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Notre Dame's Role in College Football Realignment

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The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have begun the 2011 season with two losses and the pressure will surely be felt in South Bend this weekend when the Michigan State Spartans visit. As concerned about posting a victory as Head Coach Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame players and fan base are, this could be an occasion of another opportunity as well.

With that talk of conference realignment so rampant, and the demise of the Big 12 seemingly hanging in the balance, the era of Super Conferences seems imminent. If, according to the rumors du jour, Texas A&M can find a way to join the SEC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State depart for the Pac-12, and Texas hitches its wagon to the ACC, there will be a free-for-all for the remaining members of the Big 12, namely Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech.

Texas Tech seems likely to go west, Missouri has been rumored to the SEC, Kansas and Kansas State reportedly have received overtures from the Big East. Baylor, for some reason, nobody wants to play with just now, but the ACC may find the Bears a convenient dance partner for the Longhorns. Iowa State could find its way to the Big East, or it might fit nicely in the Big 10 … along with one more football program to even up its Legends and Leaders.

The push for Super Conferences is about money first and foremost, but it is also about the possibility of reforming the BCS system into a playoff system with a true national champion. Logically there will be four superconferences, with the conference champions earning a berth for the title contest. To be sure, there could be more conferences eligible, but if anyone thought the BCS was complicated, that arrangement will give new meaning to confusion and disparity. What does this mean, then, for a noteworthy independent program with national championship aspirations?

Could Notre Dame actually find itself on the outside looking in, or could it find itself at least with a much narrower door to a national title opportunity? Admittedly it plays a tough schedule, but with a record of not much over .500 since the departure of Lou Holtz in 1996, would the Irish have the clout to bargain for such an opportunity in a superconference system?

Though it has seemed doubtful that Notre Dame football would deign to affiliate with an intercollegiate athletic conference, is the handwriting on the wall?  Could the combination of realignment and Notre Dame’s decline in gridiron success be the occasion of a move to conference affiliation? With one of the Big 10’s power programs visiting the Golden Dome this Saturday afternoon, might there be some football politics as well?

Pete Sonski (@PSPRGuy) blogs about Big East football.

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