Notre Dame has held on to its independence in football since the dawn of college athletics, but time’s, they are a’ changing. USC and UCLA heading to the Big Ten in 2024 has thrown the entire landscape in flux while simultaneously putting more pressure on Notre Dame than ever before to join a conference. That has given Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick the keys to the realignment vehicle, though don’t expect him to put petal to the metal anytime soon.
“We don’t feel any particular urgency,” Swarbrick told ESPN (subscription required for full story). “We think there’s ample time for us to let the landscape settle.”
This puts the rest of the college football world in a bind. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently reported that the Big 12 is looking to poach six teams — Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State — from the Pac-12. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has been looking to save itself in the form of an alliance with the ACC. The Big Ten has said that it is willing to wait out Notre Dame — which is an ACC team in every conference-sponsored sport other than football — to make a decision.
Simply put, Notre Dame dictates everything.
Swarbrick told ESPN that its decision will be based on access to the meaningful postseason, financial repercussions and the loss of a broadcast partner. Notre Dame has a deal with NBC that puts every Fighting Irish home football game on the network and its streaming service, Peacock. It is subject to the ACC deal in its other school-sponsored sports.
Dodd also reported earlier this week that teams in the Big Ten could make up to $80 million to $100 million per year after the addition of USC and UCLA. That would be a massive chunk of change for Notre Dame considering its current football-only deal with NBC pays a reported $15 million per year.
Is this the time that Notre Dame finally jumps to a conference in football? It’s a distinct possibility for the first time ever. It would have to get out of its ACC contract, which gives the conference exclusivity if the school decides to join a league. Contracts, however, are made to be broken.
Access to the postseason is a great unknown that could delay Notre Dame’s decision. It has made the four-team playoff twice since its inception in 2014. However, the proposed 12-team playoff that was announced last summer would give the Fighting Irish much more access — even though it would be able to earn a bye due to its lack of conference affiliation. That plan has been put on the back-burner for now, but it’s safe to say that any expanded postseason would give Notre Dame more access no matter what its conference situation is at any given time.
Notre Dame holds all the cards, and it doesn’t appear that Swarbrick is in a hurry to make a decision on its future.