Let’s talk Independence. You don’t have to look far on message boards or in sports articles to see advice to Notre Dame to “join a conference”—usually without clear reasons and occasionally with disparaging comments about Irish football.
Notre Dame football has yet to sacrifice its independence or many of its longtime rivalries—something many Americans still respect. This independence has greater risk and more challenges in assuming duties conferences handle, but also has greater rewards and more freedom.
The achievement is a national university football program whose every game is televised, rivalries from coast to coast, and a national fan base.
The financial benefits of membership in a large conference, however, include a chance at a BCS bowl, a collection of secondary bowls for three-quarters of its teams, an eight-game conference schedule, share in a lucrative conference championship, and a division of all the bowl monies, plus a television package through the conference.
Major conferences generate a degree of market control, some pricing power, and a collective identity. Fans debate which conferences have the better teams, the best defenses, or the harder schedules.
Conferences encompass some great traditional geographic rivalries—Ohio State-Michigan, Texas-Oklahoma, Alabama-Auburn, USC-UCLA—and the tension that goes with finding out who will be the conference champion.
As an independent, Notre Dame must earn it alone. Is there still a place in college football for the independent—the equivalent of a successful family business in a corporate world? Should Notre Dame join a conference?
Notre Dame’s “Conference” of Opponents Compared - Longevity
For argument’s sake, we’ll call the eight teams listed below Notre Dame’s “conference”—three Big Ten teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue), two from the Pac-10 (Southern Cal, Stanford), one from the Big East (Pittsburgh), one from the ACC (Boston College) and one Independent (Navy).
Notre Dame is the major non-conference opponent for each of these teams. Compared to most conferences' teams in longevity, Notre Dame’s traditional rivalries are quite comparable, especially the top five teams.
Notre Dame Okla USC LSU
(Big 12) (Pac 10) (SEC)
Navy 81 Okla St 102 Cal 95 Miss St 101
Cal 79 Texas 102 Stanford 85 Miss 96
Purdue 79 Kansas 99 Wash 78 Ala 71
Mich St 71 Mo 93 UCLA 77 Kent 55
Pittsburgh 63 K-State 89 Ore St 71 Fla 54
373 485 406 377
Michigan 35 Nebr 83 Wash St 67 Ark 53
Stanford 22 Colo 58 Ore 54 Aub 42
Boston 17 Tex A&M 26 ASU 33 Vand 28
Total Yrs 447 652 560 500
Army (49 yrs) and Northwestern (47) have played the Irish more than Stanford or Boston College, but neither are on ND’s future schedule except for one game against Army. Stanford has played ND the last eleven years. BC has played ND 14 out of the last 16 years. Notre Dame has scheduled Stanford and MSU through 2011, Pitts and BC through 2012, and Michigan and Purdue through 2016.
Southern Cal has played Notre Dame more than any of its conference opponents except Cal and Stanford.
The Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC (above) have more history with their opponents than ND does, but the three conferences most mentioned as possibilities for Notre Dame football are the Big Ten, ACC, and Big East (below).
Notre Dame Ohio St Clemson West Va
Opponent Yrs (Big Ten) (ACC) (Big East)
Navy 81 Mich 104 NC St 76 Pitts 100
Cal 79 llinois 94 Wake 73 Syracuse 55
Purdue 79 Wisc 73 GTech 72 Rutgers 35
Mich St 71 NW 73 Md 56 Cincy 16
Pittsburgh 63 Purdue 50 NC 53 Louisville 9
373 394 330 215
Michigan 35 Minn 47 Duke 51 Conn 4
Stanford 22 Mich St 38 Va 44 S. Fla 3
Boston 17 Penn St 33 V-Tech 30 (None)
Total Yrs 447 512 455 222
Purdue and Michigan State have played Notre Dame much more than Ohio State.
Again, the longevity of games with opponents is more than comparable—especially when ND is compared to an ACC or Big East team—even allowing for the Big East only having eight teams.
So, if Notre Dame joined a conference with a full eight game in-conference schedule, which four opponents should ND keep? Southern Cal, Michigan, Navy, and Boston College? Would it not be like Florida switching to the ACC and being told to choose which four SEC teams it wished to continue to play non-conference?
Joining the Big Ten would allow Notre Dame to keep Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State. The Irish might substitute non-conference Pittsburgh for Michigan, adding to USC, Boston College, and Navy.
That non-conference schedule would be tougher than the usual Big Ten or Big East teams's non-conference schedule. Notre Dame’s strength of schedule ranks traditionally in the top ten—seventh in the 2000s, eighth in the 1990-99 decade, and first in 1980-89—for the past 30 years.
More on that comparison with my next article.
Tradition matters—for Notre Dame and for its long-standing opponents.
(Thanks to Chestertonlep for permission to me to use this photo)