College football realignment: Could Big Ten force Notre Dame to join conference?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) /

If the Big Ten were to go to 10 conference games, that might set in motion nationally-independent Notre Dame to finally join a league in football.

Manny Navarro of The Athletic brought up a very interesting thought in his Oddly specific predictions for every Top 25 college football team: What if the Big Ten forces Notre Dame to join a conference?

We have already seen the Fighting Irish jump into a lifeboat during COVID to be a super-special, one-time season member of the ACC during the pandemic. Notre Dame plays in the ACC in pretty much all of its other sports. Although they are geographically isolated from pretty much the rest of the league in Northern Indiana, they might actually be the perfect fit in an 20-team Big Ten league.

Navarro argued that by 2025, the Big Ten will adopt a 10-game conference schedule, making it incredibly difficult for the Irish to schedule enough Power Five games to round out its 12-game annual slate. While they do play between five and six ACC games annually due to their loose affiliation, who is to say the ACC will still be anything close to thriving in the next few seasons?

Let’s discuss if the Big Ten is capable of not only killing the Pac-12, but forcing what was once thought impossible: Getting Notre Dame to give up its national independent status in football.

Could Big Ten force Notre Dame’s hand into joining a conference in 2025?

Look. I don’t think there is any reason for the Big Ten to go to 10 conference games. Yes, they could command more money in negotiating a new TV deal, but 10 conference games is a great way for high-quality teams in a league to drop one more than they ever have to. College Football Playoff expansion could afford some three-loss teams opportunities to get in, but why push it?

The only way the Big Ten goes to 10 games are if it can take away the NBC deal from Notre Dame, or if we somehow stopped having donkey brains and implemented a football czar of sorts to run this sport. The former could make Notre Dame sweat. If they cannot have all of their home games shown on NBC in the 1:30 p.m. ET window, then the Fighting Irish might have to reevaluate things.

The latter might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in beating Notre Dame into submission to finally join a conference in football. Should the football czar demand each power league to play 10 conference games, one game out of conference on a similar level, and one other game of their choosing, it may make it rather hard for the Fighting Irish athletic department to schedule games.

Frankly, unless Notre Dame is unable to put forth a competitive 12-game regular-season schedule, one that could compromise their chances of getting into the expanded College Football Playoff with one or more losses, or NBC decides to go in another direction entirely with its college football coverage, the Irish will stay independent. They are going to do it until it is unsalvageable.

The Big Ten may have killed the Pac-12, but it may not be able to force Notre Dame’s hand here.

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