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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Luck of The Irish: Notre Dame Most ‘Desired’ Free Agent in CFB

  • Fighting Irish “most desired free agent” in college football, says Brady Quinn.
  • But ESPN’s Michael Wilbon would love to see the Irish lose this game of musical chairs.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Notre Dame has always had a puffed-up sense of its preeminence in the college football economy. 

Now, the fiercely independent Fighting Irish could be the biggest beneficiary of the seismic realignment sweeping the college football landscape. 

The Golden Domers hold all the cards in the current negotiations, noted former quarterback Brady Quinn.

With their location in the heart of Midwest, the Big Ten Conference will likely pursue Notre Dame after swiping USC and UCLA from the embattled Pac-12.

“I think you can make a case for the fact they would be the most desired free agent if you will — if you want to call them that, because they’re independent,” Quinn told CBS Sports. “Or potentially, they could be looking at the landscape changing before their eyes, and they’ve got to make a decision — whether they want to remain independent.” 

Notre’s Dame’s current $15 million-a-year media deal with NBC Sports expires in 2025. The Irish could go for the money by joining the Big Ten, noted Quinn.

Big Ten members could potentially earn annual payouts of up to $100 million a year under the conference’s looming $1 billion media rights deal.

That would dwarf the combined $26 million that Notre Dame is currently earning annually from NBC and the ACC. It could even spur the Irish to ask out of their NBC deal early in 2024, noted Quinn. 

The Big Ten isn’t the only conference that would like to add the Irish to its membership roster.

The assumption is that Notre Dame would only surrender its cherished independence to the Big Ten. But one of the leading blogs covering the program asks whether the ACC is actually a better fit.

Notre Dame is already in business with the ACC. The conference would like to add Notre Dame as a full member alongside powerhouse programs like Clemson.

“The ACC, in terms of academics, culture, and feel, is a much better fit for the Fighting Irish. Additionally, the ACC provides a much more fertile recruiting ground for football, as the ACC territory from Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida is very important and talent-rich,” writes UHND.com.

“So, while the Big Ten is certainly the conference seen as the most likely landing spot for Notre Dame given the recent changes, there is an argument to be made for the benefits and viability of making the ACC its home.”

And don’t count out the SEC, which is adding Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 in 2024. The powerful SEC could move on the Irish just to counter the machinations of the rival conferences like the Big Ten or Big 12.

Still, the current signals coming out of Sound Bend, Indiana, are that Notre Dame wants to stay independent. 

But time may not necessarily be on Notre Dame’s side. 

If the SEC and Big Ten turn themselves into the Big 2 to determine the national champion, then all bets could be off. Without a path to the championship, Notre Dame could be forced to join a conference — or risk becoming irrelevant. 

Critics like Michael Wilbon of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” would love to see the Irish lose this game of musical chairs.

“I know the Big Ten ultimately is going to feel the need to take them if they’re the last team standing when the music stops,” said Wilbon. “But I’d love Notre Dame to just be standing there with its face against the glass — and nowhere to go.”

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