Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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4 AUGUST 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ne thing that's hard to argue about Jack Swarbrick is that the 14-year Notre Dame director of athletics has been a navigational mae- stro through some unprecedented times over the last decade. So, when all attention last month turned to Notre Dame's response af- ter UCLA and USC announced they'll leave the Pac-12 in 2024 for the Big Ten, Swarbrick's calm wait-and-watch reac- tion perfectly fit his calculating style. "We don't feel any particular urgency," Swarbrick told ESPN's Heather Dinich. Much remains unknown. But we can be certain that Swarbrick's decision on whether to join a conference will be based on future earning power and playoff access. Notre Dame currently brings in about $15 million a year from NBC to broad- cast football games and another $10.8 million from the ACC for its Olympic sports membership. It also receives $3.19 million from the College Football Playoff fund each year, whether it's se- lected or not, and a couple million for playing hockey in the Big Ten. All of it adds up to about $30 million annually. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is reportedly set to offer $70 to $80 million a year to its member schools when its new media rights contract begins in 2024 and could distribute nine-figure payouts by the end of the decade. Ah, but before we assume Notre Dame could make at least $50 million more each year by simply joining the Big Ten, let's not forget the NBC television deal expires in 2025. And if the current 10-year contract signed nine years ago paid $15 million annually, the renegotiated deal with NBC could be worth at least four or five times more than that, per a report last month from CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd. Coincidentally, also in 2025, the four- team College Football Playoff contract expires at the same time Notre Dame's deal with NBC does. A tentative CFP proposal to adopt a 12-team playoff format announced in June 2021 — one in which Swarbrick led negotiations for — lost traction. That expansion plan may be resur- rected in 2026. It may not. So what are Notre Dame's most logical future affili- ation options? JOIN THE BIG TEN At least geographically, financially and from a rivalry standpoint, this move makes sense. Notre Dame already holds proud ri- valries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. And now with USC and UCLA joining the league, the Big Ten provides the coast-to-coast appeal and a national footprint that Notre Dame as an independent cherishes. Imagine a conference headlined by Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and USC. And keep in mind, NBC is expected to enter a bidding war for Big Ten me- dia rights after the 2022-23 school year. Might the Peacock network find a way to double dip, and secure both the Big Ten and exclusive Notre Dame TV rights? JOIN THE ACC An all-in move by Notre Dame to the ACC would help stabilize the confer- ence — maybe even save it — and pro- vide the league added credibility with realignment and program poaching un- doubtedly continuing. Joining the ACC is the smoothest move, considering Notre Dame's tidy fit in the league's Olympic sports programs and its five-game football agreement with the conference each season. But if rumors eventually meet real- ity and marquee conference members Clemson, Florida State and Miami jump to the SEC and/or the Big Ten, the ACC loses all of its value. Circumstances can change, but as it stands now, Notre Dame would have to pay a hefty financial price in the tens of millions to leave the ACC before 2036. FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE It's no secret that protecting 130 years of football independence is the preferred path moving forward, and Swarbrick will do everything in his power to follow it. Notre Dame operates in its own vacuum because it can. The school sells and prof- its off a unique blend of football, national appeal and academics that isn't matched. Notre Dame is the only university in U.S. News & World Report's 2021 na- tional rankings that finished among the top 20 in both academic performance and football attendance. BIDING THEIR TIME In addition to these three aforemen- tioned options, there's also chatter of Notre Dame joining the SEC. That's not likely considering the SEC announced that it's satisfied with a 16-team model, at least for now. As they have during every round of realignment, theories flew wildly last month that this latest wave was the one that would finally force Notre Dame's hand to join a conference. Instead, knowing that the grass isn't necessarily greener and leaning on the old adage that if it ain't broke don't fix it, plus believing Notre Dame holds all the cards, Swarbrick went about business as usual. "There's ample time for us to let the landscape settle," he said. ✦ Swarbrick is in no rush to make a decision on Notre Dame's future, opting instead "to let the landscape settle" while weighing what will make the most sense for its future earning power and playoff access. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Jack Swarbrick: The Calm During The Storm UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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