Blue And Gold ... And Orange?

On the heels of Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford helping secure a new 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl that will run concurrently with the new, four-team playoff postseason format set to begin in the 2014-15 season, the search for attractive opponents for the 77-year-old contest is heating up.

Swofford told ESPN.com recently “Notre Dame likely could be involved in the mix,” and the Chicago Tribune confirmed as much Monday. The two sides, according to Fighting Irish senior associate athletics director John Heisler, have discussed Notre Dame being added to the pool of non-ACC Orange Bowl partners.

According to a report Sunday by TigerIllustrated.com, a site that covers Clemson athletics, a group of ACC presidents met with officials from Notre Dame on July 8 in North Carolina. What exactly was discussed beyond that, if anything, is unknown.

If Notre Dame were to give up its independent status in football and join a conference, the Big XII and ACC have long been considered the most enticing landing spots. The Big XII could also be a potential home for Fighting Irish Olympic sports in place of the teetering Big East if Notre Dame chose to remain independent. The ACC has reportedly taken a harder stance, making it clear the league would expect Notre Dame to be a full conference member.

At the very least, Notre Dame and athletics director Jack Swarbrick are taking a proactive approach in order to solidify more top-tier bowl options than the ones currently in place. Notre Dame is entering the third year of a four-year bowl arrangement set to expire in 2013. The 8-5 Irish were plucked by the Champs Sports Bowl last December and matched up with Florida State. Per the agreement, the bowl could only select ND once over that four-year span, which means the program moves into the 2012 season without another contractual postseason tie-in. A free-agent Notre Dame will, for the next two years, rely on other conferences not producing enough bowl-eligible teams, and select the best of the scraps.

Swarbrick has made it clear that this current cycle isn’t satisfactory, and he’s looking to develop a relationship with new bowls at every level of the postseason hierarchy to avoid a similar situation in 2014 and beyond.

The Orange Bowl, one of six rotating bowls to host semifinal playoff games, is expected to host the league’s champion most years and will be played on New Year’s Day. Swofford is looking to finalize a pool from which to choose annual opponents, and Notre Dame appears to be very interested.

ESPN, which agreed to a 15-year, $3.6 billion extension with the ACC for exclusive coverage rights, has first negotiating rights, according to Swofford, for the Orange Bowl as part of its current contract with the BCS.

Before the current cycle, Notre Dame took advantage of the Big East’s multiple bowl tie-ins, as well as its own affluence to travel to the Hawaii Bowl when other schools couldn’t afford the travel costs. However, Big East coaches griped that Notre Dame enjoyed the perks of conference affiliation without having to take the plunge, and basically had the Irish locked out of the league’s bowl connections.

For at least two more years, the Irish will remain without a direct path to the postseason other than BCS bowls. If Notre Dame and the ACC come to terms with an Orange Bowl arrangement, it would be a huge first step in ensuring Notre Dame will have access to intriguing bowl games in the future, no matter the number of victories (at or above the minimum of six), without having to join a conference.

Notre Dame's Orange Bowl History

Season Result
1972: No. 12 (UPI) Notre Dame lost to No. 9 Nebraska, 40-6
1974: No. 9 (AP) Notre Dame defeated No. 2 Alabama, 13-11
1989: No. 4 (AP) Notre Dame defeated No. 1 Colorado
1990: No. 5 (AP) Notre Dame lost to No. 1 Colorado, 10-9
1995: No. 6 (AP) Notre Dame lost to No. 8 Florida State, 31-26

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