Notre Dame remains one of the most significant brands in college football and has been reported numerous times as being the most desirable program that remains available in the arms race that is conference realignment.
The Fighting Irish are also, famously, an independent in football and have been for decades now.
How long will that remain the case, with the Big Ten reportedly on the verge of agreeing to the most significant and highest paying media rights deal in the history of the sport? And the Big Ten’s regularly reported interest in adding Notre Dame?
On a school live chat, detailed by the The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman on Twitter, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick answered questions regarding the future of Irish athletics.
What would make Notre Dame reconsider independence?
Swarbrick has talked often about what is necessary for Notre Dame to remain an independent, and he reiterated Wednesday that three main elements must exist in order for independence to remain a viable option.
First, Notre Dame has to have a television partner, and compensation from said partner must enable the Fighting Irish to remain on par with the elite in college football.
“(Independence) starts with the question of a media partner,” Swarbrick said.
Notre Dame has had a partnership with NBC dating back to 1991. The school’s current deal with NBC expires in 2025.
Beyond media rights, Swarbrick believe Notre Dame must have a viable route to the College Football Playoff. If that is taken away as an independent, the Irish would have to reconsider their position.
“Do we, as an independent, retain adequate access? I think we’ve proved conclusively in the past eight years that we’ve had it,” Swarbrick said.
College football playoff expansion is back on the table, with 16 teams reportedly being the new target, per CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. While Swarbrick can’t say for sure when expansion will happen, he does believe it will happen sometime in the next few years, and he hopes it happens at around the same time as the Irish finalize their next media rights deal.
“Both those things will play out over time. I can’t predict how much time,” Swarbrick said. “I think the CFP will be resolved as to what’s next within that time frame (one to two years). It’s possible that the media situation could be (too).
“But the flip side of that is our contract runs through the ’25 season. So hard to say, but those are the first two things.”
The final thing needed to ensure Notre Dame remains an independent revolves around Olympic sports. Yes, Olympic sports.
Currently Notre Dame’s Olympic sports compete in the ACC, but if that ceases to be a viable option, the Irish would have to reconsider independence (he called the ACC “a great partner for us in that regard”).
Per Swarbrick, travel is a major issue for Notre Dame with its Olympic sports, and the school is actively trying to ease travel demands.
“I’d like to make progress on the schedule front,” Swarbrick said. “It is hard for our kids to travel the way they do. I think we’ve talked about it before, but when you’re going to Tallahassee and you start with a bus trip to Midway (Chicago Midway International Airport) and then you connect once along the way before you get there, and then you’re on a bus trying to get to campus, it’s probably 18 or 16 hours that you’ve been involved in traveling.
“That’s tough to be a pre-med major or a finance major and do that, so, we’re always looking for ways to make the scheduling easier.”
How the Big Ten’s new media rights deal could affect Notre Dame
Swarbrick also addressed the Big Ten’s new media rights deal — exact details haven’t been formally announced yet — and he believes it can only benefit Notre Dame and college football on the whole.
“I think it’s great,” Swarbrick said. “I think it’s great for college football. They made a decision to have three linear broadcast partners in Fox, who will principally have the big noon game; CBS who will have the 3:30 kick; and NBC, who will have the prime-time kick.
“The more broadcasters, major networks, we keep involved in college football, the better it is for everybody, because they’re invested. They want to promote the game. They want additional properties, so I think that was a brilliant strategy by (Big Ten) Commissioner (Kevin) Warren. I think it played out marvelously for him. The timing could not have been better, and I think when they finally announce the number, it will be a pretty amazing one.
“But it’s also perfect for Notre Dame. We need NBC to have more college football to more effectively promote our games and to talk about our games, to have NBC be seen in that light, so that was great for us that they got a big piece of this.”