Autonomy suits Notre Dame just fine despite Missouri coach's comments

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Wait a minute…

Really? C’mon.

Just when it seemed that Donald Trump was making all the crackpot assaults lately, Gary Pinkel found himself a microphone.

While the presidential candidate was taking shots at POWs and the Pope, the University of Missouri football coach really did the unthinkable.

He let loose with a roundhouse haymaker in the direction of Notre Dame.

The crux of the attack on the Irish football program — and BYU and Army, for that matter — was that independents should not be allowed to compete for one of the four coveted playoff spots.

That’s sorta Neanderthal, caveman logic.

“You don’t have independents in the NFL,” Pinkel told


He explained that Notre Dame should be given a year to join a conference.

Yeah, right.

Here’s the rub: Put Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule up against Missouri’s — or any other team from the Southeastern Conference — and it will be obvious the Irish will be better tested.

The only two Irish gimmes are UMass and Temple. Don’t sell Navy short, and Wake Forest isn’t awful.

Missouri’s agenda starts with Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State and Connecticut. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. Its other non-SEC game is against independent BYU.

Six of the eight SEC teams the Tigers play this season won seven or fewer games overall last season.

Five teams on this year’s Notre Dame schedule — Georgia Tech (11-3), Clemson (10-3), Southern Cal (9-4), Stanford (8-5) and Navy (8-5) — won at least eight.

Conference or no conference, the Irish schedule is legit.

Maybe it’s the (somewhat well-deserved) perception of Notre Dame’s smugness that rankles so many folks. But smugness isn’t a crime, or even an NCAA violation, or a reason to deny a playoff spot.

Maybe it’s the myth that, without a conference championship game, late-season victories don’t hardly mean as much (just ask TCU and Baylor, right?).

Whatever the case, others with much more clout than Gary Pinkel — the “Hear Me Guy” from the “Show Me State” — have tried to back Notre Dame’s football program into a conference corner. Each time, the unflappable Irish refused to panic, didn’t flinch and thumbed their nose at the suggestion.

Nobody tells the Irish who to schedule (though the Atlantic Coast Conference agreement is pretty close).

Having the lucrative NBC television deal in place continues to give credibility to the autonomy.

As Notre Dame officials have said ad nauseam, as long as the Irish have a path to an opportunity for a national championship, there won’t be any reason to join a conference.

At last glance, all indications are that a special Irish season would still command the respect needed for a shot at a title.

College football needs Notre Dame, even if it’s on Notre Dame’s terms.

That harsh reality doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

No matter what Gary Pinkel says.

Gary Pinkel said no independents in @CFBPlayoff. “Give Notre Dame year to join a league. They don’t have independents in NFL"

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 20, 2015//

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)