Q-and-A, Part II: Swarbrick tackles realignment and ND independence, NIL, playoff chatter

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick after ND's 27-13 victory over Purdue, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Editor's Note: This is Part II of Notre Dame football insider Eric Hansen's recent two-part Q-and-A session with Notre Dame vice president and athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The focus in Part I was the Notre Dame fan experience. Part II covers a broad variety of topics, including realignment and ND's independence, the fate of the 12-team playoff proposal, NIL concerns, and Brian Kelly's coaching milestone involving Knute Rockne.

Q: What are your thoughts about what’s happened with realignment and do we think it’s settled down now as far as the Power 5 stabilizing? Or might there be more movement coming up? 

Jack Swarbrick: “I think it’s stabilized for the time being. Long term, there’s no chance for stability in its current form. History tells us that, and we’d be foolish not to have that perspective. Now, long term may be 10 years from now, 15 years from now. I don’t know, but it will continue to evolve.” 

Q: Would you imagine that evolution could ever coax Notre Dame out of its independent status in football? 

JS: “Two observations on that. I believe our independence has never been more valuable to the university than it is today. Part of that is our competitive success, but our independence makes us more and more distinct all the time and draws appropriate attention to us, gives us flexibility to play where we want to play.  

“We just did an analysis of how many major media markets we’ve played in, in the past 15 years — it’s staggering at how different it is from everybody else. And that’s why we play football the way we do. So, point No. 1 is, the independence has never been more helpful as a university in promoting Notre Dame and talking about what we do. 

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“Secondly — and I’ve always said this publicly — our independence is dependent on two things. One is a media partner who’s committed to us and broadcasts our games and helps us compete at a high level. The other is access to the postseason. If either of those changes, we will absolutely have to reconsider our position. But right now, I feel great about where we are.” 

One of Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton's first NIL deals came with Rhoback, an activewear company.

Q: Just a few months into Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), how do you think it’s going from a Notre Dame standpoint? And do you, as an institution, have a tangible strategy in a world where it’s still so fluid and undefined in its structure? 

JS: “The one thing I can say with great confidence is, we have a distinctive and well-defined strategy for how we’re doing this. And I could not be happier with the way in which members of our staff have worked to implement it. 

“Our view of Name, Image and Likeness is not as some standalone, new aspect of college athletics. It’s just one more element of our commitment to develop our student-athletes — career services, study abroad, leadership development. Name, Image and Likeness — which by the way we refer to as Name, Image, Likeness and Ideas — is just part of that. 

“We're approaching it that way. We've built it into those other functions, and I’m really pleased with how it’s going. That’s not to say it’s not bumpy, but it’s mainly bumpy because we have no rules to guide it. 

“It is going to be a mess in college athletics until we get that. And it’s going to get worse, because it’s going to start to infiltrate recruiting. And that’s the one thing we all agreed we didn’t want to see happen. But in the absence of a better rule system or structure, that’s exactly what’s starting to occur. And I hate everything about that. 

“I hope that if the NCAA gets itself restructured, it can attack this. If not, I hope Congress will find a reason to get involved.”  

Q: It sounds like the momentum of the 12-team College Football Playoff hiccupped a bit with some of the team movement to different conferences. Do you think that’s maybe settled down to the point that you can get that momentum back? Or is it going to be less likely or less timely as we move forward?  

JS: “I don’t want to speculate on the timing. I recognize that given some of the surrounding dynamics — changes in commissioners, conference realignment — it has impact on the consideration of the 12-team proposal. But there are two things I know for certain. 

“There’s no sport playoff that has ever failed to expand. I can’t find one in any sport. This will happen. Whether it’s something the working group proposed or something else, we will get there. And I don’t feel particularly strongly about whether it happens before the expiration of the current agreements (2025-26 bowl season) or later, but it will happen.” 

Q: The Power 5 conferences all have policies in place regarding COVID and forfeitures, rather than rescheduling, should one of the teams not be able to satisfy a minimum roster requirement. How does that work with Notre Dame? 

JS: “Obviously, I would hope we’re not in the position of having to decide that. From our perspective, I think there would be discussion with the conference involved about their policy and about how it applies in our circumstance, but I do not view ourselves as bound by it. 

“Now the College Football Playoff selection committee can choose to evaluate those games however they want to evaluate them. To the extent that it affects the ACC bowl game seeding, the ACC is going to treat it the way their policy goes. 

“We understand it. The first goal is to not be in that situation, and the second one is: If we get in it, we’ll work with that conference and discuss the outcome.” 

Q: How do the travel logistics for your team compare to last year’s? Are there still a lot of COVID protocols in place? 

JS: “It’s not as challenging as last year, but it’s interesting to me the number of things that we had to do last year that we found out were pretty good and that we’re sticking with them. An example is eating dinner here before we leave and taking a later flight, as we did down to Florida (for the opener at Florida State). That works really well. That’s part of it now. 

“We just have less activity at the hotel, the way we structure it, than we used to. Independent of COVID, that’s proven to have a nice efficiency for us. And so some it we’re keeping. Some of it we need to keep, because of the virus. It is a bit easier, but it’s not gone away — that’s for sure. But it’s not to the extent we dealt with it last year.” 

Q: With the NCAA looking to rewrite its constitution, I’m not sure how much of that becomes actual reform. But what are your thoughts about it, and is there any avenue in this process to reclaim vacated victories? 

JS: “No, as regard to the latter. No one wants to go down that path, whether somebody gets their Heisman Trophy back or somebody gets to hang their championship banner again or someone gets games back. There’s no sentiment to go back and revisit all of that. 

“Generally speaking, I choose to be optimistic about the process. I’m glad they’re doing it. I’m sure (former U.S. Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates will do an effective job of leading. I just hope it’s sufficiently radical. 

“I worry if you start from the basis of what we have now and how you modify it as opposed to saying, ‘Forget the current structure. What do we want it to be?’ So, I’m optimistic. They’ve got good people involved. I just hope they’re aggressive enough.” 

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick looks on as new Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly addresses the media during his introductory press conference on Dec. 11, 2009.

Q: With Brian Kelly on the cusp of passing Knute Rockne on the all-time coaching victory list at Notre Dame, when you sat down and offered him a contract in December of 2009, did you ever think we’d be having this kind of conversation relative to Brian Kelly? 

JS: “No, but not because I didn’t have complete confidence in Brian and complete confidence that he was going to be an enormous success here. It is hard to coach at Notre Dame as long as Brian has. And we have seen that time and again, right? 

“So, it didn’t have anything to do with Brian’s abilities as a coach — which as I said, I had great confidence in. It did have to do with, especially in this day and age of social media and all the inherent pressures, how long can anybody sit in that seat? 

“So one of the things I have the greatest admiration of Brian about is his ability to manage all that. I mean, he has a balance about him and a perspective that allows him to be a phenomenal coach but not have it eat him alive. 

“And we are really fortunate that he is that sort of person. But I didn’t appreciate how much he was when I hired him.” 

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI