Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference Realignment and Notre Dame: No white smoke

image Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel penned a column yesterday, laying out a sound case for Notre Dame giving up its football independence and aligning with a conference that he believes is the best fit—the ACC. It’s a compelling case.

“Ask people in South Bend and one of their chief concerns about super-conferences is whether they will prevent the Irish from putting together legitimate 12-game schedules, including revenue-rich seven or eight home games. Then it’s what it might do to basketball and other sports,” writes Wetzel.

He also points out the demographic trends of the Midwest region of the US, which is growing much more slowly than the Southeast and the Atlantic seaboard, and how population patterns play important roles in both audience and recruiting. When fewer people are living in your region, you have fewer eyes glued to your broadcasts and fewer people in your recruiting territory.

Those are good points, but I don’t see any white smoke from the chimney.

Notre Dame’s “recruiting territory” is the United States of America. It has significant fanbase representation in virtually every major media market in the country. It has its own television contract with NBC Sports. It has longstanding rivalries with Southern Cal, Michigan, Michigan State, Pitt, Purdue, Boston College and the military service academies. Super-conferences with 16 members each will still likely have either eight or nine game schedules that may preclude Notre Dame from maintaining all of those rivalries, but it’s doubtful that we’d see the end of the USC – Notre Dame or Boston College – Notre Dame or Navy – Notre Dame rivalries.

By remaining independent, would the school face the challenge Wetzel identifies in putting together the schedule? Sure. But things can get worked out. Taking the path of least resistance and succumbing to the ACC would be the end of the Irish mystique. It would relegate it to the same status as a Florida State or Virginia Tech. I think the ACC likes Notre Dame a lot more than Notre Dame likes the conference. Any conference, for that matter.

Joining a conference other than the Big 10 likely ends one or more of the rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. Why would the Irish give up such nationally seismic matchups like that for a schedule that includes Clemson and NC State, especially when either the Boston College or the Pitt series could still likely be maintained? If they were forced to give up the biannual trip to Los Angeles, they lose access to a hotbed of recruits in the nation’s most populous state and trade that for a conference matchup with Duke? Notre Dame has access to the east coast also, due its storied rivalries with Army and Navy, two of the greatest places on the face of the earth to watch a college football game. I just don’t see any of that happening.

The conference realignment craze is driven by money, media influence and market share. Notre Dame has a multibillion dollar endowment and ample revenues from its TV deal. It really doesn’t need the money and it already wields considerable influence in the world of college football. They haven’t been in a national title chance since before many of you were even born, but the school still commands ratings and fills the stadium every Saturday.

Notre Dame may feel a little pressure to join the realignment bandwagon, but at the end of the day, their national recruiting territory, national mystique and storied rivalries will live on, as will their FBS independence. Short of a Papal Bull, that is, and fumata bianca billowing from the chimney atop the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

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