Notre Dame AD: Media deals and playoff access will be key factors if Fighting Irish ever join a conference

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Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said College Football Playoff access will be a key factor if the school ever decides to join a conference.

The Fighting Irish are college football’s most famous school without a conference and a natural focus for fans in the wake of USC and UCLA’s surprising decision to move to the Big Ten as the conference expanded to 16 teams. If the conference wanted to grow even further, it reasons that Notre Dame would be its top target.

Would the Irish want to join the Big Ten? Clearly the school is not currently in a rush to join a conference. And Swarbrick said Wednesday in a question and answer session that the school felt “validated” in its decision to remain independent amid the latest conference shuffle.

“I don’t know if we’re stronger but it’s certainly felt like a validation of our decision to be independent,” Swarbrick said. “So many of the stories have been ‘What will Notre Dame do?’ and discussing Notre Dame’s significance and the importance of we made a decision to do one thing or another.”

If Notre Dame did make a move to a conference at some point, Swarbrick said that the school would take its potential media rights deals into account along with access to the playoff. The Irish have made the College Football Playoff twice in the last four seasons.

“One is, do we have a committed broadcast partner who not only will carry all of our home games nationally but will compensate us for our media rights in a way that allows us to be competitive?” Swarbrick rhetorically asked. “It starts with the question of media partner. Second is our access to the College Football Playoff. Do we, as an independent, retain adequate access? I think we’ve proved conclusively in the last eight years that we’ve had it. Both those things will play out over time, I can’t predict how much time.”

The current four-team playoff looks set to expand at some point by the end of its current deal through 2024 and Swarbrick said he expected the playoff to be figured out in the near future. While expansion seems like a near-unanimous topic, how the playoff will expand has been the holdup so far. Conferences can’t yet agree on how the playoff should be structured.

Swarbrick: Big Ten heading to NBC a good thing for Notre Dame

Notre Dame famously has a deal with NBC for its home football games as part of its independent status. The Irish’s road games are broadcast by the TV partners of their opponents’ conferences and the school currently has an alliance with the ACC for both home and road opponents in football to go along with its ACC status in basketball.

With the Big Ten is likely selling some of its media rights to NBC after the expiration of its current deal with ESPN, the network looks set to broadcast a Big Ten game in the evenings starting in 2024. Swarbrick said that he was happy with NBC’s impending Big Ten deal because it would help boost the network’s college football profile.

“I think it’s great, I think it’s great for college football,” Swarbrick said. “[The Big Ten] made a decision to have three linear broadcast partners in Fox, who will principally have the Big Noon game, CBS, who will have the 3:30 kick and NBC, who will have the primetime kick. And the more broadcasters, the major networks we keep involved in college football, the better it is for everybody because they’re invested, they want to promote the game, they want individual properties.”

“I think it was a brilliant strategy by [Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren], I think it played out marvelously for him … but it’s also perfect for Notre Dame. We need NBC to have more college football. They can more effectively promote our games and talk about our games, and to have NBC seen in that light. That was great for us that they got a big piece of this.”

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 08: Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick is seen before the game against the Ball State Cardinals at Notre Dame Stadium on September 8, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Ball State 24-16. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick believes the Big Ten's new media deal with NBC is a great thing for the Irish. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)