The Real Independence Question

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?

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  • kyndfan

    You’d think the Sun Bowl would be trying to get a contract with ND. Purdon’t gone? Yes please. Need to keep MSU and scUM. Navy is the only service academy I care to keep on the schedule and I wouldn’t mind sacraficing ACC teams in lieu Big XII teams.

    What’s the best part about taking off all day for a 2 hour conference call? The time freed up to troll. Watch out internet!

    • NDtex

      Personally, I’m shocked more bowls don’t try to add in ND exceptions. Just take a look at the record crowds that ND helped draw in for the Sun Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl. With much being made of bowl attendance on the decline, I am floored ND’s bowl situation looks the way it does.

      • Bill Meehan

        It’s worth considering that whether or not the tickets for a bowl actually sell has no effect on a bowl’s ticket related-revenue. It does impact concessions sales, but schools are often on the hook for paying for tickets allotted to them regardless of whether they sell or not. In short: when the Fiesta bowl has 20k empty seats, that’s 20k tickets paid for by Uconn & OU for not drawing enough fans. The fact that there’s not actually people in those seats has a much lower effect on the bowls themselves. It hurts the schools & conferences, but not the bowls. TV revenue is most likely a different story.

        • qb

          did you consider the fact that without ticket sales there’s no corollary concession money. nonsense

        • max

          if that were true, some schools wouldnt/couldnt go bowling. schools do not buy tix upfront, they are allotted and what doesnt sell goes back to the venue

  • Bayou Irish

    I think if you left it to the bowls, they’d take ND all the time. I think there’s some backroom deal with the conferences that they won’t. I’m an eight minute drive from the Superdome and work about as long a walk from it. We host a small bowl there called the Sugar Bowl ever year and every year the gopher sees his shadow, we host the BCS National Championship, too. I was there when ND played LSU. The Quarter and the streets were packed with LSU AND ND fans. Other schools? Not so much. There are certain schools who travel so poorly that I refer to them as “change schools.” Meaning that if BYU-fan comes to the Sugar Bowl with fifty bucks in his pocket, he’s going home with change. The hotel people aren’t thrilled when LSU plays because LSU-fan either lives here, has a room-mate from college who days or just plans on sleeping in the gutter. ND’s economic and spiritual impact on a city is huge — don’t ignore the associated service projects and academic initiatives the University undertakes. So, it’s not about ND as a revenue source. Unless you convince me otherwise, the bowls are beholden to the conferences, who don’t want the competition.

  • Grantland-X

    Independence is priority #1 in my book, don’t ever want to lose that. And I don’t care how tough the schedule gets, that doesn’t sway me a bit. In fact, I’m one of the crazy fans that would make the schedule even harder than it is this year (hey, I can dream).

    I don’t really care what conference we join for the other sports if football stays independent, but if we were to leave the BE, ACC seems to me to be the best fit academically, and for basketball, lacrosse, soccer, even baseball as well.

    • Irish Tom

      Disagree. Independence has become an albatross and left us little to play for come October. Tired of everyone hating us because of our self-proclaimed “elite” status. Let’s get with the times and join a conference, preferably the Big Ten (after all, Indiana is not on the eastern seaboard). Independence has left us with a disjointed, irrelevant schedule. Let’s move on an move in somewhere!

  • Father Sorin

    Good God! How could you give credence to the Freemasons who place a price tag on our football program — and an artificially low one, at that? Fortunes rise and fall, but we ought never to compete with the Temple moneychangers in mind. Some principles are sacrosanct and therefore immutable. Independence from the modern hippodrome mobs that are the conferences is among those righteous principles.

  • undnut

    Pertaining to postseason tie-ins, if ND misses the playoff does it really matter what bowl they play in? I will watch and cheer any time the Irish are playing, but I’m not sure why the Outback is better than a Beefy O’Brady? (If, in fact, it’s not about payout as your post suggests.) Sure, the players get a week on a beach and bag full of electronics at certain bowls, but do they even deserve that at 8-4?

    • NDtex

      ND could finish 9-3 and still miss a BCS bowl. But even at 8-4 as well, why in the hell is ND’s reward an opponent that’s in the middle of the pack?

      That makes no sense.

      It isn’t about payout, it is about the quality of the games. The runner up in any other BCS conference gets to take a shot at a quality team in a more prestigious bowl.

      If you are honestly trying to tell me that you would rather watch ND take on the C-USA champion over a quality BCS team, I am not sure how else to explain this.

      Notre Dame is on the outside of anything that resembles decent bowl tie-ins and that’s just absurd.

      • Aeroscorp

        I dunno, given ND’s history with teams they’re “supposed” to beat; a C-USA team would probably give them a run for their money.

        • NDtex

          You missed the point completely.

      • undnut

        I just have a hard time getting worked up about how an 8-4 team (even 9-3) is rewarded. There’s nothing prestigious about that kind of year. Prestigious is the playoffs; either you make it or you don’t. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see them paired against a prolific program in their post-season exhibition, just means with a record like that you get what you get.

        Anyway, here’s to a long-lasting run of playoff appearances so we don’t have to worry about comparing the prestige of the Gator Bowl with that of the Compass Bowl.

        • NDtex

          Look don’t get me wrong, any season in which we aren’t in the BCS/playoff picture will drive me nuts. That’s the goal, period.

          However, bowl games shouldn’t be ignored, especially in the second-tier. The better the matchup, the better the time slot, and the better the national exposure.

          I know the exposure thing sounds beyond silly as a ND fan, but to the kids we are trying to recruit, it isn’t. ND needs to get on their radar, not playing in a bowl on a weekday in the middle of the afternoon. That’s the kind of exposure just about every other conference gets even at 8-4 and it works.

          From a fan perspective as well, I’d rather try to take out a good Big XII or SEC school in their backyard than some middle of the pack ACC team. It won’t erase the bad taste from just missing the BCS/playoffs, but I sure will feel a lot better about offseason momentum in that case otherwise.

  • Vairish84

    WHile I would like a better set of bowl options, I would not sacrifice independence for it. As long as you go to a bowl, you get the practices. Those matter. I truly don’t know how much, but they matter.

    I am not as optimistic as you are though that all the changes won’t force our hand on independence. Personally, since I live in the ACC footprint, I would prefer the ACC. I also think they have more schools like ND than any conference other than the Big East. My second choice would be Big XII, particularly if FSU and Clemson move.

    I am opposed to the Big 10, but probably not for the visceral reasons that many are. We already play 6 home games in the Big 10 footprint. Joining that conference would mean we would play 9 or even 10 in that region. We would become a regional team and destroy the ability of our fans all over the country to see their team. We can’t have that. Our independence forced us to be a national team. If we must sacrifice independence, we should not sacrifice our national status.

    • Irish Tom

      The ACC would leave us playing a number of totally uninteresting games. We need to accept that northwestern Indiana IS in the midwest, not the southeast. I do not consider UM and Ohio State regional teams. They have national reputations and recruiting footprints. Yes, I despise them, but those would be great conference rivalries. And with the ACC, aren’t the dullest games on the schedule when we play Pitt, Syracuse, Wake etc. If Fr. Sorin wanted us in the ACC he would have set camp in North Carolina, not South Bend!

      • Vairish84

        Those ND-Purdue games are real intense. I could hardly wait for ND-Indiana or ND-Iowa. Every conference would have its share of dull games. My point about regionality, and really any conference forces this in some respect, is that for those of us who can’t get to SB every weekend adding 4 more games a year that we can’t get to really sucks.

        Pitt has been a longstanding traditional rival game. A little boring recently, perhaps, but still usually a good game. Syracuse was a Big East game. Wake is an anomaly. We were originally to play them in a one off this year. They got a home and home thrown in because of the TCU scheduling issue.

        I realize where NW Indiana is. However, this is not about location. If it were, none of these realignments would be happening. It is simply about television tv dollars. Nothing else. Absolutely nothing else.

        I am trying to add another factor, the need to maintain our national schedule. The ACC would get us to Pitt, Boston, NY (the deal with Syracuse calls for a number of the games to be in the Meadowlands), DC, Atlanta, and Miami. If you consider Chicago a home game, the next three cities for ND alum are NY, Boston and DC. The Big 10 would get us to Columbus, State College, Madison and Lincoln. We have few, if any, alumni or fans in those locations that are not already making day trips to SB for a game.

  • Trey

    Other than the fact that Dan Beebee is a moron, I’d selfishly LOVE ND in the XII. I’d love to have a good rivalry with all my Tech/UT/Aggie friends and family and get the chance to go to 4-5 games a year down here. ACC does make the most sense, but yeah, ONLY if we have to.

    I really liked what DeLoss Dodds has been saying lately about wanting to keep the at-large process for selecting BCS teams.That sounds to me like he’s totally on board with independent ND football.

  • Matt

    Agree with Irish Tom – the ACC is a TERRIBLE idea. In some respects, it makes sense – more schools like ND (Duke, Wake), beyond our region (whole east coast). But man will it be BORING. Imagine years where FSU isn’t on the schedule…Clemson will be our most exciting game – woo hoo. And with the new Big 12/SEC bowl deal, the ACC may be on the outside looking in soon.
    Also, you have to think of other sports. Football is fine to travel- it’s a big time sport, they play on weekends. But what about our actual STUDENT-athletes? The kids that play field hockey, lacrosse, fencing. Is it fair to make them fly hundreds of miles for every Tuesday night away game?
    Thusly, we should join the Big 10. It will be unfortunate to become so regional, but we’ll keep USC and Navy, and have room for another out-of-conference, out-of-region game each year. We’ll be in an undoubtedly major conference that has good bowl tie ins. And our swimmers can take a bus to Evanston instead of having to fly to Winston-Salem.

    • Trey

      You sound like a conference official using the old “We cant make these poor kids travel during FINALS” argument. These are great kids, amazing students and even more so at ND. I have no doubt they would get their school work done.

      As for “boring” football…tell that to Boise, TCU, WVU who had “boring” in-conference games but made it into the BCS. I can put up with a few snoozers if that’s the reward.

  • Matt

    You sound like a guy who thinks the only sport played in South Bend is football. And yes, student athletes should not travel during finals, you are correct. Your second point is irrelevant – we can use any major conference to help us make it into the BCS. We might as well choose the one that gives us the most interesting games to watch.

    • NDtex

      I guess we should move to kick South Florida out of the Big East then.

  • Ok Irish

    Agree Big 10 makes nd more of a regional school in so much as independence has made nd a national school. Therefore the decision re which conference we should affiliate with ( not fully join) should in large part depend on which allows us to maintain the greatest scheduling independence. Examples: if acc requires only three acc games per year but he big 12 four that is a strong point for the acc. If they both require four but the big 12 adds fl st and Clemson and includes byu as an “affiliate”
    Then these games would get us to the southeast and rockies and this would be a slight advantage for the big 12 . Keys are 1)maintain independence 2) access to playoffs and 3) access to minor bowls in that order.

  • Irishforever

    go irish

  • Irishforever

    didn’t work there….
    ND TEX is right. We need to get very lucrative bowl options. That right there is a must to hold onto our independence. You have a conference for scheduling and bowls. We can schedule, But we need a good place to land in the off-season if not in the playoff. Some responded they don’t care where we go. Really? You would not rather be in the Orange or Fiesta Bowls as opposed to the Hawaii/Sun/Champs Sports Bowls? It is obvious we are not going to play for the title every year (as much as it kills me to say it) So securing our future includes first a way to get into the playoff and second great bowl options, these secure our independence. Hopefully Jack is working on this, but I do not hear reports of this. If not I don’t know why he made over a million dollars last year.

    Go Irish

    • Trey

      I think that was kind of the original point. There is a clear divide from the Orange/Sugar and to the Sun/Champs level. Clearly, you want in the BCS, but do you want Sun/Champs or Beef O’Brady/Armed Forces? That’s the question. We can get into the BCS on our own, but if we lose out at that level, we might be faced with few options.

  • DocPossum

    The best of the rest (bowls) in Florida and Texas for recruiting purposes are fine with me!

  • NDFAN8

    Win games and all else is moot.