial impact through football and basketball. They are the revenue sports of college athletics, after all.
A cast of ACC officials and ESPN executives with beaming faces sat on a stage at a Westin Charlotte ballroom last week at the ACC Kickoff football media days for the announcement. The deal may increase revenue for the conference by $100 million.
Among those happy faces on stage was Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw. She wasn’t as out of place as it sounds.
McGraw and the ACC women’s basketball coaches are as excited about the 20-year deal as the football and men’s basketball coaches. Maybe more so in some respects.
“For us it is really about recruiting,” McGraw told Today’s U after the press conference. “That wasn’t mentioned as much. We want our parents to be able to see us play nationally. When you play a lot of games, parents can’t always go to all the games.”
Notre Dame’s football games, of course, are all on TV and many men’s basketball contests make ESPN’s schedule. But McGraw views the increased number of women’s basketball available on the ACC Network as a gold mine.
“It’s so exciting for women’s basketball,” she said. “Not just for our fans but also for our alumni and for our recruits. Now we’ve got a national network. For our fans in South Bend and everywhere in the country that we draw from, it’s a great day. I think this is a monumental, historic day.”
Notre Dame is a private Midwestern school in in South Bend, Ind., that relies on national recruits more than other ACC schools that have a built in fan base in their home state.
On Notre Dame’s 11-player roster for 2016-17, only two are from Indiana and three more from neighboring states, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. The others are too far for overnight drives.
With the ACC Network, when McGraw sits in a Texas, California or New Jersey family living room, she can tell parents they can watch games on the ACC Network when they bring up the distance from home.
“Now that we’re partners with ESPN, we’re in so many households across the country,” McGraw said. “They are the leader in sports and to be partners with them is right where we need to be.”
Notre Dame’s three leading returning scorers are from Texas, Brianna Turner; Wisconsin, Arike Ogunbowale; and New Jersey, Marina Mabry.
The ACC Network starts this school year before it is fully launched in 2019. It will debut this school year as the ACC Network Extra that is available to those with ESPN3 and the ESPN app. In 2019, it will be available on an ESPN cable channel similar to the SEC Network.
The ACC Network plans to show over 600 live events its first year and increase to more than a 1,000 by the 2019 launch.
Notre Dame, with five straight Final Fours until falling short in 2016, has been one of the few challengers to Connecticut’s dominance of women’s basketball this century. The Huskies have won the last four national titles, six of the last eight and nine of 15 since Notre Dame won its only national crown in 2001.
Another potential benefit of increased TV exposure is to develop parity in the women’s game.
“We hope more parity is coming this year,” McGraw said. “I think there are a lot of really good teams this year. It is fun watching the men’s No. 1 team change week to week. I think the women’s game will be more fun to watch if we can get there (frequent No. 1 ranking changes). But I think what Connecticut has done is amazing. They’ve earned it and made it happen. Geno (Auriemma, the Huskies’ head coach) is a tremendous coach and everything they’ve done has been great.”
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