This whole conference thing is ridiculous for those of us who bleed blue and gold, but if you're among the gullible, so be it. Folks keep leaping from the shadows to say Notre Dame will stiff-arm tradition and common sense by joining the ACC after 130 years as an independent.
It won't happen.
It will never happen.
"No one here really wants to address this, because it's a non-story," Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler told me this week after Fox Sports announcer Tim Brando claimed on a "Louisville Sports Live" podcast that Irish officials have discussed going from a quasi-member of the ACC in football to full-time status. The other Notre Dame sports joined that conference years ago, but as for football, Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick responded to Brando's claims at the ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., by telling reporters, "Absolutely not true. We love the ACC, but we love our relationship the way it is, and there hasn't been any discussion."
Good. Now those folks can vanish with their silly conference talk about Notre Dame football. You know, until they return for another round, because they're coming back. They always do.
Here's the bottom line: Notre Dame haters in the house. They want the Irish to be like everybody else of consequence in college football by having a conference affiliation with the ACC, the Big Ten or another place. Instead, Notre Dame officials keep saying emphatically "no," and I'll play Dr. Phil for a moment. Such defiance makes Notre Dame haters wish to punch a picture of Rudy or something, especially since their favorite team wouldn't have the ability to function as lordly as the Irish as an independent.
Notre Dame is Notre Dame, and nobody in college football has anything close to the Irish's litany of things. Not Alabama, not Ohio State and definitely not that school from Los Angeles with the grayish white horse (Since I was born and raised in Notre Dame's home of South Bend, Ind., I avoid typing "Southern Cal" and "USC" as often as possible). Only the Irish have spent decades producing nationally renowned legends, ranging from Knute Rockne, The Gipper and the Four Horsemen to Frank Leahy, Johnny Lujack and Paul Hornung to Ara Parseghian, Alan Page and Joe Montana and to Lou Holtz, Tim Brown and The Rocket. Through generations of opinion polls, surveys and editorials, rarely has "The Notre Dame Victory March" not been picked as the greatest fight song ever made since its birth in 1908. Speaking of The Gipper, a U.S. president (Ronald Reagan) portrayed him on the big screen. The Golden Dome. Touchdown Jesus. The Grotto, where you can light candles while praying for miracles, including ones beyond Irish victories.
That said, I'll give you the biggest reason for Notre Dame haters: NBC. The Irish have played all of their home football games on that national TV network since 1991, and I know what you're thinking. Why just Notre Dame? During the length of the Irish's NBC contract, other college football programs have prospered like crazy. We're talking the Bad Boys of Miami, Florida State's run under Bobby Bowden and the current Alabama dynasty. None of them was offered a deal with NBC, or with CBS or ABC, for that matter. While those teams have joined others in creating a buzz beyond their regions during stretches here and there, Notre Dame football has been huge everywhere for more than a century. You can despise the Irish, or you can cherish them, but you can't ignore them, even though their dominance comes and goes these days.
All I know is that NBC will continue to broadcast Notre Dame home games at least through 2025. (Before I type the following, remember I have The Victory March in my head at all times.) That will add to the universal love of Notre Dame merchandising courtesy of decades of youngsters already exposed by the network to the glory that is Irish football.
Thus much of the resentment, the envy and the haters.
I mean, who do the Irish think they are? With their Leprechaun, and with that flawless marching band, and with a renovated stadium adding the luxuries of this century while retaining the flavor of the Rockne era, including the original walls of brick from the 1930s, they think they're better than everybody else. They need their football team in a conference, just like the rest of us.
No, they don't.
"The ACC setup is perfect for us, and we just announced football games with the ACC through 2037," Heisler told me, referring to Notre Dame's agreement with the conference that allows the Irish to remain independent while playing five of their 12 games each season against ACC teams. They also are part of that conference's bowl-slotting process during years in which Notre Dame doesn't make the College Football Playoff. Not only that, but even though the Irish don't share any of their bowl money with other ACC members, they received $4.3 million this year from the ACC/ESPN TV package for basketball and other sports. That latter payout will expand big time in 2019 when the ACC Network starts and Notre Dame becomes a full conference partner as far as revenue.
So why does Notre Dame need to join a conference?
I think we've covered that.
What about scheduling? See what I just typed about those five ACC games every year, and courtesy of more tradition, Notre Dame plays Navy and (ahem) that team from Los Angeles every season. Stanford also has become a regular opponent for the Irish. That leaves three slots to fill each year, and take this into consideration: Notre Dame doesn't resemble your average SEC team by padding its nonconference schedule with hyphenated teams from Louisiana or somebody worse. The Irish are among a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision teams that never has faced a team from the lower division. This season, for instance, they have Georgia and Michigan State.
OK, I know what you're thinking now. Notre Dame is among the big boys obsessed with making the College Football Playoff. You could make the case that, if you stumble during the season as a member of a Power Five conference instead of as an independent, you have a better chance of making the CFP by winning your conference championship game.
Two things . . .
Ohio State dropped a squeaker during the middle of last season at Penn State, and even though the Buckeyes weren't Big Ten champions, they still were picked to participate in one of the CFP semifinal games. There also was two years ago, when Notre Dame was on the verge of becoming Ohio State before Ohio State along these lines. That's because, in the middle of that 2015 season, the Irish lost in the final seconds at Clemson. Even so, with a victory on the road during their regular-season finale at Stanford game, they likely would have made the CFP as an independent with one loss. They eventually fell two points shy of winning down the stretch in Palo Alto, but they got a splendid consolation prize when they were selected to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Which gave them a few more pennies to stuff in their pockets for themselves.
Which is why Notre Dame haters keep screaming.
Which is why the Irish will cover their ears forever while laughing all the way to the bank as an independent.