Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick: Conference upheaval a 'validation' of football independence

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND –– Don’t look for Notre Dame to give up its football independence anytime soon.

That was the underlying message of Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s public comments Wednesday, his most definitive on the possibility since the Big Ten Conference welcomed USC and UCLA as future members six weeks earlier.

“I don’t know if we’re stronger, but it certainly has felt like a validation of our decision to be independent,” Swarbrick said during a one-hour livestream interview released through the university web site. “I think all of this dynamic has just reinforced that a lot of decisions that have been made over the years have placed Notre Dame in a very good position. That’s my biggest takeaway.”

Swarbrick, who recently marked his 14th anniversary on the job, didn’t sound too concerned about missing out on what he termed a “pretty amazing” media rights package that reportedly could net Big Ten member schools upwards of $100 million per year.

He praised the “brilliant strategy” of Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, a 1990 graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, and the negotiating acumen that forged what is expected to be a Big Ten tripleheader on fall Saturdays with Fox, CBS and NBC, starting in 2024.

“I think it played out marvelously for him,” Swarbrick said. “The timing could not have been better. … But it’s also perfect for Notre Dame.”

Although Notre Dame’s contract with NBC runs through 2025, Swarbrick maintained the additional commitment to college football by the network can only benefit the Irish football program.

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“We need NBC to have more college football to more effectively promote our games and to talk about our games and to have NBC be seen in that light,” Swarbrick said. “So that was great for us that they got a big piece of this.”

Swarbrick reiterated the three major factors in Notre Dame’s continued independence are “a committed broadcast partner,” a model that provides “adequate access” to the College Football Playoff and a sensible home for the school’s Olympic sports, particularly in regard to travel.

On the first front, that means a TV partner that will broadcast all Irish home football games nationally, as NBC has since 1991, while paying enough for those rights that Notre Dame feels it can remain competitive.

A prime architect of the four-team playoff model that has been in place since 2014, