We know, we know. You’re sick and tired of hearing about conference realignment. You’ve heard all the scenarios, heard all the pros and cons of why these teams belong in this conference instead of those, heard every argument there is for a playoff system… We have too. Conference affiliation is one thing but independence is another. Yes, we’re talking about Notre Dame. The formidable Irish are at the center of a lively and hearty debate of “what-if’s” in the guessing game of realignment in college football. If the FBS had a Venn Diagram, Notre Dame would be the “overlapper.” Some say Notre Dame will be forced to join a conference if “this and that happen in a playoff scenario,” or if “this team and that team jump ship to another conference.” Nothing but a guessing game from writers, bloggers, athletic directors and everyone else. Is Southbend safe and truly autonomous as they have been for an infinite number of years? Can a team that claims the likes of Knute Rocke, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Joe Montana, the list goes on and on…. and a hefty contract with NBC which has existed for more than 20 years, be forced to change its status from “single” to “married?”
Let’s get down to it. For openers, we know these things about Notre Dame. 1.). Any conference in the country would take the Irish in a heartbeat. 2.) Notre Dame boasts a fanbase that is unparalleled in college football. 3.) Last time we were in South Bend, which was 1995, we enjoyed Lone Star beer compliments of the house at Senior Bar before the Longhorns lost to Notre Dame 55-27. The position of Notre Dame in the grand scheme of things in the realignment debate proves to be very important. How important? Skull & Bones important. While we could easily provide sheer speculation on the forward paradigm of the Fightin’ Irish, we decided it was time to get the skinny from folks close to the action. Horn Sports’ dapper green Staff Writer, Tuxedo Yoda, asked Mike Coffey from NDNation.com a handful of questions related to the realignment and playoff debate.
Tuxedo Yoda: Many Big 12 fans are convinced that the ability for Notre Dame to control its own Tier 3 content (not a possibility in the Big 10) and to have its own network (like the Longhorn Network) on a national scale would be very appealing to your decision makers for many reasons. Do you agree (and why)?
Mike Coffey: The ability for alums and fans to see the school’s sporting events in general (and football in particular) has always been a driving force for the ND administration. It was the primary mover behind the original NBC deal back in the early 1990′s, as the ND administration felt the CFA contract as it was written was too limiting to the national audience that ND alumni, both subway and otherwise, comprises. ND currently is working to stream non-contractually-bound sporting events via its website. Most men’s and women’s basketball games not covered under the current Big East television contract can be viewed live that way, and they only look to expand those capabilities.
Given those facts, we’d imagine the ability to control Tier 3 content would be very attractive to Notre Dame, and probably would figure in to any conference decision that is made. However, if we’re going to list reasons why ND would not want the Big 10, it’s doubtful the Tier 3 situation would make the top five reasons. There’s a long-standing antipathy between Notre Dame and the Big 10, geographical footprint and rivalry games notwithstanding, and while a portion of the faculty might see Big 10 membership as being attractive, it’s a non-starter for a good portion of the alumni base.
Tuxedo Yoda: There have been rumblings that stem cell research conducted through the CIC arm of the Big 10 is a major negative for Notre Dame joining the Big 10, is this accurate?
Mike Coffey: We’re not aware of that being an issue. That doesn’t mean it’s not an issue, but our guess is such a concern would be tertiary.
Tuxedo Yoda: If Notre Dame were to give consideration to eventually joining the Big 12 as a full member (football included), what other conference additions would your decision makers like to see as the Big 12 evolves into the Big 16 (Pitt, Boston College, etc.)?
Mike Coffey: Two things will always be attractive to Notre Dame when it comes to athletic affiliation: Mission and academics. The plethora of land-grant institutions in the Big 10 makes it a poor fit for the Fighting Irish — chances are they’d end up on the wrong end of a lot of everyone-to-two votes, since Northwestern is the only school in the group even close to resembling what ND is. This is why the ACC has long been viewed as a possible landing spot for ND, because schools like North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, BC, and Virginia have a lot in common with ND off the playing field.
This may be one of the things working against the Big XII when it comes to ND’s involvement. They’re looking for high-profile academic schools, and other conferences like the ACC and Pac10 can bring more of that to the table. If ND gets involved with the Big XII and has any say in the expansion talks, look for them to push for schools with a high academic profile and decent athletic programs like GaTech.
Tuxedo Yoda: Just last week, it was announced that the national championship game is being taken away from the traditional bowl rotation and will be bid out. Not long ago, the Big 12 and the SEC shook up college football by taking control away from the traditional bowls and starting their own bowl game for their champions. It seems like steps are being taken to strip power away from the old system and to have the Rose Bowl and the Champions Bowl (SEC/Big 12) serve as de facto semi-finals for a “plus one” national championship and that only the Big 12, Big 10, SEC and Pac 12 will have a legitimate shot at it…..do you agree with this theory and if you do, do you see any way in which Notre Dame can avoid joining a conference?
Mike Coffey: If the playoff is limited to those four conferences, we’d expect the teams outside those conferences to take whatever steps are necessary to change that, including litigation. ND’s ability to preserve its independence is going to depend on how far they’re willing to go along those lines. It’s hard to predict right now what direction they’ll take. Like the Horns, ND favors the option where the top four teams, regardless of conference, are entered into the playoff. A championship should be decided based on who the top performers are, not accidents of geography.
Tuxedo Yoda: Success in college football is all about talent and the three states which crank out the most college football talent are California, Florida and Texas. If it were to join a Big 12 with FSU and keep its annual game against USC as an OOC affair, Notre Dame would have unprecedented recruting access/exposure in the big 3 recruiting states. What could any other conference possibly offer to counterbalance this purely in terms of success on the field?
Mike Coffey: Keeping national exposure is one of the things keeping ND out of the Big 10, because if they’re playing 90 percent of their games in the Midwest, they cease to be a national school. Obviously something like the Big XII could offer more exposure. However, even without FSU, the ACC could offer similar exposure, especially if ND’s involvement led to the television contract being renegotiated and FSU staying where they are. As geographically unlikely as it might be, the Pac10 would also offer a good blend of schools attractive to ND.
ND’s default preference is to remain independent in football, and having a strong program is of paramount importance to reaching that goal. Right now, our fans are focused on getting back to that. Hopefully that can be achieved before the conference talk proceeds too far.
Thanks to Mike and the folks at NDNation.com for taking time out of their busy schedules to accommodate TY’s questions. If you have an itch to talk Notre Dame football jump into Rock’s House and get started. NDNAtion.com is part of the USA Today Sports Media Group.