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Notre Dame Football: The Price of Independence

It’s back to math

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Georgia at Notre Dame Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We might finally know the tangible cost of Notre Dame Football’s continued independence. On Monday, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported that Notre Dame is seeking a $75 million annual media rights contract with NBC.

At present, we know the current deal averages $15 million per year, but Notre Dame is actually earning $22 million annually because of how the contract is structured. So... an additional $50 million a year would be a considerable amount of money from NBC.

This possibility seems to hinge around the idea that NBC add Big 12 games to “shoulder” Notre Dame football games. The Big 12/Pac 12 merger seems dead in the water now, but the Big 12 could still expand again to become a 16 team conference without the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners.

Possible Big 12 footprint as a 16 team conference.

For NBC to increase the size of its contract with the Irish, the added inventory from the Big 12 appears to be the only way forward (even without expansion).

But Big 12 expansion isn’t why we’re here. It seems as if we finally know how Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick intends to move forward. Right after the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins announced their move to the Big 10, it started to feel pretty inevitable that the Irish would finally join the Big 10. That tidal wave, however, died down and conference realignment across the country did as well — thanks to Notre Dame NOT making a rash decision.

For decades Notre Dame has operated under the terms of less TV money in exchange for its independence. It has been able to operate and make decisions as a one-team Power 5 conference, and controlling its own destiny with almost no one to answer to was more important than the extra millions. With new media rights deals for Big 10 teams looking to be more like $90 million a year, the gap is finally be too wide to ignore.

Basically... if NBC doesn’t give what Notre Dame is asking for in its next contract (after the 2025 season) the time may finally be here for Notre Dame to head to the Big 10, and Irish fans will have been properly greased up for the move (which would still mean a lot of begrudging alumni calling Notre Dame out — but ultimately being ignored because cash is king).

Personally, I think the NBC/Big 12/Notre Dame deal is a likely scenario — and one that that will allow Notre Dame to continue to be independent in football. It doesn’t mean the Irish have to do anything different with its ACC arrangement and do something similar with the Big 12, but given the volatile nature of college athletics right now, something like that could still happen.

I’m glad Notre Dame didn’t just jump to the Big 10 because of the California invasion, but I also don’t want the university to trade away tens of millions of dollars a year, which would put a further strain on its ability to compete for national championships. With 2025 looming large for many across college football, we will probably find out what the move will be over the next 6 months — so buckle up as we wait and see if NBC pays up.