Notre Dame Football: Irish Can Celebrate Independence Thanks to Jack Swarbrick

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Notre Dame Football: Irish Can Celebrate Independence Thanks to Jack Swarbrick
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Independence Day.

The Founding Fathers legally separated from Great Britain. Will Smith saved America (and the world) from an alien invasion. And Jack Swarbrick kept Notre Dame free of a conference in football. 

Sure, those are probably in order of importance. But on a festive day with family barbecues and fireworks, for Notre Dame fans, it's worth taking a look back at a whirlwind past few years and being thankful that the Irish survived a massive reshuffling in college athletics and came out on the better end of it. 

Irish fans have Swarbrick to thank for it. Notre Dame's athletics director (technically, he's a university vice president, too) found himself in the middle of a ferocious land grab that saw century-old rivalries detonated and conferences imploded after Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and his council of presidents and chancellors declared an interest in expansion in December 2009. 

Mel Evans/Associated Press
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany expanded the conference to 14 schools.

From there, things got nuts. Nebraska jumped at the chance to join Delany and the Big Ten. The SEC moved into Texas and Missouri, grabbing A&M (and capitalizing on the Johnny Football explosion) and Gary Pinkel's Tigers, further gutting the Big 12.

On the West Coast, Larry Scott tried expanding to 16 before settling on adding Colorado and Utah. West Virginia and TCU jumped at a chance to fill a rapidly growing void in the Big 12. While the Big East was trying their best to plug holes, Delany struck again with the news that Maryland and Rutgers were joining the B1G (no use in calling it "Ten" anymore).

Meanwhile, the ACC was in a state of flux as well. Having been relatively stable since the additions of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004-05, Pitt and Syracuse joined the conference in 2013. Louisville joined as of July 1, 2014, free from the American Athletic Conference, a rebranded and repackaged Big East. 

(Confused? You should be. An insane 78 programs changed conferences in the BCS era.) 

All that movement put Notre Dame in a tricky spot. As a university—and football program—with a national footprint and a network television deal of its own, it had long been the apple of Delany's eye. But with a school history tied to football independence, Swarbrick's main mission was to protect the Irish's interests in football while making sure the university's other 20 varsity teams had a conference to call home. 

But before finding a new home for all Irish sports, Swarbrick had to solve college football's postseason. (That's all.) After surrendering Notre Dame's cozy stakeholder seat in the BCS, Swarbrick needed to make sure the Irish had an opportunity to compete for the four spots in the College Football Playoff. 

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Swarbrick worked with SEC commissioner Mike Slive to found the College Football Playoff.

So he worked in lockstep with SEC commissioner Mike Slive, one of the most unlikely marriages in collegiate sports history. But it worked, and Swarbrick was the driving force behind the four-team playoff (and monster TV deal) that will finally see college football crown a champion. 

"In my mind, he played a critical role in the success that we accomplished during the year," Slive told Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock had this to say about Swarbrick's role in creating the new model: "Jack was our MVP."

With the postseason resolved, Swarbrick also found a way to upgrade Notre Dame's conference athletics home, continuing those conversations with ACC commissioner John Swofford while hammering out the playoff details.

And in moving to the ACC, he managed to find a geographically advantageous footprint, a group of like-minded universities and a way to keep football independent. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Notre Dame joined the ACC as an official member in 2013.

Swarbrick said in September 2012:

We have monitored the changing conference landscape for many months and have concluded that moving to the ACC is the best course of action for us. This will enable us to maintain our historic independence in football, join in the ACC’s non-BCS bowl package, and provide a new and extremely competitive home for our other sports.

Notre Dame's other sports began ACC play in 2013, with the Irish men winning their first ever Capital One Cup in men's athletics. And football will begin its scheduling alliance with the ACC in 2014, set to play 15 games against the conference over the next three seasons. 

Sure, Swarbrick made concessions. Traditional rivalries with Michigan State and Purdue have been halted. As has the game with Michigan, with no scheduled matchup against the Wolverines on the books after the September 2014 date in South Bend. 

But staying independent isn't easy. So while we celebrate our country's most treasured holiday, ND Nation should tip their collective cap to Swarbrick's work these past two years. In the murky, murky waters of college sports, Notre Dame came out smelling like roses. 

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