Power 5 may impact Notre Dame football grid schedule

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Certain aspects of the Notre Dame football program are sacred and non-negotiable.

Helmets will always be gold, no matter what Under Armour comes up with. Notre Dame Stadium’s turf will always be grass (uh, check that; never mind).

And Navy will always be on the Irish schedule.

Lots of talk is going on within the ranks of college football’s power brokers that the recent separation of the Power 5 (which includes Notre Dame) “haves” should include exclusive scheduling.

The “have nots” should be left to fend for themselves.

“We would be extremely excited if everyone would go down the same road and play the kind of schedule that we do,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after Saturday’s practice. “We think that that would be a level playing field.

“We believe there’s enough people on the (playoff selection) committee who recognize the kind of schedule we play.

“If the five power conferences play the kind of schedule we’re playing, then we’d have a level playing field.”

Not only would it cause a problem with mathematical — and financial — feasibility (if every Power 5 team needs seven home games to keep its bottom line above water, even a numerically-challenged sports writer can deduce someone would be limited to just five), but there would be some pretty good rivalries that get scuttled.

Like Notre Dame-Navy.

“Notre Dame and Navy have an extraordinary history, and little of it has to do with football,” said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. “It goes back to how we helped each other and how we helped the country in World War II.”

This year’s meeting with the Midshipmen will be the 88th, dating back to 1927.

Legend has it that during the war years Notre Dame struggled financially. Attendance dropped. Navy came to the rescue, bringing 900 students to study a sophisticated curriculum. The decision kept Notre Dame afloat.

Notre Dame showed its appreciation by vowing to schedule the Midshipmen in football every year. The rivalry went for decades without being competitive. But now, every contest is a challenge.

“(If Power 5 exclusive scheduling became reality), it would bring into question whether we could count that (game against Navy),” Kelly said. “Navy has shown themselves to be at least a top 30 team fairly consistently. Beat a Big Ten team (Indiana) last year. I don’t think you can count Navy out of that conversation.”

Fact of the matter is, a school is either in the Power 5 or it isn’t. Hard to have loopholes.

“We will work to maintain that rivalry,” Swarbrick said. “But, it doesn’t stand alone. There are other rivalries around the country (in a similar situation) that

would cause a lot of consternation if something happened to prevent them from being played.

“I’m a little at a loss to see what would be gained by (the exclusive Power 5 scheduling).”

While Kelly likes the idea of a level playing field, the “have nots” fill gaps in schedules easily, don’t mind playing a road game without a return game at home, and are thoroughly thrilled with the game check.

“Presumably, the thought is that (exclusive scheduling) would insure the compatibility of schedules,” said Swarbrick. “We’ve proven there are no obstacles to build one of the toughest schedules in the country and still retain our rivalries.”

Just a few years ago, critics who thought Notre Dame had to join a conference, used scheduling as an argument. The premise was that teams would be so locked into their conference schedules that no room would be available for the Irish.

“In fact, we’ve faced the opposite problem,” said Swarbrick. “With all the commitments we have, all we have is a single home-and-home to offer each year.”

Notre Dame lives up to its Atlantic Coast Conference agreement by scheduling five teams each year (this year there are four, next year six). Add in regulars Southern Cal, Stanford and Navy, and the spots on the 12-game schedule are precious.

Computers now have been taken out of the playoff selection equation. How the committee values a meat grinder like Notre Dame’s – Michigan, at Florida State, Stanford, at Arizona State, Louisville, North Carolina, Northwestern, at Southern Cal – will be interesting.

The Irish just have to do their part and present a legitimate case for the committee to consider.

It’s a case that will always include Navy.

Probably. Remember that turf thing.

The Navy mascot jumps in an attempt to mess up Notre Dame cheerleaders during the Notre Dame vs. Navy football game on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)