As alliances are broken and more prominent programs are moving to new conferences within the next two to three years, ultimately setting the stage for super conferences to emerge in college football, the outlier that you either love or hate with a passion remains: Notre Dame.
Notre Dame, proud of its independence in football (aside from the pandemic season when they were an ACC member), has been able to hold on to a status that has become archaic in the modern-age of the sport, as television deals lure schools to different conferences, even if they don’t make sense geographical (or numerical) sense. Notre Dame football sent shockwaves through the sport in 1991 when they partnered with NBC to ensure all their home games would air on one of the major networks in the U.S. as the football program throughout the 20th century solidified itself as a national brand.
Notre Dame’s deal with NBC was just the first step in the evolution of massive broadcasting deals between other networks like ABC/ESPN, FOX and CBS, as they would align with conferences.
As the dollar-values grow with those media rights, there are reports Notre Dame, in an effort to remain independent even as the changing landscape insist those days are coming to an end, wants $75 million a year from NBC, more than three-times what the peacock network currently pays to broadcast games from South Bend ($22 million), with the current deal ending in 2025. NBC could also have suitors in the Big Ten and Big 12 to join the Irish.
For independents in college football not named Notre Dame, life can be hard. BYU had to scramble for opponents in 2020 when COVID-19 had conferences either forming conference-only schedule or cancelling their season all-together, which may have been the push for them to join the Big 12. Notre Dame had an easier time adjusting due to its deal with the ACC, which requires them to play 5 teams in the conference per-season, allowing them to be a full-time football member in 2020 to fill-out their schedule.
Army, Liberty, New Mexico State, UMass and Connecticut make up the other programs without a conference, playing games mainly on ESPNU, CBS Sports Network, and if they’re lucky, ESPN 2 if they play on Thursday or Friday night.
Notre Dame is the most powerful among those seven that play an independent schedule.
Having that power, Notre Dame can approach NBC and say something like…
“We want to stay independent, you want college football to fill out your afternoon evening schedule after English Premier League soccer wraps up. We want $75 million a year to make that happen.”
But could the Big Ten buy out Notre Dame’s independence? With the next media rights deal rumored to be near $1 billion, with reportedly $80 million to $100 million going to each member school, would that be enough for Notre Dame football to leave behind all the tradition the program and fans alike take pride in? No longer being able to set a unique schedule? No more USC and Navy (this one is debatable) every season?
This as they watch the chaos all-around them as USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas all abandon their traditions for greener pastures…which in this case is more money.
By 2025, we’ll learn if NBC will pay to preserve Notre Dame’s football independence, or if someone will buy them out of it.