Notre Dame offers hope for leery administrators and football programs

Notre Dame finally announced on Monday that it would welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 academic year the week of Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than originally scheduled. The school will forgo fall break in October and end the semester before Thanksgiving.

According to the ND web site, the reopening plan will include comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements. The school also has identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students.

The significance, of course, is that Notre Dame is a national icon for college football.  Notre Dame is among the most beloved and respected schools as well, a leading opinion influencer among educational institutions. Does that mean the return of college football is a safe bet for the 2020-21 football season?

Father John Jenkins, the school president, is obviously under pressure to make it happen but not all in yet. “It’s not just our decision,” he told NBC on Tuesday. “It’s the decision of all division one institutions across the nation, and so we’re going to talk to them and see what is safe and what is possible. I hope we’ll have sports. I hope we’ll have football. We’ll just have to see.”

While he wasn’t exactly going out on a limb, one has to give the Notre Dame leader credit for at least broaching the subject. Most other administrators have been reluctant, not wanting to be the first to discuss the possibility of college football next fall.

That doesn’t include the California State University system, which has announced that football can wait. The system includes Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State, the only programs in the CSU system that compete on the FBS level. Not a popular decision and they will regret it if everyone else is playing.

The University of Louisville, meanwhile, has announced that that UofL will return to regular campus operations, including students on campus and attending in-person classes. President Neeli Bendapudi noted even during 2020 spring semester that 2,700 students remained in campus facilities or affiliated housing.

Athletic Director Vince Tyra earlier indicated a decision would depend on whether students are back at school. In essence, then, the University is preparing to go ahead with a full menu this fall. That, of course, would include college football.

UofL was ahead of the game in announcing its plans. The fact that Notre Dame is now planning the do the same will give other administrators the courage to make their plans public. College football fans, desperate for the return of normalcy, may have something to cheer about this fall.

Louisville wins playing Notre Dame, but has higher aspirations

Notre Dame week is here.

A game against America’s most revered college football program, one that University of Louisville fans could only wish for until joining the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. Being the new member of the conference may have even been a factor, making scheduling the game easier for Notre Dame.

Simply playing on the same field as Notre Dame elevates the stature and credibility of the UofL program in the eyes of football analysts and fanatics. The game forces even the most hardened skeptics to respect Louisville football, acknowledging that the Cardinals have a legitimate chance of winning at South Bend.

Credibility in college football, where tradition and myths routinely shape perception, reality doesn’t come easily. As UofL fans have learned, the more traditional programs have huge advantages when it comes to weekly rankings, bowl selections and now national championship playoffs considerations.  Win or lose, Notre Dame will always be considered the superior program because of the ingrained beliefs of the opinion leaders, the people — the writers, the columnists, the broadcast networks, the coaches and college presidents — who shape the national perceptions of college football elite.

The 14-story Word of Life, also known as Touchdown Jesus, overlooking the south  end zone at South Bend.
The 14-story Word of Life mosaic, also known as Touchdown Jesus, overlooking the south end zone at South Bend.

A win for UofL at South Bend would be a shocker for millions of Irish fans across the country, possibly setting off still another ND coaching search after three consecutive losses. Sportscaster Howard Cosell once proclaimed that football is a religion for Notre Dame fans, only partially in reference to the 14-story mosaic of Jesus on the school library adjacent to the stadium.

For Louisville fans, however, it would be still another affirmation that Louisville can be among the nation’s elite football programs, reaffirming Howard Schnellenberger’s vow that “Louisville is on a collision course with the national championship” is another step closer to reality.

Afterall, Notre Dame is:

— The most successful program in college football history. In 100 seasons, the Irish have 670 victories, second only to Michigan (692), which has played nine more seasons.

— The winner of seven Associated Press national championships, two more than second-place Oklahoma and Alabama.

— The home of seven Heisman Trophy winners , more than any other school.

— A program that has had 10 undefeated and 25 one-loss seasons.

— The program has ranked in The AP Top Twenty 484 times since the poll’s inception in 1936, or 74.3 percent of AP polls, the most of any school. They have been ranked No. 1 seventy-five times, four more than runner-up Oklahoma.

Those are some almost awe-inspiring credentials, worthy of a program synonymous with college football in America. But this unique encounter finally provides UofL with a chance to add a rich bit of history to its own growing tradition after years of denied opportunities.

The stars have aligned, the opponents and the game have converged, and the impossible has become plausible.

Former Michigan coach re-ignites conference expansion speculation

May possibly be another example of Big Ten hubris … or  just maybe a highly-informed insight into a master plan.

Former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr is the latest to stir the conference expansion pot, predicting Notre Dame will join the Big Ten. This would spark a series of realignments that would have the University of Louisville eventually landing in the ACC.

