To fully understand Notre Dame and its reasoning for remaining independent, you have to know its storied past—a past littered with national championships and Heisman Trophy winners, and a past that captivated all of America and made the Irish her team, with Ronald Reagan playing the “Gipp” and Rudy becoming an instant sports classic.
From revolutionary coaches who changed the entire landscape of college football to world-class academics stressing the virtues of the student athlete, these are the things make Notre Dame different. These values are what set them apart—apart from other universities and apart from their mega-conferences.
So why would other schools want Notre Dame to be in a conference, and how would that benefit them? Why wouldn’t Notre Dame want to be a part of it?
The controversial BCS (Bowl Championship Series) committee has put Notre Dame in a class by itself. In doing so, they’ve created a tumultuous debate over America’s team.
Should Notre Dame join a conference, or are they simply in a league of their own, despite their current losing ways, and able to remain independent?
B.J. Luria of the Michigan Daily writes: “Notre Dame has traditionally cherished its standing as an independent. The changes that have taken place in college football over the past several years, particularly with the Bowl Alliance, have made life more difficult for independents.”
He also goes on to write about the financial gains that would be attained from playing in a conference: “The addition of Notre Dame would most likely be advantageous for the Big Ten. With 11 teams currently in the conference, the Big Ten could add a 12th, allowing it to split into two six-team divisions and set up a conference championship game. Such a game could provide each school in the conference with as much as $2 million in additional revenue. Similar formats are already in place in several conferences, including the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12.”
He suggests that with the addition of the BCS, conference championship games have squeezed the independents out and forced them to go along with the big money. The added championship game to a team’s conference would contribute a hefty sum in the millions to both participants and their said conference.
Why wouldn’t Notre Dame want more money? They don’t have the state funding since they’re a Catholic school, so any extra money would be beneficial for a small private university, right?
Normally, yes, but in this case it’s Notre Dame, not your ordinary university. With national TV contracts and the largest base of “subway alumni” (fans who didn’t have the privilege of attending Notre Dame but still contribute financially), Notre Dame remains on top of the Forbes most valuable college football team list.
According to Forbes, “The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, worth $101 million, is the most valuable team in college football.” So financially, Notre Dame is self-reliant and not in need of shared revenue like a conference team.
B.J. Luria, the writer from the Michigan Daily, goes on to further discuss another possible reason for complication. He writes: “One problem with adding the Fighting Irish to one of the nation's oldest athletic conferences is Notre Dame's television contract with NBC. The school recently signed a new deal with the network which will pay the Fighting Irish $9 million a year through 2005.” (This contract has since been renewed until the year 2011.)
With the current Big Ten contract belonging to ABC, this would cause awkward coverage and royalty disputes. Never has a university had a national TV contract for every home football game. Conferences might have TV contracts, but usually the network will pick one game to air while going back and forth between commercials to show the highlights.
To have every home game aired on a national non-cable network is extremely beneficial. Imagine a potential high school recruit who sees Notre Dame on every Saturday, while the other schools recruiting him are hard to find on basic cable.
This causes a lot of the animosity from other schools, and it’s directly related to this deal with NBC. While other teams go uncovered week to week, Notre Dame remains on national TV despite playing poorly the last few years. (A 3-9 record last year has made Notre Dame a media laughingstock, but still air-worthy.)
The way the bowl system pays out is the better the bowl, the more money your institution reaps. If your team is selected to the Toilet Bowl, then your college will only receive a measly one million dollars or so. Now if your team is selected to go to the Sugar Bowl, then you can potentially receive a pot worth 14 million dollars.
This is where the conferences step in. When you get that check and you belong to a conference, expect it to be evenly divided amongst its member-teams.
When the Fighting Irish make a major bowl, they keep it all, being independent. A lot of bowls will even pass on a more “noteworthy” team due to Notre Dame’s high TV draw. More money for them equals more money for Notre Dame.
