Notre Dame's options in the next round of realignment: ACC, B1G or neither?
Notre Dame has a looming decision to make.
As college football prepares to go through another intense round of realignment, the Fighting Irish are in a unique position. Notre Dame does not have full conference membership, but would immediately become one of the most-sought after programs in the country if they decided to join a league on a full-time basis.
The ACC, the Big Ten and remaining independent all appear to be viable options for Notre Dame at this stage. Factors like future television money, its current deal with the ACC and future College Football Playoff access could all play a factor.
Here’s a breakdown of Notre Dame’s options:
Join the ACC full time
Notre Dame is already a partial member of the ACC, with a commitment to play 5 football games annually vs. ACC opponents through 2036.
If Notre Dame does decide to join a conference, the ACC would be the cleanest option. Because of the Fighting Irish’s deal with the ACC, they’re believed to be unable to join any other conference until the contract expires 2036. Of course, there are always work-arounds if Notre Dame wanted to join another league. It would be far more complicated, though.
Notre Dame’s presence in the ACC would go a long way toward saving the conference, too. The ACC could be looking at potentially having its best programs poached by the Big Ten and SEC in the coming years. The Fighting Irish might even have enough leverage to negotiate a more-favorable revenue-sharing structure with the other top teams in the ACC.
Join the Big Ten
It’s theoretically plausible that Notre Dame could buy its way out of its current contract with the ACC. That could be enormously expensive, although it’s unclear how big the exit fee would be. But leaving the ACC would clear the way for the Irish to join the Big Ten, where the projected annual revenue distribution is expected to be much greater.
Notre Dame does have some history with several Big Ten programs. It has longstanding rivalries with Big Ten members Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and now USC. It’s also not too difficult to imagine building new traditions by playing premier programs like Ohio State, Penn State and UCLA.
Geographically, the Big Ten would be a great fit. Notre Dame would become the third Indiana program to join the league. It would mean relatively short road trips to places like Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. That could play a factor as Notre Dame considers the future for all of its programs outside of football, too.
Despite the unrest across the college football landscape, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Notre Dame remain independent. The Fighting Irish have left big money on the table before — granted, maybe not this much money.
Another major factor here will be Notre Dame’s potential access to an eventual expanded College Football Playoff. College football leaders ultimately tabled those talks for the immediate future.
The number of slots available — 8, 12 and 16-team formats are possible — as well as the number of at-large berths are likely factors that Notre Dame would consider.