A JERSEY GUY: Did ND Sell Its Soul for $$?

Mark Blaudschun

When the latest fantasy college football schedules were released this week, Notre Dame as the newest (for now) full-time member of the Atlantic Coast Conference was back in the news.

It seems the Irish had finally given up their independent status in football in exchange for a full share of the lucrative (in excess of $35 million a year) television revenue sharing checks given to ACC members.

It was emphasized by all sides as a temporary one-year arrangement. But once you make a sale for your services, you are what your actions say you are -- to steal from the great Jersey sage Bill Parcells.

Notre Dame made a deal for cash.

In the shark-infested waters of big time college athletics, there is nothing wrong with that. 

In fact, such a move would give you a chance for a cover story in a publication like Forbes.

But this was Notre Dame. 

They were DIFFERENT. 

They spent very little time in the muck. They were proud of their graduation rates, of their overall college experience provided Under the Golden Dome at the highest academic levels.

They were special. Catholics vs. Convicts bring back any memories?

Their own television network (NBC) which would offer Saturday afternoon and evening shows of what college football America should look like.

Was there a better college atmosphere ANYWHERE than on the Notre Dame campus in mid October when USC was visiting South Bend?

The answer in many instances was NO.

But there were signs that showed a different trend as the legend of Rockne and Leahy and Parseghian faded to Gerry Faust and Charlie Weis.

I still remember a defining moment for me when covering a USC-ND game for the Boston Globe and looking from the press box down at the Notre Dame quad which included the book store and hundreds of fans enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon. 

I noticed one crowd gathering around what appeared to be a celebrity. It was ESPN personality Stephen A Smith.

I then looked about five yards past Smith and saw a man and a woman casually walking through the campus, unnoticed or at least unbothered.

It was Joe Montana and his wife.

Yes, times were changing. 

But ND still kept its integrity and its independence in football until this week when it made its deal with the ACC to expand from a role of facing at least 5 ACC teams per season, but continued status as a football independent, to a 10-game ACC schedule and one, restricted non-conference opportunity.

There are more than enough reasons why ND and athletic director Jack Swarbrick made the deal. 

From a dollars and cents standpoint, it is logical and probably prudent.

Again, if that was the University of North Dakota, instead of Notre Dame, it would and perhaps should be met with almost universal approval.

But this is the Notre Dame which for years refused to attend post season games because, well that would extend the season beyond the acceptable limits and there were only certain bowl games that the Irish would attend, even if they were invited.

This was Notre Dame, under University President Father Hesburgh, who wanted Notre Dame football to be a shared experience for all parts of the country and wanted and would not permit even the hint of a suggestion of joining a conference in football.

Swarbrick has tried to split the difference. Five or six ACC games a year, some bowl security (all but the Orange Bowl) but an independent status which would allow games against teams such as Wisconsin, USC, Stanford and Navy, which had been part of the ND football tradition on a continuous basis since Rockne was coaching.

COVID-19 changed that. 

Gone were all the non-conference Power 5 games outside of the ACC.

With 10 ACC games, there was a spot left for only one non-conference game, which would have been OK, since Navy was the most logical and likely choice.

But this wasn't ND with a bachelor's freedom, this was ND with a full ACC family and family rules which included a stipulation this season that the non-conference game be a home game played in the school's home state.

ND could have said No deal and if the ACC had threatened to take away its six games from the Irish for refusing to play, the Irish could have filled their schedule in an hour with teams more than willing to play them--from all over the country.

The Big 12 and the AAC would have called within seconds of any such break with the ACC, offering one, two, three or more games to fill the six team hole a bail out by the ACC would have caused.

But the money wouldn't be there.

Notre Dame was scheduled to play at Navy this season, for the first time ever.

It was and IS a Big Deal, since it would have been the ND circus coming to the smallest venue the Irish had played in more than 70 years.

When Navy refused to give up the home game, which had originally been scheduled to be played in Dublin, Ireland, the series was put on a one-year pause. The Irish will be facing Western Michigan in South Bend in September.

Even tradition at ND has a price tag.

But that's only part of it. 

A regular season which had been scheduled to start in Dublin in August and end at USC on Thanksgiving, now starts with Duke on Sept. 5 and ENDS at home against Syracuse on DECEMBER 5th.

It could also extend to December 19 and a spot in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C

I wonder what Father Hesburgh would think of that move?

Again, ND is a great school, with a great legacy and they want and do things the right way most of the time.

But in this instance, it is clear what they are and why they did what they did.