Another year, another offseason, another period of realignment rumors, and once again questions as to how Notre Dame, and our football independence, fits into the picture. With the BCS heading towards a playoff in 2014, such questions have intensified, especially with conferences posturing to have their champions in the mix above everyone else.
However, the question shouldn’t be whether or not Irish football will be able to remain independent because that answer is a resounding “yes”. Despite our struggles on the field, the Big East standing on shaky ground, and certain parts of college football fandom proclaiming our “irrelevance”, Notre Dame can remain independent should they so choose. Even with the conferences currently trying to assert their dominance, Texas AD, DeLoss Dodds admitted he wanted the Irish as a part of the Big XII, but still retain their football independence. The Big East also stated they want to push for a playoff that includes an at-large bid, leading one to read between the lines as a play to keep Notre Dame’s other sports in their conference.
The real question at hand: How much is Notre Dame willing to pay for their football independence?
I’m not talking about money either. Notre Dame was the sixth most profitable athletic program amongst BCS schools last year on the back of a television deal that they were able to secure on their own.
No, the price to pay comes in the form of postseason tie-ins and scheduling.
While there has been zero talk of Notre Dame being completely shut out of the playoff picture in 2014, the issue will come with the lesser bowls. As the current bowl contracts expire, the Irish find themselves with few good bowls to land in if they miss the BCS this season. The Champs Sports Bowl (vs ACC #3) could only select ND once in the four year deal, meaning remaining options are the Belk Bowl (vs ACC #5), Pinstripe Bowl (Big XII #7), Compass Bowl (SEC #9), Liberty Bowl (vs C-USA Champ), and the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl (C-USA #5).
To put it bluntly, the non-BCS bowl options for ND suck. Only once in four years could ND land a decent non-BCS bowl game as the rest are against the lower half of all conferences or freakin’ Conference USA, a non-BCS conference.
Notre Dame will have to negotiate far better bowl tie-ins in the next round of contract negotiations. The BCS, playoffs, or whatever top-tier postseason game we get, is obviously the goal, but if the Irish fall just short, the reward should be far better than the mess listed above.
Of course, ND could align themselves with another conference, having a similar relationship as the current one with the Big East. As mentioned earlier, the Big XII kicked the tires for such a deal and the ACC has long been rumored as another ND possibility as well. The obvious concession that ND will have to make will be to schedule said conferences teams in their schedule much like they have done with the Big East.
However, if you take a look at the schedule, you will see only one Big East team for 2012, Pitt, who will be ACC bound in 2014. The 2013 schedule has only Pitt and Temple as Big East foes. 2014 again sees only two Big East opponents with Temple and UCONN. In 2015, Navy becomes a Big East school, but yet again the schedule hovers around the same number of Big East opponents.
Considering that there is no way ND would cancel the Southern Cal and Navy series, the problem then becomes which games to cannibalize in order to give their new-found conference buddies some games. The ACC would be the easiest to accommodate for most years, but a move to the Big XII would be highly disruptive as there is currently no more than a single Big XII team on future schedules.
Would the yearly Pac-12 west coast trip turn into an every other year affair with USC? Would we start having to sacrifice some B1G games, including the possibility of seeing series staples such as Purude, Michigan State, and Michigan disappear? And even if ND were to juggle around the schedule to adjust their needs, would it make one of the toughest schedules in the nation even tougher?
Jack Swarbrick has a very delicate dance to preform while the future of college football’s postseason and the seemingly annual conference realignment is discussed. Simply staying independent is easy, but positioning that independence to ensure Notre Dame doesn’t pay too high a cost isn’t.
Just how much would you sacrifice for football independence?