All across SB Nation this week, sites will be talking about the best teams (from all sports) to never win a championship. In some cases that will mean conference titles, but for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program — that means national championships, and national championships only.
So before we at OFD get too deep in this exercise, something needs to be made perfectly clear... Notre Dame has technically won 22 national championships. Notre Dame recognizes 11 titles, but also lists 10 co-national championships. On this site, as most of you know, we absolutely claim 21 — because Notre Dame should claim 21. The 22nd is another co-national championship, but we will talk about that in a little bit.
Two years ago I published an article about Notre Dame’s 21 national championships, but it was more of a proclamation (and a dope shirt) than an explanation of why those years are listed by Notre Dame as co-championships. I did give my reasoning about why I made that proclamation, and it all had to do with how and when schools claimed their national championships — particularly ones that are heavily debated. My feeling then — as it is now — is that Notre Dame should claim every championship possible along the same guidelines as others have over the years.
Claiming national championships is an art form that was established well before the BCS and College Football Playoff eras. Before those modern methods of science came along, it was really up to the schools SID’s (and others within the administration) to determine if they were champions.
The Alabama Crimson Tide is well known for this.
In the 1980’s Wayne Atcheson did exactly that.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always felt Notre Dame had the most and it would be a long time until anybody would catch them,” said Wayne Atcheson, a former Alabama sports information director. “I have always admired their tradition and heritage. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how many they claim. I just think about ours.”
Back in the mid-1980s, Atcheson added five pre-Bryant national titles to Alabama’s media guide that continue to be claimed: 1925, 1926, 1930, 1934 and 1941.
Notre Dame’s Claimed National Championships
1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988
These 11 years are absolute and undisputed — although 1973 can be looked at as a shared championships with Alabama who got the #1 vote in the UPI Poll.
Notre Dame’s Co-National Championships (Unclaimed)
1919, 1920, 1927, 1938, 1953, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1989, 1993
Now we get into the real fun. Here are 10 championships that Notre Dame only recognizes as “co-national champion” years. How do we know that Notre Dame internally gives these years some type of recognition since they don’t list them in their media guides, or with banners inside the stadium. Well... they have a simple plaque:
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At One Foot Down, we often mention Notre Dame’s 21 national championships in football. This is why... if Notre Dame was any other school, these co-championships would be counted in the total. We are simply doing ND’s dirty work . #notredame #notredamefootball #onefootdown #collegefootball #champion
So how did Notre Dame come up with these years? You don’t have to look far, because the NCAA lists them on their website. Basically, every year prior to the BCS is arbitrary, and if an Organization recognizes a team as a champion, they are listed as a champion for that year. Here are how Notre Dame’s co-ten titles break down by each voting entity:
- 1919: National Championship Foundation, Parke Davis
- 1920: Billingsley, Parke Davis
- 1927: Houlgate
- 1938: Dickinson
- 1953: Billingsley, Boand, DeVold, Dunkel, Helms, Litkenhous, National Championship Foundation, Poling, Sagarin, Sagarin ELO-CHESS, Williamson
- 1964: National Football Foundation, Football News, DeVold
- 1967: Dunkel
- 1970: FACT, Matthews, Sagarin
- 1989: Berryman, Eck, FACT, Sagarin, Sagarin ELO-CHESS
- 1993: Matthews, National Championship Foundation
Some of those names you have heard of before, and I imagine that some of those names are like ancient Greek to you. The NCAA website gives a brief explanation of who and what those voting entities are — or you can google them of course.
All week long we will be talking about championships that weren’t, and I’m sure a few of these years will be under the spotlight.
Why is this important?
Because it changes everything. Should Notre Dame ever claim all of these championship outright — as is their right to do.
Notre Dame’s national championship count per coach would be:
- Knute Rockne 6
- Frank Leahy 5
- Ara Parseghian 5
- Lou Holtz 3
- Dan Devine 1
- Elmer Layden 1
It also gives Notre Dame enough championships to outlast the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa, so the Irish remain king of titles for quite a time longer.
Why is this unimportant?
Because none of this makes the Notre Dame football program better on the field in 2020 and beyond. It’s nothing but bragging rights, but bragging rights are what make college football great. Still, any title debated that dates before 1980 feels like a barbershop battle, and no one really wins in those.
The BCS helped set the College Football Playoff in motion, and even with computers and other pollsters still putting out their own rankings each year, no one other than the UCF Knights have disputed the results — and no one wants to join UCF in their bullshit.
What about that 22nd championship?
Well speaking of UCF and their bullshit, the 2012 Notre Dame team could also claim a national championship. The Colley Index ranked UCF the national champion in 2017 (also a year that Alabama won the title) and the same ranking system ranked the Irish #1 in 2012.
So yeah, there’s no way anyone today could say Notre Dame was a co-national champion in 2012 without being laughed at mercilessly. Hell, you might even get physically beat up by Irish fans for saying it.
In 40 years though... sure.