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Will Notre Dame Football Ever Need A Conference?


The latest on possible Big 12 expansion per’s Brett McMurphy pertains to the Holy Grail (no pun intended) of candidates, Notre Dame. Texas AD DeLoss Dodds spoke highly of what Notre Dame’s affiliation would mean to a conference. The Big East currently hosts the university’s other sports, a role the Big 12 might like to take on.

But if Dodds’ suggestion that “they could put some football here [by playing a few non-conference games against Big 12 opponents]” came to fruition, a Big 12 partnership with UND would be more meaningful to the league than what the Big East currently has. That’s because UND currently plays all of one of its 12 football games against current Big East members (Pitt) and the same number against future members (Navy). Coincidentally, the Irish play as many contests against the Big 12 this season, traveling to Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

The OU game is loaded with intrigue. Imagine it becoming an annual occurrence, along with the proposed Thanksgiving weekend series against Texas. Such match-ups are marquee. Through Dodd’s eluded to scenario, UND could pick up these lucrative (both monetarily and for hypothetical playoff clout) games, while maintaining their existing rivalries with USC, Michigan and Michigan State, Stanford and Navy.

Further, this would give other UND sports a stable home while allowing the football program to maintain the most valuable asset of its independence.

Anytime large scale conference movement has occurred, suitors have put on their finest duds and brought the most expensive bouquet to Notre Dame’s doorstep in hopes of taking the Irish to the dance. And every time, papa — NBC — slams the door in their faces.

The Big Ten has long seemed a natural fit due to geography, the program’s longstanding rivalries with Big Ten members and academics. However, because of Notre Dame’s exclusivity deal with the National Broadcasting Company, it has never had need for conference affiliation. One-hundred percent of monies generated through its television deal remain in house.

Further, Notre Dame put itself in prime position when the BCS was formed, leveraging its fan base and tradition into the same recognition as the Big Six conference members. UND’s BCS clout has even exceeded that of its Big Six counterparts at times; in each of its three BCS bowl seasons, the Irish have lost two games. Programs including Cal and Texas Tech have been bypassed in one-loss seasons. UND’s 2006 Fiesta Bowl invitation, for example, came over 10-1 Oregon.

A restructuring of the BCS vis a vis a playoff could impact no one program more than UND, however. The Irish have a good thing going with their present BCS agreement. With the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC flexing their muscles in the new postseason’s formation, UND’s place is currently in limbo.

Surely Jack Swarbrick is working tirelessly to negotiate Notre Dame’s place in the new playoff, but envision a scenario in which the Irish are frozen out. There are four playoff spots being brokered. Four conferences are leading the landscape shift. Someone has to be the odd man out, right?

Notre Dame’s other crucial piece for independence, its NBC contract, has its own question marks. The marriage has always been a mutually beneficially one, even during leaner years in the Irish’s win column. The value each has to the other is not in question, but NBC’s place in college football broadcasting is worth examining deeper.

ESPN/Disney is the primary player in college football, but even the mighty Mouse has finite resources. That’s an important facet fueling lamentations of the new ACC contract. Like CBS, which earlier this week I wrote could make a splash by expanding its partnership with the SEC to cable, NBC could supplement its burgeoning sports network with expanded football coverage. Tying the existing relationship with Notre Dame into such expansion would give this hypothetical greater impact.