For centuries we have debated what is perhaps the greatest mystery of the known universe: What would happen if Our Lady joined the conference?
We finally have an answer.
University football did not get off the ground when the country’s largest independent football program participated in the conference for the first time in the school’s history, an agreement to organize the 2020 pandemic season. The long-standing football partnership between Fighting Irish and the ACC could not have been more perfect for both parties.
Notre Dame remained unbeaten during the regular season, is number 2 and is well positioned to participate in the university football play-offs, has the best grades on NBC in 15 years and is preparing for the first conference championship in the history of the school.
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With two teams in the top five in Saturday’s CCA championship game (4pm ET, ABC), the CCA has the numbers 2 Notre Dame and 3 Clemson and could very well have two teams in the playoffs for the first time. Look at the other games this weekend. The CCA hosts the best and most exciting University Football Conference Championship, another first.
It was a win-win situation, said RAC commissioner John Swofford in a telephone interview this week.
Then why don’t we make it a permanent alliance?
While Notre Dame sports director Jack Swarbrick has repeatedly rejected speculation that the Irish will soon give up their independence – also last week: The reasons why we value independence and [why] its preservation remains a priority for us do not depend on the positive experience of full Council membership this year – we now have proof that the partnership can be mutually beneficial.
Although Notre Dame, as an independent football club, has its own television contract with NBC that brings in $15 million a year, Notre Dame and CCA members shared their television money with NBC and ESPN this year, and it has paid off in terms of audience.
The first part of Notre Dame vs. Duke season on NBC was watched by 4.4 million people, making it the most watched segment of the channel in 14 years. The double overtime win over Clemson in November attracted 10.2 million viewers, the second highest rating for a Notre Dame game on NBC in record time. It also opened new neighborhoods in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, which were two of the largest Notre Dame markets on NBC this season.
This was largely due to the fact that the rise due to the pandemic was very limited, so more people went home to prepare for work. Clemson’s game would certainly have brought a good audience, but NBC’s sensational program with five CCA opponents certainly worked well – especially in the two southern markets.
If the NBC scores were higher for CCNR opponents than for Notre Dame on the independent standard calendar, this could give some weight to the negotiations if the Irish consider joining the conference. This could facilitate the NBC/ESPN television package and increase television revenues for all.
The other advantage of attending the conference is a better chance of qualification. As an independent, the general consensus is that Notre Dame must remain undefeated to secure a top four spot because it has no conference championship match to play.
-There now seems to be a margin of error as an opponent of the conference. -No. If Notre Dame loses to Clemson on Saturday, chances are the Irish will qualify for the playoffs.
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Of course, Notre Dame made a 10-0 this year and would have made the playoffs as an undefeated independent. However, if the Irish had lost to Clemson in the regular season, they would have been surpassed by Texas A & M in the current conversation with only one loss. The winner of the conference who lost simply has a better chance of finishing in the top four. Clemson has become champion of the conference in the past with only one loss and was able to do so again on Saturday with a victory. Notre Dame could be champion with a victory, which would also be a first for the Irish.
The two conference jugglers, especially when playing against each other, also helped to refute the typically weak or feeble arguments that flare up about undefeated Clemson and that can usually be made about the Irish, depending on who is on their independent list. That year, Notre Dame played with a CCA calendar, and the CCA just never had two teams in conversation for elite status at the time of the playoffs.
We have a game with a team that was in the playoffs with Clemson. So if you look at the calendar and you know that Clemson is there and you have the opportunity to join the CCA now, that of course puts you in a good position, said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. Then start thinking: Okay, this could be good.
During the non-pandemic seasons, Notre Dame plays a CCA schedule of five or six games as part of her agreement with the league and is part of a bowling alley. He will return for five CCA games during the 2021 season, assuming things return to normal. But when the CCA allowed Notre Dame to join this season, some coaches in the league complained about this arrangement because the Irish had already received special requests if you-in-the-out members.
You’d rather boycott them, said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi last month. But if you want to play in the ACC, come to the ACC. … And if you don’t want to play, don’t give them five games.
Nevertheless, this season has been a valuable experience that has provided Notre Dame with a model to evaluate which model can best serve the program in the long term.
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You can talk about your participation in the conference as much as you like. But if you don’t, you can’t talk about it right away, Kelly. Now we can do it, so we got a different perspective, there’s no doubt about that.
The coach added that this year the team has brought positive (fighting for the CCA championship) and negative (no traditional competitors) points that are still being weighed.
These are matters that Jack Swarbrick takes to a higher level, he continues. If they came to me and asked my opinion, I would say that the CCR was a great relationship for Notre Dame, but independence was part of our DNA.
Nor does Swofford hold his breath for the permanent affiliation of Notre Dame to the CCA, although he did suggest that if the university decides to join Congress by 2036, it will be transferred to the CCA under the contract. And it can’t hurt that both games won this season.
I know Notre Dame has always appreciated and continues to appreciate her independence from football, Swofford said. I think Notre Dame would say, and we would say, that their first year in conference football was a very positive experience. I don’t know if this will necessarily have consequences for the future, but for 2020 it was definitely the right decision.
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