Let me start by saying this is not an article about why Notre Dame should join the ACC. or the Big 12. or the Big Ten, or the Big East, or any other conference. I also understand that the Irish prefer to remain independent - this is not about what anybody prefers.
This article is about self-determination vs.
independence. You may think they are the same, but they are not. Let's
look at the dictionary.com definitions:
self-determination - freedom to live as one chooses, or to act or decide without consulting another or others.
independence - freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others
Currently, Notre Dame has both - they can make decisions on whom to schedule, whether or not to join a conference, etc. (self-determination), and there is no one exercising control over their schedule, revenue or costs, etc. (independence). The Irish are proud of that independence... they feel that it makes them a "national" football brand.
Notre Dame is like the handsome bachelor who dates a dozen pretty girls
every year. To the Irish it may seem like there is no reason to "marry"
a conference when they can "date" just about whomever they choose:
Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma,
Pittsburgh, Boston College, Wake Forest, and Southern California.
That's an impressive dance card!
But in reality the bachelor life doesn't last forever. The pretty girls all get married eventually... and their husbands don't take kindly to them dancing with an old flame!
As conferences get bigger and play more games among themselves, that leaves fewer and fewer opportunities to play a non-conference game with an independent. Oh, sure, you can get opponents for September, but what about November?
Then there is the trend toward consolidation of power
into a few conferences - some say 6, some say 5, some say it will end up
being only 4. It seems inevitable that Notre Dame must eventually join
some conference - but which one?
As I wrote at the outset, this isn't one of those articles about why the Irish should join my conference. This article is about self-determination. You see, if the bachelor waits too long to get married, there may only be one pretty girl left. At that point, there is no longer a choice - the decision has been made for you. This could happen to Notre Dame if they wait too long to choose a conference - they may lose the ability to select which one. Why could that happen?
Suppose Notre Dame wanted to play Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia every year. They could accomplish that by joining the Big 12 conference now. However, if they wait, there remains the possibility that those teams could go their separate ways when the grant of rights ends. Suppose Texas and Kansas join the Big Ten while Oklahoma and W. Virginia go to the SEC... the opportunity to play with all of those teams in the same conference would be lost.
Another options the Irish may have considered is joining the ACC. It may appeal to Notre Dame to play Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Maryland, and Miami as conference foes, thus freeing them up to schedule teams like Michigan State and Southern California as non-conference games. But what if Notre Dame waits around too long and some of those teams get raided by another conference? Would the appeal of an East-Coast conference remain?
Then there is the Big Ten. It's very unlikely that the Big Ten would ever go away, but what if they added 4 more teams? Would they consider growing beyond 16 just to add Notre Dame? Maybe, but maybe not. We're not even sure the B1G would be willing to go past 12 teams...
Until now the Fighting Irish have enjoyed their football independence, but that could end at any time. If they are pro-active they can choose which conference to join, but if they wait the may lose both their independence and their self-determination as well. My advice would be to get married while you still have your choice of pretty girls.