After the historic inter-conference agreement announced Wednesday between the Big Ten and Pac-12, one of the immediate questions was what impact it would have on Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have a huge part of their schedule invested in those leagues. The fiercely independent Irish have five ongoing annual series with teams from those leagues: Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue of the Big Ten, and USC and Stanford of the Pac-12. If the leagues are going to add an annual game between members, would that potentially squeeze Notre Dame out of the mix?
Not likely, said Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who has a close relationship with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
"I don't anticipate it having much of an impact," Swarbrick told Yahoo! Sports. "I was aware it was coming; they sort of kept us informed. I think it's a great thing for the two conferences."
A more likely scenario than dropping Notre Dame is a reduction in conference games from nine to eight. Thus, the Big Ten vs. Pac-12 game would be a substitute for that league game on the schedule, which means Notre Dame's spot would not have to be sacrificed in favor of a "guaranteed" home game against a lesser opponent.
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Notre Dame should be able to retain its rotation of marquee opponents, and it also should be able to keep most of its customary dates. Don't look for the Irish to lose their annual Thanksgiving weekend game in California, against either USC or Stanford. And the Big Ten opponents probably will remain slotted in the earlier portion of the schedule.
Scheduling Notre Dame continues to make sense for the leagues for two reasons: enhanced TV inventory and enhanced strength of schedule.
With the Big Ten Network entrenched and the Pac-12 Network readying to launch, there are more time slots to fill – for those networks and for the other TV partners of the leagues. Playing Notre Dame adds to the depth of quality lineups and makes for a much more attractive TV offering than playing an overmatched opponent from the Mid-American or Western Athletic conferences.
Swarbrick predicted a gradual turning away from scheduling cupcakes, at least in leagues that don't have the guaranteed strength-of-schedule advantage of, say, the SEC.
The reason? If AQ bids to BCS bowls are eliminated and a playoff of any kind is introduced, look for strength of schedule to play a big part in who gets selected.
"You may see almost an RPI dynamic come to the forefront," Swarbrick said, referring to the strength-of-schedule metric that is a tool for the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee. "It may be harder for the MAC to get those games. I have no idea what's coming in the next postseason, but I think they could place a premium on that sort of thing [strength of schedule]."
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That's one thing Notre Dame won't have to worry about in 2012. In addition to their five Big Ten/Pac-12 opponents, the Irish have Oklahoma (on the road), Miami (in Chicago) and BYU (in South Bend) on the schedule.
"They should fire the AD," Swarbrick said with a laugh.