Addressing members of the Montgomery, Ala., Quarterback Club, Carr indicated that Notre Dame would be under increasing pressure to join a conference “if they want to be a factor in the national picture going forward.”

Carr believes the six major conferences would evolve into a structure that allows the Big Ten to expand to 16 teams. The SEC, PAC 10, and ACC would be the other surviving conferences, resulting in a scenario that produces a four-team playoff while maintaining the current bowl system, according to a Kent Sterling report:

Here’s how it works.  Rutgers and Pitt agree to accept an invitation to the Big Ten and leave the Big East.  Without those two teams, the Big East crumbles as a football conference.  Six teams is a club, not a conference.  That displaces Louisville, UConn, Syracuse, West Virginia, South Florida, and Cincinnati.

Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, and Cincinnati move to the ACC.  South Florida and West Virginia slide into the SEC.  That gives the ACC the 16 schools needed to fit nicely into the four 16-team conference scenario.  The SEC now has 14 teams.

Texas accepts a bid to move into the Big Ten.  Its fledging Network is allowed to continue operating in a very creative deal proposed by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  Without Nebraska and Colorado, the Big 12 drops to ten teams and loses the Big 12 Championship game in 2011 – this part has already happened with Nebraska moving to the Big Ten and Colorado ditching the Big 12 in favor of the Pac 10.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma sprint into the top football conference on the planet – the SEC.  That caps them at 16.

The Pac 10 will need four more teams to fill its dance card after Colorado and Utah join, and frankly I have no idea who they will be.  Boise State is an excellent candidate.  That leave three holes.  They could expand east and invite Oklahoma State and TCU (getting the Pac-10 into the Dallas/Ft. Worth market).  Maybe one or both of the jilted Kansas schools.  Maybe Nevada?

Carr thinks conference expansion will heat up again in the next six to nine months. The realignments would become clear over the next year or so, setting up a four team playoff for a national championship in 2016.

Notre Dame: Texas Of The Big East

Was everyone paying attention when Notre Dame forcefully confirmed over the weekend that one of its priorities is preserving the Big East Conference?

The league has reportedly scheduled a conference call later this week with the school presidents and athletic directors to discuss conference expansion and alignment issues.

When Notre Dame speaks, people listen, believing them when they say the Big East Conference is a priority.

More than likely, the conference call was scheduled before Monday’s news that the Big 12 Conference will be sticking around. Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Missouri are not packing their bags.

The Big East, if it is indeed being proactive, has some serious matters to resolve. First and foremost should be whether to add at least one more football member. The issue is too important for the conference to ignore any longer. Too important for even the Irish to ignore.

Even though it doesn’t play football in the Big East, Notre Dame is the Big East equivalent of Texas to the Big 12. When Notre Dame speaks, conference members listen, believing them when they say the Big East Conference is a priority.

Irish administrators have said twenty hundred times that they want to remain independent in football. So if Notre Dame doesn’t intend to play Big East football, how will the school contribute to the long-term viability of the conference?

Presumably Notre Dame is actively involved in seeking answers, working with conference members in recent days, putting its brain trust to work while applying clout. Generating creative ideas and innovative solutions, furthering the Notre Dame agenda of protecting the league.

And conference members will be all ears.

Notre Dame May Be Forced To Reconsider

So much for the Southeastern Conference not being interested in expansion …

Kind of like Notre Dame would never join a conference.

The word circulating Saturday is that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has been in College Station, Texas this weekend, meeting with officials at Texas A&M. Must have gone well. There are reports the Texas A&M regents may be making an announcement next week.

Under the new super conference alignments, what if the football powers chose to end the "special" status Notre Dame has enjoyed? Tradition doesn't count for much these days.

The University of Texas regents are set to meet Tuesday. Originally scheduled to discuss an invitation to join the PAC-10. Seeing as how Texas and Texas A&M appear to be joined at the hip,  a change on the agenda is likely, with SEC consideration coming first.

That would give the SEC 14 teams, and it could end there, but there are also a couple of reports that Oklahoma might prefer a similar geographic alliance over the one proposed by the PAC. Oklahoma State would obviously be receptive as well.

If so, that would wreak havoc with the PAC’s expansion plans, originally including Big 12 members Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

What would the PAC do then, extend invitations to Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State? Sounds far fetched but stranger things are happening. And how would the reported developments affect discussions between those schools and the Big East? And has Notre Dame been involved at any level in Big East deliberations?

One has a hunch that Notre Dame is feeling increased pressure. What if all these new super conferences are headed toward a playoff system?  Under the new conference alignments, what if the football powers chose to end the “special” status the Irish have enjoyed?

If there’s anything obvious about all the conference shuffling, it is that tradition doesn’t count for much these days.

Notre Dame may be forced to play a card soon.