Despite the use of intimidating phrases like “seismic shifts” and “changing landscapes” the fact remains that conference re-alignment doesn’t have to change Notre Dame football and nothing besides Notre Dame’s own choices can compel it to give up independence.
Notre Dame football will only change by choice; it can’t be forced into a conference arrangement.
There are only three make or break issues with regard to ND Football and independence:
1 – Can ND schedule without a conference?
The answer is absolutely yes. The only scheduling constraint on Notre Dame football is the SELF-IMPOSED 7-4-1 scheduling model, which is all about generating extra gate receipts. To hear Jack Swarbrick talk about playing Maryland at FED EX field being an “institutional fit” is head scratching. How, in any way shape or form, is that an “institutional fit”? That’s Whitesque obfuscation language. There’s no institutional fit; it’s a decent off-site game that will allow Notre Dame to keep the gate receipts while playing on television. It’s a “revenue fit.”
2 – Will ND be able to compete for a national championship without a conference affiliation?
The answer is yes. If Swarbrick can be cornered by the super-conferences on this issue then he’s not worth a dollar of his salary. This is the “easy out” argument. There is no legitimate argument for keeping ND out of the BCS and if Swarbrick can’t handle this part of the puzzle he needs to be replaced. If pressured on this ND should come out swinging, hire a PR firm, engage Congress in their efforts, use its extensive Obama connections and stand up for itself. It’s a PR battle ND should prepare to fight to win. I don’t see this happening. If the BCS can’t keep Utah, TCU and Boise State out, how are they going to exclude ND?
3 – Can ND make enough money to compete at the highest level without a conference affiliation?
The answer is unquestionably yes. Notre Dame will have more than enough money to compete at the very highest level. The false choice Swarbrick is implying comes down to this, “conferences are making more money on television deals so ND has to align or it won’t be able to compete in the arms race.” ND’s contracts with Adidas, NBC, the BCS (don’t get me started), licensing and gate receipts create more than enough money. What Swarbrick is arguing (read between these lines) is that ND will not be able to create as much revenue from media if it doesn’t align with a conference.
“You have two conferences [the Big Ten and SEC] that have separated themselves economically and you’ve got all the other conferences lined up for their [upcoming television] renegotiations,” said Swarbrick. “The bar has been set so high, and the [current] media market is so tepid, that it creates a lot of tension.”
So this is about “relative” money. And the fact is that Notre Dame doesn’t need more money than it’s making right now to compete in football. Notre Dame doesn’t need that extra revenue, it could choose to realign to make more money, but it’s not required to and to imply Notre Dame will be forced into realigning for more money or not be able to compete if it doesn’t is a false choice. Notre Dame already siphons off millions from the football program.
The false choices and scare words, in the end, are just another way to try to milk “The Golden Goose” that is Notre Dame football.
Speaking of money, if Notre Dame does make a deal now, it will be doing so from a position of historical weakness and not strength. I believe that Brian Kelly will have some very good years. Imagine Notre Dame as a lone independent, standing for something great and unique and playing in a national championship in three years… then picture the revenue opportunities.
Bargaining from a position of weakness is feckless.
As Domer wrote back in the fall, the coffin is entirely of Notre Dame‘s own making:
[Edited down] Seeing ND hamstrung by its own faulty decisions is what makes so much of what’s happened around here for the past 12-15 years so maddening to me… You have an institution built upon immigrant dreams, religious identity, and football excellence and respond by subjugating the very things that made the place special to the fleeting notions of aspirational peers, U.S. News rankings, and the like. Sorry for the semi-rant, but I want Notre Dame back in the business of being Notre Dame. It’s long overdue. ~ domer
To be sure conference realignment will create problems. So what? It was exactly these types of problems that created the greatness of Notre Dame football and forced the Irish to be unique. Visionaries saw those problems as an opportunity to create something greater and gave birth to what many believe is the greatest franchise in sports. Swarbrick’s words indicate he sees them as excuses to take the easy way out and become smaller, not greater.
Notre Dame shouldn’t be swayed by “seismic shifts,” it has to define it’s own way and find a way to get there. We often use the story of the Duomo to illustrate to executives how brain locked their decision making becomes by circumstances (i.e. “changing landscapes” and “seismic shifts”). They see boundaries when great men see opportunity.
This cathedral was designed as a physical manifestation of the glory of 15th century Florence. The most notable aspect of the design was the dome. At 143 feet, 6 inches, it would be the largest dome in the Western world. Only one— not tiny—problem: no-one had the first clue how to build a dome this big. As Ross King notes in his fabulous book Brunelleschi’s Dome, “the original designers merely expressed a touching faith that at some point in the future, God might provide a solution, and architects with more advanced knowledge would be found.”
So in 1418 a gentleman by the name of Filippo Brunelleschi was selected to build the dome.
Brunelleschi had several big challenges in front of him—but there was one in particular that stood out. He had to build a curving structure, out of brick, with no
interior scaffolding to support it while the mortar dried.
But the dome was so wide and so high that there literally was not enough wood in all of Italy to build sufficient scaffolding. So Brunelleschi had to come up with an entirely new approach.
And what he delivered is truly genius. First, the ox-hoist. It used a cheap energy source to lift stone blocks weighing thousands of pounds as high as 300 feet in the air. The castello allowed workers to move these heavy loads laterally into place—the antecedent to the modern construction crane.
He incorporated horizontal arches into the design that solved another of the big challenges: how to keep the dome from collapsing under its own weight. This was also how he got around using scaffolding..
He also played around with the traditional toolkit, and used some “revolutionary” techniques that he actually adapted from ancient Roman architecture. Laying brick in a herring-bone pattern stabilized it enough so that it could be laid in concentric
In building this dome, Brunelleschi came right up against the limitations of his own
discipline. Western architecture had produced wonders—and some thought
that it couldn’t advance much f
urther. But Brunelleschi took the best of the old methods, added even better new ones, and in doing so, moved his discipline to the next level.
Notre Dame can continue to pioneer its own way, use this opportunity build something even more extraordinary and remain a beacon or… it can take the easy way out.
No bowl tie-in outside of the BCS? Strike an ND-only bowl deal like Hawaii did.
NBC’s TV contract won’t add up? Structure of dual deal with another conference to share in their pie in exchange for home and homes and adding the value of ND to the bundle.
Are these the right answers? Who knows? But independence takes creative thinking and requires courageous decisions that may not be what the Joneses are doing.
To paraphrase what I wrote last year, no organization can bend to external pressure and sacrifice its core values without losing what made it special. What a terrible lesson that would be for our youth. If that happens Notre Dame will become just another fable… and a 100 years of winning that inspired millions to strive for excellence will become a cautionary tale of what happens when poor leadership inherits a legacy.