The Big 12 has a new commissioner in Bob Bowlsby and the conference is again rumored to be in the expansion business. Clemson and Florida State have been added to the Louisville and BYU rumors to make things increasingly interesting. However, the most intriguing rumor to pop up has been the idea that Notre Dame may well be in the sights of the Big 12.
It sounds really nice to Big 12 fans, and likely to general college football fans, too. Notre Dame in a conference with Texas and Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish traveling to the Southwest to take on teams in Texas and Oklahoma. Those are big contests that will play well on television and draw in the cash—look no further than the OU-ND series to prove the worth of these games.
But, Big 12 folks, keep dreaming. Notre Dame, for one, has no desire to join a conference, and with the four-team playoff expected to take the top four and not use conference champion requirements, there is no reason to even look. Stay independent, keep making dollars and push for a playoff berth or at least a season that would put Notre Dame into one of the big three bowls: Orange, Fiesta or Sugar.
That's all the Irish have to do.
However, should the Irish feel pressed to join a league, it most certainly will not be the Big 12. It just makes no sense for Notre Dame to join a conference that does not have a single school even remotely similar to it. Sure, you can scream money or that the football is so good. Notre Dame makes its own money and is bringing plenty to the table, and is not looking for a handout or to remain financially viable.
If the conference play is made, the ACC is the way to go for Notre Dame. The Irish would enter a league that fits them from more than just a football standpoint, though the Irish would walk into the league with money and national recognition higher than the league's football schools like Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
If Notre Dame joined a conference, which would be best fit for the Irish?
Ideology-wise, we are talking about a group of schools that would welcome Notre Dame, in its entirety, into the league. In the most recent college rankings from US News & World Report, Notre Dame came in at 19. It most certainly would feel at home with Duke (10), Virginia (25), Wake Forest (25), North Carolina (29), Boston College (31) and Georgia Tech (36).
Those of you who do not think that is a big deal do not understand the grounds on which Notre Dame stands. Like it or not, the school sees itself as more than a football factory, the same way the ACC views itself as more than just a group of schools playing sports.
For those of you screaming about the Big Ten, we can let that die on the vine. Notre Dame only fits the conference in two ways: location and because it already plays Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. Check out those Big Ten schools—they are absolutely humongous. Behemoth universities. Notre Dame has just more than 8,000 students, or 11,000-plus if you include grad students.
In the ACC, Wake Forest is smaller than Notre Dame, while private schools like Miami, BC and Duke are not much bigger than the Fighting Irish. Florida State, the ACC's largest school with more than 40,000 enrolled, would be good for eighth place in the Big Ten.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is the natural fit for the Irish. It's a league that would still allow them to be a crown jewel of sorts, while aligning with their university as a whole. That said, do not expect the Irish to go conference hunting anytime soon. They are truly happy as an independent, and if you read any of the financial reports, it is working for the school.