Amid various upheavals and tectonic conference shifts, one of the nation’s most prominent college football brands has maintained its neutrality. Notre Dame is the Joel Osteen of college athletics as a football megachurch without a conference denomination. Notre Dame basketball is the garnish, but football pays the bills. However, the college football gusts are uprooting previously stable franchises potentially sweeping up Notre Dame.
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The Fighting Irish earn approximately $22 million a year from their current media rights deal with NBC and through their partial agreement with the ACC, but the NBC contract expires in 2025. For their part, Notre Dame is seeking a bump in their football rights fees to somewhere in the neighborhood of $65 million and $75 million. It’s not quite Big Ten riches, but Notre Dame’s gotta keep up with the Joneses.
Since 1991, Notre Dame has remained content to rake in that sweet NBC dough. Let’s pose a hypothetical thought, and imagine that their negotiations for a new media deal in 2025 broke down because NBC desires to move them to Peacock while prioritizing their $350 million relationship with the Big Ten. Scoff at the implausibility if you want, but Texas and Oklahoma were joining the Pac-12 a decade ago. Three weeks ago, I was catching flack for suggesting the Pac-12 cancel their media day because the vibes were off. Life hits you fast.
Tribalism has swept over the land. BYU is joining the Big 12 and the media rights landscape is shifting quickly.
Under that scenario, joining the Big Ten is outside the realm of possibilities. Notre Dame values its visibility as a lone wolf. Pleading to a super conference would make them just another face in the crowd no matter how much of a financial boon it would be for them in the short-term.
The ACC’s ham-handed attempts to scoop up Stanford and Cal were reportedly at the behest of Notre Dame looking out for their natural rivals. For now, that quid pro quo is on life support. Props to them for making an effort to rescue the eggheads in Palo Alto from a sinking ship, but you know what would help?
Why not join a conference that is seeking a media rights deal and join the Pac-12? The Pac-12 appears to DOA, but what does Touchdown Jesus represent if not the resurrection? It’s not a super-conference, but a mini-conference is a solid middle ground.
Contrary to popular belief, the Conference Previously known as The Pac 12 still has a faint pulse and has hired former XFL chief Oliver Luck as an advisor and shadow commissioner. Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State aren’t an onerous open marriage. Only four teams remain, but in the worst-case scenario, the other four schools flounder beneath Notre Dame’s penumbra and the Fighting Irish will be right back to where they started in a one-team league.
On3’s Andy Staples recently proposed a hastily constructed conference of top-flight academic institutions and military academies consisting of Stanford, Cal, Army, Navy, and Air Force.
That’s less likely than Notre Dame joining the Pac-12. If Notre Dame ever sought to sink into irrelevance, Cal, Stanford, Army, Navy, and the Air Force would be their reapers. Besides that doesn’t leave them with enough flexibility for a robust “Shamrock Series” out-of-conference schedule.
Washington State and Oregon State are unimpressive hanger-ons, but this season, Notre Dame’s schedule consists of Navy, Tennessee State, NC State, Central Michigan, Duke, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Stanford so spare me. Then, Ohio State, Clemson, and USC are sprinkled in there between Sept. 23 and Nov. 4. They can still maintain their annual out-of-conference series against USC while beating up on the Pac-12’s C-team.
A rising tide lifts all boats and Notre Dame is the brand that can give any entity they join a boost. Is it crazy or are these just crazy times?