As the top conferences across the country move to “conference-only” matchups, the Irish have seen three opponents drop off their calendar. Many analysts say Notre Dame can only fill their schedule and secure a future by joining a conference, but that is far from the truth. Not even the pandemic can force Notre Dame Football into a conference.
“Conference Only” Games
COVID-19 alters scheduling. The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced their members would be playing “conference-only” teams this fall. Conversely, the Wisconsin Badgers, Stanford Cardinals, and USC Trojans will not clash with the Irish on the gridiron this fall. Notre Dame has dropped down to nine opponents, but Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly are not blemished.
Brian Kelly says his phone is “ringing off the hook.” If the Irish wanted to, there is no doubt they could find opponents to fill their schedule. All the programs in the ACC are looking to fill up their previous non-conference schedules, and that means more options for Notre Dame. Also, several conferences across the country have not gone to “conference only” matchups yet and could present additional opponents for the program.
Advantages of being Independent. Imagine a conference commissioner telling the Irish they cannot play remaining opponents such as Navy, Arkansas, and Western Michigan because they are not in their conference. That would not fly with the Notre Dame fanbase.
Sometimes, these “conference-only” matchups do not make sense when their non-conference games are closer geographically than the matchups within the conference.
2020 College Football Season
A year without college football. During this global pandemic, it has been vital to take information day by day. When COVID-19 first struck, college football seemed forever away, but now the Irish are less than six weeks out from their hopeful trip to Annapolis, Maryland. Notre Dame Football has done a tremendous job of keeping the program quarantined, but will all that work be in vain?
Spring football season an option? A spring football season sounds a lot better than no college football at all. No one knows whether the world will be in a better place this Spring, but there is optimism. Maybe there will be a vaccine in the Spring, and fans can attend games, but conversely, everything may be the same.
A Spring season would undoubtedly have a few downsides, such as players sitting out, but it may be a safer option.
ACC is not pressuring AD Swarbrick
Is this the perfect time for the Irish to join a conference? There has been no indication that the ACC will be using the global pandemic to force the Fighting Irish into a corner. In fact, it has been quite the contrary. Rumors of the ACC working with Notre Dame to help fill their schedule have been swirling with familiar opponents such as the Miami Hurricanes.
Could Notre Dame make the ACC Championship? In reality, no one knows what college football will look like a month from now. Rumors have circulated that if the Irish were to add more ACC opponents to the schedule in 2020, they might be eligible for a conference title game or even Orange Bowl bid.
I do not know how I feel about conference affiliation in the long-term, but for a season during the pandemic, that does not sound like a bad alternative.
Notre Dame’s Independence
Conference affiliation vs. Traditional Rivalries. Indeed, if Notre Dame were to join a conference, they would keep the USC Trojans on their schedule. If the Irish play USC every year, that would reduce their non-conference schedule down to three matchups. What happens to other traditional opponents such as Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Navy, and even Purdue?
Notre Dame’s historical opponents. Since the Irish have joined the ACC for five games each season, these historic matchups have dwindled. For fans in Indiana, myself included, I’d rather take a trip to West Lafayette every other year to watch Notre Dame’s only in-state rivalry with Purdue. As opposed to watching them play a team along the Atlantic Coast that 99% of fans living in Indiana cannot attend.
Marquee Non-Conference games would shrink. If the Irish were to join the ACC, future matchups such as Texas A & M, Alabama, Arkansas, and Ohio State would be few and far between. Realistically, Notre Dame would still need a few non-power-five opponents mixed in throughout the season, such as Ball State, Bowling Green, and New Mexico.
2020 College Football Season is looking bleak. This fall was filled with countless matchups such as Navy (Ireland), Wisconsin (Lambeau Field), and a potential #1 Clemson coming to South Bend. The Badgers are already off the schedule, and Navy, if played, will take place in Annapolis.
Many experts are declaring the Irish must join a conference now, but these are the same experts who said Notre Dame could not make a BCS Title Game or the College Football Playoffs as an Independent program.
Notre Dame will make its own decisions. If the Irish were to join a conference full-time, they would likely increase revenue, but for Jack Swarbrick and fans, it is about more than money. The flexibility of scheduling, traditional rivalries, and the ability to play anyone across the country are a few of the qualities that make Notre Dame Football different than any other program.