With the college football playoff off the agenda, we now return to our typical offseason programming: conference realignment. But of course, the playoff and realignment are sort of related now, aren’t they? Especially when it comes to the fate of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, college sports’ most valuable property in many opinions. As such a property, no one was all that surprised when the school’s athletic director, John Swarbrick, was in attendance at the playoff meetings while other independents (such as “Notre Dame of the West,” BYU) were not invited to the proceedings at all. But how much longer will that be the case?
Under the old BCS system, Notre Dame would receive $4.5 million in payouts whenever it made it to one of the big-money bowls (which it did three times in 14 seasons) and $1.3 million in seasons it wasn’t good enough to qualify. The team also got preferential treatment compared to the other teams: an automatic bid if it finished among the top eight in the rankings. There’s no word yet on how much the school will make in the new playoff format, but obviously, their chances of participation in this event have diminished considerably versus the BCS. While on the other hand, it would appear their chances at a big-money bowl just went up. Since 1998 (the first year of the BCS), the school never finished the regular season higher than ninth, and would have been ineligible for a BCS game in all but two seasons (2000 and 2005). In the new system though, there would be no qualifications for a big money bowl, meaning as long as the Irish went at least 9-3, they’d probably still get an invite. Sounds like a good deal on paper, right?
There are still problems, though. What if Notre Dame is unable to win nine games? It’s not a hard-and-fast rule to get an invite to an exclusive bowl, but the road may become treacherous. With the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 all slated to have nine conference games each in 2014 (or sooner for three of those), there are fewer and fewer options to schedule marquee games. So either they get there on cupcake teams, or they fail to achieve the goal due to a season-long gauntlet of elite scheduling. Take a look at the Irish’s future schedules, as they appear right now. Unless something major happens in South Bend, they may begin piling up losses in a hurry.
The other big issue — outnumbered 11-1 (soon to be 10-1, once the WAC dies), does the school finally get taken down to size by its peers, and see a reduced share of revenue? It’s conceivable. Mountain West Connection’s Jeremy Mauss raised a great point yesterday, stating that the “mid-majors” of college football essentially traded access for money. With this in mind, that cash has to come from someone’s pockets. Why not a school that’s struggled to be relevant over the past 25 years and has seen declining ratings for its staple Saturday matchups on NBC? If they see a diminished role in the process, and a smaller revenue stream, perhaps they do the unthinkable and join a conference…
Now before folks get all up in arms, let’s remember this is all a hypothetical, for the time being. There are some murmurs, however, that discussions are happening. There’s just no consensus on what, exactly, is being talked about and who these talks might be with. Last week, Orangebloods’ Chip Brown claimed the Irish were headed there for Olympic sports, with a scheduling deal for football. Unsurprisingly, that ended up being unsubstantiated rumor-mongering. This week, there’s been chatter on some boards about a secret meeting between ND and the ACC, also concerning Louisville. I was dismissive at first, but then it started heading over to Twitter, with additional details attached. If it’s true, the ACC’s TV deal would multiply by 1.5 times its current value should they add ND and the ‘Ville. That means $24 million per school in a 16-team league — BUT there’s a catch. Notre Dame would make $36 million in this arrangement (by far the most it could garner anywhere), and in return, each school would get knocked down to around $23.2 million each. Of course, I’m alright with concessions, but is that too much? Wake Forest fans probably say no, but Florida State fans likely feel differently given their own status as a supposedly “elite” viewing property.
Next step is waiting, and just trying not to believe the buzz until it’s proven true. Everything could be happening, or nothing could be happening. It’s a crapshoot at this point in the realignment game, even though the financial stakes have never been higher. As always, I’m optimistic that the ACC will once again come out on the better end of it all, but I’ve been surprised before.