College football expansion: Notre Dame would be No. 1 realignment target

In a world of shifting conference loyalty around college football, Notre Dame still remains the diamond in the rough, even as the school looks to remain independent. But for how long?
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College football conference realignment was the story of the last offseason and will be again once it becomes official this summer in time for the 2024 season kickoff. And while most of the really valuable teams have already made their move, a few big pieces remain on the board going forward.

None are bigger than Notre Dame, which college football analyst Greg McElroy singled out as by far the most likely candidate for any potential realignment down the road.

"The No. 1 team that they would target would be Notre Dame. Notre Dame by a mile," McElroy said on Always College Football.

"Notre Dame is everyone's No. 1. Now, like I said, would that be repetitive in the state of Indiana? You already have Indiana and you already have Purdue? Doesn't matter. You want Notre Dame. That's the No. 1 target for not just the Big Ten. That's the No. 1 target to the ACC, the No. 1 target for the SEC."

McElroy added: "If Notre Dame decides to join a conference, everyone will throw their hat in the ring. If I were the Mountain West, I'd throw my hat in the ring if Notre Dame were really invested in trying to become a member of a conference somewhere else, I would say Notre Dame is No. 1."

The long-time debate around Notre Dame joining or not joining a conference still appears to find a consensus around the latter course of action.

College football realignment is in the air once again, as a major wave of conference expansion is set to become official this summer, while two ACC schools are taking their league to court. But in a shifting world of conference loyalty, Notre Dame intends to stay the course and remain independent.

Earlier this year, athletic director Pete Bevacqua reiterated Notre Dame's commitment to not joining a conference in football, despite some speculation that the market will demand the school do so amid other realignment moves and the expanded College Football Playoff.

"We are now in as good of a position as we've ever been in the modern era of college football to be an independent," Bevacqua told ESPN.

He added: "You see all the conference realignment, you see everything that's happened, I think our position as being independent in football quite frankly in certainly more unique than ever, but also more valuable than ever."

Notre Dame still has a prominent voice in the structure of the expanded playoff, and more of a chance to qualify in the larger format, but not being in a conference could make the path to a national championship harder as a result.

By not being eligible to win a conference title, and thus not being able to take advantage of a first-round bye afforded to league champs, the Fighting Irish would have to win four straight postseason games in order to get a crack at the natty. And that's after playing a 12-game regular season schedule.

Financially, the situation is very much to Notre Dame's satisfaction, as the school is expected to earn over $12 million in College Football Playoff revenue distribution, according to current estimates.

That appears to be enough for the Irish to maintain their long-standing independence going forward, one note of stability in a college football landscape that is changing by the day.

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James Parks

JAMES PARKS

James Parks is the founder and publisher of College Football HQ. He previously covered football for 247Sports and CBS Interactive. College Football HQ joined the Sports Illustrated Fannation Network in 2022.