Although the fans are seething with rage because of Notre Dame’s media perks, there isn’t a single conference that wouldn’t want to take Notre Dame in. As Gene Corrigan states in the Buckeye Buzz, "It's one of those things Notre Dame will have to look at and see what the landscape looks like and try to decide what's best for them," he said.
"I think Notre Dame can do what it wants. I don't think there's anybody around who would turn Notre Dame down if Notre Dame came and said, 'We'd like to be in your conference.' I think it has its own choices to make."
Another benefit of not belonging to a conference is that the schedule can change every year. You are not required to play the same teams year in and year out. Teams from the Big Ten are continually playing each other and consequently not improving. When you play outside of a conference, you have the choice to play anybody anywhere, which also greatly benefits your recruiting,
The problem with losing and being independent is that it can cripple most universities. Again, this is not the case for Notre Dame.
A blogger for the New York Times writes: “If Notre Dame regains its football prominence under Coach Charlie Weis, who reportedly has a throwback recruiting class to soothe the pain of the 3-9 debacle last fall, the Irish will have no reason to question the viability of remaining independent. If the losing continues to the point where a conference affiliation becomes the ultimate concession to contemporary reality, the Big Ten and its natural Midwest rivalries will be impossible to resist.”
His suggested outcome for Notre Dame if it were to continue its losing ways is that it would be forced to join a conference. This is simply not true.
The Irish were 3-9 last year and ranked close to last in every statistic available. But guess what? They still, according to Forbes, grossed the most money, even beating out the national champion LSU Tigers.
So how does a team who can’t score against itself and loses nine regular season games still take home more than 45 million dollars in profits, compared to LSU’s 32 million?
Also according to Forbes, “Notre Dame's football program contributed $21.1 million to the university's academic programs last season, far more than any other college football team.” These are the facts an outsider might not know when arguing for Notre Dame to join a conference. In fact, their argument is baseless.
“Notre Dame is just afraid to play in the Big Ten” (although they have 11 teams, they still refer to themselves as the Big Ten) is pretty much the response that I’ve heard from many, when the real truth is jealousy.
To have your favorite team located only hours away, but consistently get snubbed by local television for Notre Dame, is basically what this all boils down to. I’ve given you facts and stats and figures, and yet there is still a debate over this dead horse.
“Yeah, but even Penn State joined the Big Ten after being independent for so many years, and it's worked for them,” says a former fellow workmate of mine. My reply: “But that’s because Penn State is losing every year more so than Notre Dame, and with being part of a conference/franchise, the profit sharing is the only thing keeping them afloat.” Whereas Notre Dame, like I said before, does not need the measly two million dollars shared by other conference members.
To be honest with you, nobody likes the guy on a high horse—in this case, Notre Dame. The guy comes galloping over as everybody watches and steals your wallet and your girl. What a douche!
But there’s more to the story. What if that guy deserves everything he gets? What if he takes his profits and applies more than 75 percent of them to higher education? What if he consistently graduates his players at the best rate in all of college football?
"18 of 22 athletics programs at the University of Notre Dame compiled graduation rates of 100 percent, and none were below 90 percent, according to the third year of Graduation Success Rate measurements developed by the NCAA and released Wednesday. None of the 120 Division I-A football-playing programs in the country had a higher percentage of 100 GSR scores than did Notre Dame with its .818 figure."
After reading this article released from the Notre Dame Home Site, you can start to see a reason for standing alone.
If your objective is not that of which you argue about, then there really is no argument. The underlying feeling is one of jealousy, not for any valid reasons pertaining to Notre Dame joining a conference. To be great you have set yourself apart—apart from the norm, against the grain.
If all of these financial and academic reasons don’t express the real reasoning of Notre Dame remaining independent, then I don’t know what will. But the minute someone can give me a valid argument supported by facts, I’ll listen. That probably won’t ever happen, and I really hope it doesn’t!
Having a school like Notre Dame independently on top is good for all of college football. When the winning comes back and losing is forgotten, this topic will be too.