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As conference realignment shakes college football to its core, the proverbial elephant in the room is what one of the sport’s preeminent programs will do next: independent Notre Dame.

Located in the heart of Big Ten country, it’s logical to view the Irish as a potential fit for the conference should it continue to eye expansion following the acquisition of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12. But if Notre Dame has its way, it won’t be following suit anytime soon.

A source with knowledge of the school’s plans told Sports Illustrated‘s Pat Forde that the Irish’s priority is to remain independent in football. From Forde:

A source familiar with the school’s thinking told Sports Illustrated that “independence remains the preference and the leader in the clubhouse.” It will take a lot to move Notre Dame off its cherished identity, but the instability of the entire landscape remains a concern, and could further affect the Irish outlook.

Two areas to monitor: the fates of both the College Football Playoff and the Atlantic Coast Conference. If one or both collapse, Notre Dame could be compelled into the Big Ten. Per its current contract, the playoff ceases to exist in January 2026. There is no guarantee another iteration of it will take its place, at any size. “The vast majority of the writing assumes a playoff, and that it’s going to get bigger,” says the industry source. “I’m not sure about that assumption.”

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If the Big Ten and SEC separate themselves from the rest of the sport, Forde writes, then Notre Dame could be forced to join a conference in order to preserve a path toward a national championship. The Irish have operated as an independent program since its inception in the late 19th century.

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For more Notre Dame coverage, go to Irish Breakdown