It doesn’t take much for those outside the Notre Dame program to start talking about the need for the Irish to join a conference. I’m actually surprised it took this long for someone to use the COVID-19 panic as another reason to push for the Irish to join the conference.
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated did his usual thing yesterday, which is to create a long, well-reasoned, articulate and thought-provoking article about college sports. That’s why he’s one of the best in the business and why I enjoy reading his work, but I do not believe the current circumstances will lead Notre Dame to joining a conference.
I’ll address Notre Dame’s ability to schedule in a following article, but there’s one statement that needs to be addressed as a standalone.
It’s one of the more frustrating responses to Notre Dame’s independence. In reference to Notre Dame’s independent status he writes:
“It’s also the kind of arrangement that infuriates so many others schools and their fans, who see Notre Dame operating by its own set of rules while still retaining the scheduling clout to compete for a College Football Playoff spot. The Irish may not be winning national championships anymore (32 years and counting since the last one), but they still have the cachet to command their own TV deal and more scheduling freedom than anyone in the land. Those are facts.”
My beef isn’t with Mr. Forde, because he’s stating how other programs actually feel, and he’s not guessing, you can be certain he was told this. But those are narrowly-stated facts from one side of the debate, and they don’t really address the reality of the situation.
To begin, Notre Dame isn’t the only independent program in the country. Liberty, BYU, Army, New Mexico State and Massachusetts are also independent programs, although a case could be made that only the Irish, BYU and Army are independent by choice.
Mr. Forde brought up the last time Notre Dame won a title, so let’s reminisce about that glorious 1988 season, one in which Notre Dame was one of 25 independent programs. Miami (Fla.), Florida State, Penn State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Louisville, South Carolina, Boston College and Virginia Tech are just a small handful of programs that were also independent back then.
They are no longer independent for one reason, and one reason only, they CHOSE to join a conference.
Yes, there were financial reasons to do so, and I don’t fault them for doing so, but they made a choice. Notre Dame had created a program that could thrive on its own, so it made the CHOICE to remain independent.
Back then the Big Ten only had 10 teams, imagine that! The Big 12, which now has 10 schools, was the Big 8, the SEC had 10 teams, the Pac 12 was the Pac 10 and the Southwest Conference was a thing.
Nebraska was in the Big 8, but they are now in the Big 10. Missouri was also in the Big 8, but they are now in the SEC. Colorado was another Big 8 school that has since changed allegiances, joining the Pac 12 back 2011.
That’s a lot of programs making choices they felt were in their own best interest.
All 25 independents from 1988 made a choice, and the programs that switched leagues made a choice. A small few chose to remain independent, most chose to join a conference, and programs already in conferences chose to leave and join another.
They all made a choice. They weren’t forced into leagues, and they weren’t forced to switch leagues, they all made financial decisions they felt were in their best interest.
That’s what Notre Dame did, and it worked like a charm. And now, Notre Dame is supposed to feel bad because those programs are upset the Irish program is playing by its “own rules?” No, they aren’t playing by their own rules, they are playing by the same rules that always existed for independent programs. Notre Dame didn’t change, they’ve always been independent and they were never alone, it’s the rest of the programs that jumped at the chance for easy dollars to play by someone else’s rules.
That’s not on Notre Dame. All those programs chose to get married to a conference while Notre Dame chose to stay single. Just because you’re now unhappy in your marriage doesn’t mean you should be mad at the school that chose to stay single.
And here’s the other fact, every team in every league has a choice it can make even today. If they want to be like Notre Dame, they can, and when their league contracts are up they can leave and become independent.
But they won’t, because they aren’t Notre Dame, and that's their real issue.
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