For four decades, John Heisler worked at Notre Dame, publicizing its athletics teams and chronicling the Fighting Irish’s many exploits and accomplishments.
But he was let go in 2019.
“I was at Notre Dame for 40 years,” Heisler said. “There wasn’t much else left to do.”
Now he’s the senior associate athletic director for strategic communications at UCF, which will join the Big 12 next year along with BYU, Houston and Cincinnati.
Having relocated to Orlando, Florida, it’s a much different place than South Bend, Indiana. Hurricane Ian that hit central Florida last week notwithstanding, generally, the climate is more inviting.
“I didn’t have to bring my snow shovel, so that’s been good,” Heisler said. “It gets a little warm here. A little humid in the summers and the falls. But the winter — from November to April — is pretty glorious.”
Heisler was at Notre Dame for all the previous matchups between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish (1992, 1993, 1994, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2013) in a series that began 30 years ago.
Having spent so many years at Notre Dame, Heisler has an interesting perspective on the athletic department.
Realignment erupted last summer as USC and UCLA announced they will be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024. Notre Dame’s football team is widely viewed as a catalyst for future realignment.
It’s no secret that the Big Ten has coveted Notre Dame for many years. Meanwhile, the Irish are an ACC member for all sports except football and ice hockey. The school receives a share of the ACC’s media rights revenue.
But for football, Notre Dame receives approximately $26 million a year on its combination of contract with NBC and its ACC partnership.
Would the Notre Dame football program ever leave behind independence to join a conference?
When asked that question, Heisler didn’t hesitate.
“No, I don’t think it will,” he said.
“First of all because it just means so much to them. Whatever you want to say about their current administration, all their fans and alumni are even more tied into it than ever. In particular if they’re going to go back to NBC and up the ante on the revenue end of it, they’re going to be fine,” Heisler said. “They’re not worried about making more money than anybody in America. They don’t necessarily have to do that.
“Particularly as an independent, they have a different economic structure to start with. The combination of filling their stadium most of the time, the fact that they were able, to their credit, to negotiate a full share of the ACC Network revenue, which may have surprised a few people.
“But the combination of all that, and if they’re going to manage to upsize what they’re doing with NBC, they’re in a pretty good spot to stay where they are. It didn’t look like that for a while. If you did the math, from a big-picture revenue standpoint, they had probably fallen behind a lot of people as these conference things have been upsized. It certainly means an awful lot for them, for sure, to all the Notre Dame people in general. They feel like that is a point of distinction that’s been very important to them.”
Heisler points out that Penn State was an independent program for many years before joining the Big Ten in 1993. Some believe that the Nittany Lions lost some of their cachet by joining a conference rather than remaining independent.
“I think they like it that way,” Heisler said about Notre Dame being independent. “But you never know.”
Cougars on the air
vs. Notre Dame (2-2)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
Las Vegas, Nevada
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM