Louisville football: Should I(rish) stay or should I(rish) go?

A pylon on the field with the ACC and Louisville Cardinals (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
A pylon on the field with the ACC and Louisville Cardinals (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Louisville football gets a crack at Notre Dame in 2020 – but what happens after that?

When the clock hit zero last season following Notre Dame’s 35-17 victory over Scott Satterfield and the Louisville football program, optimism about what the future could be was already sky high for Cardinal fans- even in a loss.

We all knew that in a little over a year from that point, the Cards were going to get a second crack at the Irish; this time in a place where they had a little magic on their side once before.

About two months ago, the ACC revealed the revised schedule for the upcoming season for football. It was an interesting move that sent ripples throughout the College Football landscape and was another piece to the covid-era puzzle in regards to the season being played.

Games were added and subtracted across all 15 member institutions in an effort to navigate a season that will surely have questions surrounding it.

The conference elected to do away with the Atlantic and Coastal divisions this year and move to a 15 team division with the top two teams competing for the ACC Championship in Charlotte. The league also voted to play an 11 game schedule with 10 of those games being in conference and the 11th against a non-conference opponent. The games are slated to begin the week of September 7th through the 12th and the Championship game is set for either December 12th or 19th.

One of the biggest takeaways nationally is Notre Dame’s membership in the ACC this season. Notre Dame, who if you haven’t heard by now, is a member of the league in everything except football.

Like many things in this era of COVID-19, this year will be different.

The Irish are eligible to compete in the ACC Championship as a full member of the conference and will play a traditional (relatively speaking) ACC schedule.

One of the bigger takeaways is what the ACC gets in return for allowing Notre Dame into the conference instead of leaving them to fend for themselves this year.

Each of the 15 member institutions will receive a fraction of Notre Dame’s lucrative deal with NBC.

This means that for a school like Louisville, they will receive $15 million for this season just for Notre Dame joining the conference momentarily.

It is a pretty sweet deal for the ACC as they not only get a slice of Notre Dame’s pie but having a team like the Irish in the ACC is a boost for the conference that has lost some momentum with its traditional football powers, Miami and Florida State, being down.

Although the Irish are eligible to compete in the ACC this season, it is expected that they will return to independent status once the world starts to return to normalcy.

The main question now becomes, should they?

As a football fan and a fan of Louisville- who plays in the ACC Atlantic Division, the Irish most certainly should join the league.

Many will argue that there is too much money between the Irish and NBC for them to rip apart that contract and join the league. It is a fair point and maybe 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, they would be crazy to terminate that relationship.

However, the year is 2020. Television has changed and it has changed rapidly. TV rights have become all the rage in the last 5 years or so as more channels fight for exclusivity in regards to athletics. The SEC Network is the perfect example. The network was launched in 2014 as an add-on to the traditional sports package cable subscribers could receive. The network is an extension of ESPN that strictly airs SEC sponsored games and events.

Although ESPN has the rights to the SEC, it is not a complete monopoly. CBS has long been the station to tune into for Saturdays biggest SEC matchups and even though the SEC network has given viewers more options, the 3:30 time slot on CBS remains a staple in the college football landscape.

The games in the SEC that do not receive the CBS spotlight are simply placed on the SEC network to fill the spots for the conference-dedicated network. So for example, if Georgia and Florida are playing at 3p.m. on CBS you may find LSU and Auburn on the SEC Network. It really is the perfect formula where everyone (except for maybe Vandy because you know Vandy) wins.

So why can’t Notre Dame do the same? The notion of Notre Dame being the only collegiate program to have their own TV deal is theoretically no more.

The advent of conference networks across conferences like the SEC, PAC-12, Big-10, and now ACC, has leveled the playing field for schools not named Notre Dame getting their games out to a nationwide audience.

Think about it, if you’re a high school prospect or even just a fan in general, are you going to watch Notre Dame take on Tulane on NBC or are you going to watch LSU play Auburn on the SEC Network? (although that game would probably be played on ESPN or ABC).

Furthermore, it’s not like Notre Dame has to fully terminate its relationship with NBC. Like the SEC, there could be a scenario where Notre Dame plays a few of their more notable conference games on NBC while the less notable away games could be played on the ACC Network. In this scenario, all parties are satisfied.

It’s an excellent formula that brings in a ton of revenue to the league and its institutions annually.

Advocates for Notre Dame to maintain its Independence would probably bring up the schedule and how much control the Irish have in formulating it.

In the age of the College Football Playoff, scheduling has become more of a priority more than ever. Sure, being undefeated going into the conference championship is a big part of getting into the playoff, but it’s not enough.

Think of all the times Notre Dame has been that team on the outside looking in after having a great season. The main argument everyone always talks about with Notre Dame is “well they don’t play anyone.” Whether that’s true or not is a discussion for a different time, but there never really is that same conversation with Clemson.

By joining the ACC, that argument can finally be put to rest. Notre Dame will no longer have to fight the battle of strength of schedule that seemingly no other contender has to deal with. In fact, it almost feels like there is a stigma surrounding Notre Dame being an independent that has been a hurdle for the Irish getting into the playoff.

Like the television situation, at one point, Notre Dame having control over their schedule did give them an advantage. However, the College Football Playoff has forced teams to get creative with their scheduling.

We are now seeing more teams schedule big-time, out of conference matchups early in the season rather than the traditional 3 easy wins before conference play method. A few future games of note for teams similar to Notre Dame’s notoriety in the college football landscape include:

  • Oregon at Ohio State (2021)
  • Auburn at Penn State (2021)
  • Ohio State at Texas  (2022)
  • Oklahoma at Michigan (2026)
  • LSU at Oklahoma (2027)

*Provided COVID-19 doesn’t impact these future matchups

As you can see, just from the few matchups listed above, teams are starting to schedule big time opponents out of conference to help boost their overall strength of schedule.

Along the topic of scheduling, a few of Notre Dame’s big matchups aren’t what they used to be.

USC is no where near the power it was in the mid 2,000’s. Stanford is usually a hit or miss team in terms of contending for a PAC-12 championship. Michigan State has been just whatever since they made their loan playoff appearance in 2014. In 2022, the Irish host Cal, UNLV, and Marshall (granted they do play at Ohio State to start the season).

The jury is out on scheduling for the Irish. As more and more teams are scheduling cross-conference matchups early in the season, Notre Dame’s Independent status becomes more and more obsolete.

The question remains will Notre Dame subscribe to the ACC after its trial run in football for the 2020 season? Who knows, according to Notre Dames official Twitter account, probably not.

(Notre Dame appears to think it’s still 1988 smh.)

However, the Irish will more than likely have to join a league in the future or risk being left in the dust as conferences continue the arms race for the most lucrative TV deals and hunt for new revenue streams.

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