Catholics in charge
Why Notre Dame is a national brand and how they're guiding the next phases of realignment.
Right now, much of college football is waiting for the next big domino in realignment to drop. The expectation is this will be Notre Dame, the independent Catholic University in Northern Indiana who’s sitting on an open invitation to get out of their deal with the ACC and instead join the Big 10 conference.
Notre Dame is located smack dab in the middle of Big 10 country and new Big 10 entrees USC are a historical rival, so it makes a certain amount of sense they should join the powerful conference. It’s always made a degree of sense, even before more recent alterations to the college football landscape.
Yet they’ve maintained their independence, signing solo deals for television rights with NBC and only joining up with their partners in the ACC for the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The ACC, not the Big 10.
In that season, they nearly won the league (they played in the title game at least) and played in the highest viewed regular season game of the year when they beat Clemson in South Bend while 10 million people watched on TV.
Nearly 20 million watched when they played Alabama in the playoff semi-final later in the year, even though they were coming off a drubbing at the hands of Trevor Lawrence and Clemson (he missed round one for COVID protocol).
Nowadays it’s accepted almost uncritically that Notre Dame is a big, important, and national brand in the game of college football. This is pretty unique though, particularly given the more regional ties of the rest of college football. Notre Dame has more of a diaspora of fans than most schools, they’re not the darlings of just northern Indiana or just Chicago, although they are certainly popular there.