To the likes of Gary Pinkel and Dabo Swinny:
Notre Dame will not be forced into a conference by either of you or anyone else. The Irish will join a conference when it forces itself into one.
The Clemson head coach, who will welcome Notre Dame to Death Valley on October 3, said that the Irish need to play a 13th game, which would only make if fair since the ACC champion has to play an extra game to win the conference title.
Gary Pinkel, the Missouri head coach, wants to keep all independents out of the college football playoff picture. Pinkel probably doesn't care about BYU and Army, and is mainly talking about Notre Dame.
Swinny's argument falls on fewer deaf ears than Pinkel's. It is interesting that Pinkel, a head coach in the Southeastern Conference, is so worried about Notre Dame. Clemson actually play the Irish.
Now, Notre Dame has a few reasons to stay independent, even in a landscape that favors teams in conferences with the new college football playoff.
Having a lucrative contract with NBC to broadcast home games since 1991 has been one big reason to stay out of a conference. Even road games on ESPN are often pushed into primetime, even if they are not playing a USC or Michigan-type. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has always ensured that the Irish could keep their independence. Striking a deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference for their other sports as the old Big East crumbled and agreeing to play five ACC teams each season (they will play six to make up for 2014) helped keep Notre Dame out of a conference.
Unlike some of the past and present independents, Notre Dame always puts together a challenging schedule. While most of the ACC schools open with FCS schools, the Irish will host Texas at home to begin the 2015 season and then face Virginia on the road. Swinny's Clemson Tigers open with Wofford, followed by Appalachian State.
Notre Dame also likes to keep games against Stanford, USC, Navy and Purdue intact. Those in Ann Arbor and East Lansing will call Swarbrick a coward for cancelling their series, but the Irish will face some tough challenges against the likes of Georgia Tech and Clemson this season.
What can keep Notre Dame out of the playoff? Well, the lack of a conference and conference title. Based on how the committee determined the top four teams last season, the Irish would have to be 12-0, or, at worst, 11-1 just to be considered for the top four. If the playoff expands to eight teams within the next few years, it would probably benefit them.
If it does not, and the Irish are on the outside looking in each season, perhaps Swarbrick considers moving into a conference. The latest deal with NBC runs until 2025. They could either wait, or opt out early.
In 2013, the year before the College Football Playoff was installed, I was out in South Bend for the final game against BYU. My uncle asked me for my thoughts on Notre Dame joining a conference in the playoff era. My previous paragraph is exactly what I told him.
Nobody can predict the exact future of college football, but empty ultimatums and misguided arguments against Notre Dame won't change Jack Swarbrick and the university's minds.
Notre Dame will end Notre Dame's independence.
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