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Notre Dame Football: Will the Irish Ever Join a Conference?


Notre Dame remains committed to Independence, but will that ever change? The BCS will be eliminated when a four-team playoff begins in 2014 and more realignment could happen in several BCS conferences. The Irish are the main target of expansion for the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten, but they do not appear interested in joining a conference - at least for now.

Will Notre Dame Football Ever Join a Conference?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
If college football is going to have a playoff, Notre Dame could certainly give up on independence. To be clear, it’s not going to happen immediately and it may end up being a matter of last resort. If the new playoff format diminishes Notre Dame’s ability to compete, I could see the Irish joining a league -- and of course, they would have no shortage of suitors. For now, Notre Dame still has the clout to be a part of the decision-making process of the playoff even if the Irish haven’t finished in the top four since 1993. At some point, especially if Notre Dame struggles to get over the eight-win mark, Notre Dame may need to move into a conference simply to recruiting -- meaning the Irish may look outside of Big Ten territory in order to gain a foothold in Texas or the South. I would never say Notre Dame will always remain independent, but something seismic, be it more realignment, a conference-champion only playoff system or more losing seasons, to force the hands of the Irish.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Swirling rumors right now are that Notre Dame will switch all of its Olympic sports to the Big 12 — a monumental move that means very little to the immediate layout of college football but will have far-reaching, long-term effects. It sets up Fighting Irish football for a potential move into a stable, lucrative power conference when it does finally need to join a league. This won't take place for years, maybe even decades, but eventually the Golden Domers will need to join a power conference for football and the Big 12 is a much more attractive option than the Big East. Notre Dame football will join a league at some point down the road or it will be left out of the big playoff pie that is coming down the pike. But it looks like the back-from-the-ashes Big 12 is the likely destination, not the Big East or Big Ten.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
In the next 5-10 years? No. At some point? Yes. I know Notre Dame values its Independence, but college football will change. A four-team playoff may morph into an 8 or 16-team tournament and there may be more of an incentive to join a conference. New presidents, athletic directors and other leaders in 25 years may feel differently about Independence. Also, if more leagues decide to go to nine conference games, scheduling could get more difficult. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 have all been rumored as possible landing spots if Notre Dame wants to join a conference, and there’s no question the Irish are the biggest domino waiting to fall. The rumors will persist about Notre Dame joining a conference, but I think it will be a while before the Irish agree to give up Independence.  

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Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Ever is a strong word, but my guess is that Notre Dame will not join a conference in the next 10 years. With no barrier to entry into a four-team playoff, there really is no incentive for Notre Dame to join a league at this point. The Fighting Irish consistently play a schedule that is strong enough to warrant a bid into the postseason — assuming of course that they win enough games — so why would a school that has taken so much pride in its status as an Independent decide at this point to join a conference? It just doesn’t make sense. 

Mark Ross
I think Notre Dame will eventually join a conference, but when it does, it will definitely be on its terms. Notre Dame has been an independent since 1978 and while the Fighting Irish may not be the dominant football power they once were, they have been able to maintain their status as one. Look no further than the school's presence in the BCS.

Still, with the way the college football landscape has changed during the past few years and the fact that it will continue to evolve in the future, I believe the day will come when Notre Dame sees its in their best interests football-wise to join one of the so-called super conferences. Given its history, tradition and status, there's little doubt in my mind that any conference looking to make a statement or solidify its standing wouldn't give Notre Dame a serious look and/or roll out the red carpet for the Fighting Irish to come join them.

Not many schools can say they control their own fate when it comes to this game of conference musical chairs. But as the past 34 years have shown us, Notre Dame is in a class of its own when it comes to the college football landscape. 

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