Recent success secures Notre Dame’s treasured independence

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame is as confident as ever that the treasured football independence of the Fighting Irish is safe despite the maelstrom that is college sports.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the program’s position is even stronger now than when he stepped into the job in 2008, bolstered by success on the field and investments in the program.

“I think it’s probably less threatened than it was back then,” Swarbrick said. “Part of that may be the natural growth and my understanding of the value of independence. But part of it is, I think we’ve done a number of things to position us to be better and to compete effectively.”

The fifth-ranked Fighting Irish begin their first full season under new coach Marcus Freeman on Saturday night at No. 2 Ohio State. Notre Dame is coming off its fifth straight double-digit victory season, a school record, and has had just one losing season since 2010, Brian Kelly‘s first as coach.

When Swarbrick arrived losing seasons had become fairly routine in South Bend. From 1997-2009, the Fighting Irish had more seasons under .500 (four) than seasons with at least 10 victories (two).

“We had some lean years back then and … we’ve only had one in the past 10 years,” Swarbrick said.

The national championship remains elusive, but Fighting Irish football is healthier than it’s been since Lou Holtz led Notre Dame to its last title in 1988. Since the 2012 season, Notre Dame has made the College Football Playoff twice and played in a BCS championship game.

“That’s at the core of whether you’re threatened or not. If we can’t compete at that level, you got a choice to make,” Swarbrick said.

As conference realignment brings consolidation of the biggest brands and bluest bloods in college football – USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference – Notre Dame remains the most valuable free agent on the market.

Swarbrick said representatives of several conferences reached out to Notre Dame over the last six months to gauge the school’s interest in a membership that would include football. He said Notre Dame has not had discussions with anyone about joining a conference.

Swarbrick has said that as long as Notre Dame has a strong television partner to broadcast home football games, reasonable access to the CFP and a conference home for its Olympic sports, there is no pressure to change.

Most of Notre Dame’s teams compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That membership includes a football scheduling arrangement requiring Notre Dame to play five ACC teams per season, plus a commitment by the Irish to join the ACC if they were to give up independence. That contract runs concurrent with the ACC’s media rights deal with ESPN and expires in 2036.

Before joining the ACC, most Notre Dame teams competed in the Big East.

“My experience with Notre Dame is they value independence. It’s who they are. And I think they will protect that at virtually any cost,” former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said.

Tranghese, who was part of the commissioner group that ran the BCS, said there was never any desire among the conferences to create a postseason structure that would force Notre Dame into a conference. And he doubts there would be now.

“What’s the incentive? Why would you force Notre Dame to go join somebody else and make them stronger?” Tranghese said.

The Big Ten recently finalized a media rights agreement worth more than $7 billion over seven years. The Big Ten and SEC are poised to pull away from the other Power Five conferences in terms of revenue.

Notre Dame’s television deal with NBC runs through the 2024 football season. The backloaded agreement that went into effect in 2016 paid the school an average of $15 million per year.

Former Fox Sports Networks President Bob Thompson estimated that if Notre Dame can earn upward of $65 million from a new television deal and membership in the ACC, the Irish would likely be comfortable remaining independent.

“Notre Dame is a brand unto itself,” Thompson added. “Whether they’re playing good or poorly, they have a following. And the following is not just in a certain geographic area. It’s across the country.”

Swarbrick acknowledged remaining independent will perpetuate, and maybe even grow, a revenue gap between Notre Dame and the schools it considers its peers, the ones that have a recent history of consistently competing for national championships.

“We have always accepted the reality that there’s a cost to independence, there’s a price that we pay for independence on the revenue side,” Swarbrick said.

How big can the gap get before it becomes too much for Notre Dame – with an endowment valued at more than $13 billion – to accept?

“We certainly don’t have a number in mind,” he said. “But we have to be able to compete for national championships in football. We have to have the resources to do that. As long as we have the resources to do that, I anticipate Notre Dame remaining independent.”

All-America OL Jarrett Patterson questionable for Irish at No. 2 OSU

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said that offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson was questionable for the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish’s opener against No. 2 Ohio State.

Patterson has been dealing with an injury to his right foot for about two weeks. Freeman said he did expect the fifth-year senior to practice this week.

“We’ll see as we get closer to game-time where he’ll be, but I would say he’s questionable right now,” Freeman said.

Patterson was one of the best centers in the country last year for Notre Dame and a preseason All-American. He was listed as the starter at left guard on the Irish’s first depth chart of the season.

Patterson’s injury gave Zeke Correll an opportunity to earn the start at center.

Linebacker Marist Liufau, who missed all of last season with a broken leg that required surgery, is listed as a starter. Liufau was limited at times during preseason practice, but Freeman said the senior was ready to go.

“I don’t expect any limitations on Marist Liufau,” Freeman said.

The Irish are more than a two-touchdown underdog at Ohio State.

Notre Dame AD: Big Ten deal with NBC ‘perfect’ for Irish

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says the coming Big Ten television contract with NBC is a “perfect” way for the network to complement its deal with the Fighting Irish.

Swarbrick held a live online chat for Notre Dame’s alumni association Wednesday, during which he addressed recent developments with the Big Ten and how they could impact the school’s ability to remain a football independent.

The Big Ten’s new media rights deals are not yet finalized, but the conference is moving toward contracts with Fox, NBC and CBS. The league has also said it is having discussions with streaming services to televise its games.

NBC has had exclusive rights to broadcast Notre Dame home games since 1991. The latest iteration of that deal runs through 2025.

Swarbrick called the Big Ten’s strategy brilliant and said he expected the value of the deals will be “pretty amazing” for the conference.

“But it’s also perfect for Notre Dame,” Swarbrick said. “We need NBC to have more college football to more effectively promote our games and to talk about our games and to have NBC be seen in that light. So that was great for us that (NBC) got a big piece of this.”

Swarbrick said the recent expansions of the Big Ten (adding Southern California and UCLA in 2024) and the Southeastern Conference (adding Texas and Oklahoma in 20225) have only helped strengthen Notre Dame’s position as a college football independent.

Notre Dame is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference for most of its sports and has an agreement to play five football games per season against ACC schools. Plus, a clause in Notre Dame’s deal with the ACC would require it to join that league if it decides to give up football independence. That deal runs through 2036.

Swarbrick said the three factors Notre Dame would weigh if it considered joining a conference for football would be a television partner to broadcast all home games, access to the College Football Playoff and how it would impact Olympic sports.

“When I started this job … all the commentary was were we relevant anymore? This year, no one is asking that question,” Swarbrick said. “A lot of this dynamic has just reinforced the decisions made over a lot of years that have placed Notre Dame in a very good position. That’s my biggest takeaway.”