I don’t think this comes as particularly shocking news:
A source familiar with the school’s thinking told Sports Illustrated that “independence remains the preference and the leader in the clubhouse.” It will take a lot to move Notre Dame off its cherished identity, but the instability of the entire landscape remains a concern, and could further affect the Irish outlook.
I’m sure it would. The problem for ND is that instability is the name of the game right now in college football. Take these two examples, for instance.
Two areas to monitor: the fates of both the College Football Playoff and the Atlantic Coast Conference. If one or both collapse, Notre Dame could be compelled into the Big Ten. Per its current contract, the playoff ceases to exist in January 2026. There is no guarantee another iteration of it will take its place, at any size. “The vast majority of the writing assumes a playoff, and that it’s going to get bigger,” says the industry source. “I’m not sure about that assumption.”
The idea of the CFP ceasing to exist when its current contract expires would have been a laughable concept a year ago, but now, who the hell knows? If it did collapse under the weight of the current state of realignment affairs, that seems like pretty good news for the Irish and their desire to remain independent. Maintaining the four-team status quo seems even better, though.
Ironically, Notre Dame’s best ally in the cause of independence would appear to be Greg Sankey. Make no mistake, Sankey would love for ND to join his conference. Almost as good a win for the SEC, though, would be keeping them out of the Big Ten, whether through the ACC maintaining its viability or postseason circumstances allowing the Irish to maintain their cherished independence.
Along those lines, Sankey’s already got credibility with Jack Swarbrick, ND’s athletic director. The two were the main drivers, along with now departed Big 12 head Bob Bowlsby, for the 12-team CFP proposal that was vetoed by the other three P5 commissioners. A 12-team CFP is probably the most attractive option of all to the Notre Dame athletics brain trust.
But here’s the thing: the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren knows that. And he’s already on record as having shot down the 12-team playoff, so he’s got a certain credibility of his own in play. (Admittedly, that only goes so far.) The question you have to ask him is pretty simple — how long do you take no for an answer? I think that depends on what he sees as an end game. If it’s about maintaining the current CFP framework, then he can pretty much wait forever on Notre Dame (which he just might have to do). But what if he’s already leaning into the super league concept of a Big Ten/SEC-controlled playoff?
That’s where it gets interesting, at least to me. Facing that situation, Notre Dame can’t hold out forever, of course, but it might hold out long enough to force the Big Ten’s hand with regard to where the next round of expansion goes. Warren’s problem with that scenario is that he’s not the only likely bidder for ND’s entry. That’s going to be especially awkward if the ACC is busted up and a bunch of schools from that conference shop for a new landing place.
There are lots of games left to play, in other words. But the Irish don’t strike me as being in a desperate position — not yet, anyway.