Some of you guys probably think I'm out of my mind.
Notre Dame football on a Saturday afternoon is about as All American as Leave it to Beaver. The Irish are the only FBS team that has all their home games televised on one network.
However, with the rise of television on the Internet, like espn3.com and cbssports.com, television contracts have begun to lose value. NBC, Notre Dame's network, doesn't offer live streaming coverage like ESPN and CBS do. This could hurt an already struggling program.
Notre Dame has a couple routes they could take. The Irish could continue to be aired only on NBC, leave NBC and be replaced with another school, start their own network, or pick up a deal with CBS or ESPN. Notre Dame is under contract to NBC until 2015, but low ratings (1.9 Nielsen in 2007) could cause the network to drop the fading program and replace it with a new team.
One thing that made Notre Dame so attractive to NBC, other than their 11th national championship in 1988 under Lou Holtz, was their independent status. The Irish barnstorm the nation every year, playing teams like Navy on the east coast, Michigan and Michigan State in the Midwest, and USC and Stanford on the Pacific coast. At the time of the contract, Notre Dame was still coached by the legendary Holtz and still had high profile players like Rick Mirer and Jerome Bettis.
The modern day Fighting Irish has had star power (Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardizja, Jimmy Clausen, Tom Zbikowski), but they haven't won football games. Even with Clausen, a top 50 NFL pick, at the helm, the best bowl Notre Dame was at was on an abandoned beach in Hawaii. So star power isn't a factor for Notre Dame's replacements; winning football games recently and making BCS bowls is.
The Trojans had a sub par squad last year by their standards because they lost some great defenders (Brian Cushing,Fili Moala) and had to break in true freshman QB Matt Barkley. But under Pete Carroll, SoCal has been the team of the decade, chugging out six straight BCS bowl berths and top five finishes plus having stars like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush capturing Heisman glory.
Like Notre Dame, USC has a storied past, winning five national championships during the 60s and 70s, but they have substance in the future. Their new coach Lane Kiffin is a great recruiter (No. 1 class) and prima donna who will provide the NBC sideline girls with plenty of quotes. SC also often plays tough out-of-conference teams like Ohio State and every year: Notre Dame. This mixture of past mystique with a modern mantra of recruiting success and BCS bowls makes the Trojans a perfect fit for America's original network.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Every SEC football game is on one of ESPN's networks, and high ranked Southeastern teams like Alabama often play Saturday afternoons at 3:30 on ESPN. But a deal with NBC would give the best team in the Deep South an exclusive national audience. After some lean years under Mike Shula, 'Bama is now the best team in the SEC, and Nick Saban continues to bring in blue chippers to complement mega stars like Heisman winner Mark Ingram and fearsome defenders Marcel Dareus and Mark Barron.
Alabama runs a smash mouth type of offense (215.1 rushing yards per game), which NBC audiences haven't seen since the days of Jerome Bettis in the early '90s. They also have the most national championships of any FBS team with 13. The Tide are the state of Alabama's only team, and Nick Saban seems to be rekindling Bear Bryant's aggressive spirit, which would only boost NBC's ratings and help separate 'Bama from the SEC's other heavyweights.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State isn't likely to sign a deal with NBC because all their games are either shown on the Big Ten Network or on Big 10 friendly ESPN/ABC. However, if Notre Dame bolts for the Big 10 or leaves NBC, the Buckeyes could fill the void. They have been one of the best teams in America, making seven BCS bowls in eight years.
OSU also has had great star power over the last decade from freshman phenom Maurice Clarett, who was later tragically imprisoned to Heisman winner Troy Smith and current dual threat quarterback Terell Pryor. They have great rivalries against Michigan and Michigan State, who Notre Dame also plays and often take on national powers in the regular season like Texas, USC, and up and coming Cincinnati.
Under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes are always on ABC or ESPN, but their presence on NBC could turn viewers from other mediocre afternoon Big 10 games and maybe even rival ABC's primetime college football games in markets that often show middle of the road Big 12 or ACC games (Virginia Tech vs. UVA last year).
The Big Twelve has a very robust TV deal, airing games on channels that most Americans don't even have (Versus, Fox College Sports). The Sooners, after losing Sam Bradford to an injury, also lost most of their national TV coverage because only half their games were nationally televised. This could make them a tempting target for the big peacock.
They did have an unSooner like record of 8-5 and lost to mid major BYU, but under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has won two national titles and made it to eight BCS bowls. Three of his assistants were made head coaches at the BCS level, and he's beat out Big 12 rivals for top talent like Heisman winner Adrian Peterson and the rock-like Jammal Brown.
Imagine seeing the Red River Shootout televised every year on NBC at the same time. This might even make John Madden come out of retirement.
Other teams worthy of consideration
Virginia Tech Hokies
Under Frank Beamer, Tech has gone from a lightweight independent school to THE team in the ACC (3 ACC titles). The Hokies consistently have a mobile star quarterback (Vicks,Bryan Randall,Tyrod Taylor) and a highly ranked defense and special teams. These ingredients could get them a better deal than the all inclusive Raycom Sports/ESPN ACC package.
With 129 All Americans and four national champions, including one under current coach Mack Brown, Texas is second only to OU as the most prestigious program in the Big 12. They've been better on the field than the Sooners lately, winning four of the last five Red River Shootouts, but only two conference championships in the past decade.
In order to separate themselves from the pack, the team which brought you Ricky Williams, Vince Young, and Colt McCoy have scheduled games against UCLA, Cal, and Ole Miss which could get them higher ratings in the West and an NBC deal.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Once a dominant independent squad like the Fighting Irish, Penn State joined the Big 10 in 1992. They struggled early but have won two conference titles in this decade. Joe Paterno is the winnningest college football coach of all time with fifteen BCS bowl appearances and two national titles.
Because they have been relevant lately with teams built on defensive success and game manager quarterbacks like Anthony Morelli and Darryl Clark, the Nittany Lions could sign a big deal with NBC, which could mean the revival of the Notre Dame/Penn State rivalry, and more future stars joining the Nittany Lions even after JoePa's retirement.
Sorry SEC fans, you guys have a pretty much exclusive deal with CBS and two to four primetime games on ESPN. An NBC deal would be a downgrade even though Florida, LSU, Georgia,Auburn, and Tennessee are the equals prestige wise of these programs.
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