Notre Dame Enters College Football Playoff Era Under Cloud of Uncertainty

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Notre Dame Enters College Football Playoff Era Under Cloud of Uncertainty
Joe Raymond/Associated Press

Notre Dame will enter the College Football Playoff era with a boatload of cash.

The Irish last year signed a 10-year extension with NBC, worth a reported $15 million per year, that will run through the 2025 season—effectively the entire length of the initial CFP deal. In January, the school inked the biggest apparel contract in college sports history, a 10-year deal with Under Armour for a reported $90 million.

Forbes valued Notre Dame's football program to be worth $119 million, behind only Texas. The school is swimming in so much money that it's taking on a $400 million renovation project to greatly expand and enhance the area in and around Notre Dame Stadium.

While its bank account is healthy and robust, can the same be said for Notre Dame's football program?

The BCS era certainly isn't one to write home about for the Irish, who went 0-4 in BCS bowl games during the 16-year span—the only winless program with three or more appearances. In their only national championship game appearance in 2012, they were thoroughly outclassed by Alabama in a 42-14 rout. Notre Dame finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll just twice during the BCS era.

Best Notre Dame Seasons in BCS Era
Season Record Bowl Final AP Rank
1998 9-3 Gator Bowl (L) Georgia Tech 22
2000* 9-3 Fiesta Bowl (L) Oregon State 15
2002 10-3 Gator Bowl (L) N.C. State 17
2005* 9-3 Fiesta Bowl (L) Ohio State 9
2006* 10-3 Sugar Bowl (L) LSU 17
2012* 12-1 BCS Championship (L) Alabama 4
2013 9-4 Pinstripe Bowl (W) Rutgers 21

*Appeared in BCS bowl game

And the BCS had provisions that were much more friendly to Notre Dame's interests. The Irish were guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl if they finished in the top eight of the final BCS standings. Twice they were picked for BCS bowls despite not finishing in the top 10 and were selected over more deserving teams.

In the CFP, Notre Dame might not get such breaks.

There is no guarantee for Notre Dame to be picked for any of the four bowls if it fails to make the four-team playoff. The Irish will have a spot in the Orange Bowl only if they were deemed to be ranked higher than the top teams from the SEC and Big Ten not involved in the four-team playoff—as determined by the selection committee.

The 13-person committee will have sole discretion on the playoff teams, their seeding and the other eight teams in the lucrative CFP bowls. While the Irish appear to have a couple of "friendlies" on the committee—former coach Tyrone Willingham and former U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice, who earned a master's degree in South Bend—they're not due for any preferential treatment.

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Such is the predicament for an independent team in the era of super power conferences.

By the 2015 season, after Navy joins the American Athletic Conference, there will be just two other independent teams—Army and BYU. And the Cougars just might be plucked before long by another power conference, most likely the Big 12. 

Notre Dame sought to forestall a scheduling nightmare by signing up with the ACC, parking its Olympic sports teams in the conference while getting five ACC football games a year. But by remaining independent, Notre Dame still does not get the benefit of playing for a conference championship, which the committee has said it will consider with prejudice.

The Irish have made their bet by sticking with the independent path. While the decision has continued to reap financial rewards, it has not translated into glory on the football field. Notre Dame is staring at a future prospect that's as vexing as that other iconic American football brand—the Dallas Cowboys—famously rich but competitively irrelevant.

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