Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 53 of 55

54 AUGUST 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ne of the features in Blue & Gold Illustrated's 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview was a peek into what the new de- cade from 2020-29 holds. What impact will the coro- navirus have moving forward? Who will be the eventual successor to head coach Brian Kelly? Is playoff expansion inevi- table? How much more power will the student-athlete wield with the Name, Image and Like- ness (NIL) plan proposed by the NCAA? And … will it be time for Notre Dame to join a confer- ence — gasp! — full-time in football? Not many might have envi- sioned at the end of 2009 that by the time 2020 started, Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers would be in the Big Ten, Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12, West Virginia in the Big 12, and Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC, among many other odd geographical upheavals. For that matter, how about Notre Dame bolting the Big East to join the ACC (2013) — even partially in foot- ball — while also aligning with the Big Ten in hockey? That "partial" football title carried the inference that just in case Notre Dame gets backed into a corner, the ACC would be there to grant full membership. That "corner" is here in 2020 with the current coronavirus crisis. The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have an- nounced a conference-only football model in 2020, while the other three Power Five members — ACC, Big 12 and SEC — should have an answer by the end of July. ACC commissioner John Swofford is on record that the league would as- sist Notre Dame with as many games as it might need in 2020. Let's be clear: there is zero evi- dence that Notre Dame joining the ACC as a full-time football member in the next decade is a fait accompli. It would be ludicrous by the univer- sity to hastily make such a commit- ment on the basis of a (hopefully) short-term pandemic issue. It must deal from a position of strength. Still, the ACC has gradually lured Notre Dame into a potential football web that must at least be contem- plated about in the future. A sacred element to Notre Dame's football program has been to fiercely guard its independent status. A com- promise was reached in other sports by latching on with the Big East in 1995 and then, when the football ver- sion of the league fell apart, joining the ACC in 2013. Meanwhile, football has remained the untouchable. The Big Ten made more geographi- cal sense than the ACC, but the deal breaker was the Big Ten not permit- ting partial league status in football the way the ACC did. Independence on the gridiron remained paramount because Notre Dame prides itself on competition for national titles, not "merely" league titles. That's why for years the Fighting Irish football followers mocked Mich- igan head coach Bo Schembechler's (1969-89) stance of how conference ti- tles superseded national titles. Thank the heavens that Notre Dame did not have such an attitude in football! Yet here is a harsh reality: In the 26 football seasons from 1994 through 2019, only twice did Notre Dame enter the final game of the regular season with a bona fide shot at the na- tional championship (2012 and 2018 under Kelly). That's nearly an eight percent success rate. In 18 of those 26 seasons, the Fighting Irish had at least a second defeat by the time No- vember started. This isn't quite 1964-80, when in those 17 years Notre Dame entered the final game of the regular season with a le- gitimate chance at winning the national title eight times (and won it three times while shar- ing a fourth), and with only one defeat a couple other times. Or one can point to 1988-93 when four out of those six years the Irish had a bona fide opportunity to win the na- tional title when the calendar flipped to January (doing so once and finishing No. 2 twice). Notre Dame faithful talk about national titles like it is a birthright, mainly because of achieving it an NCAA-recognized 13 times in the 70 years from 1919-88 (one per 5.4 years). Yet how hollow does it ring to speak of "championships" when not one has been achieved in 31 years? Recently, CBS Sports defined the "modern era" of college football as 1992, when the SEC playoff, scholar- ship cutbacks, BCS system, televi- sion rights, etc. began to merge. No "championships" have been won by Notre Dame since then while 14 oth- ers, predominantly from the South or warm-weather sites, have. An opportunity to play for merely an ACC division or conference title once was anathema to the "older guard" such as myself, because it comes across as a continuing lowering of the bar and becoming "Schembechlerized." Yet … the older I've grown and the less Notre Dame has annually com- peted for a national title, the thought of joining the ACC full-time in football doesn't sound as repulsive as it once might have, be it temporarily in 2020 or somewhere by 2030, if not later. ✦ Is Notre Dame Inching Closer To Full Conference Play? THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Would Notre Dame ever seriously entertain becoming a full-time football member in the ACC? PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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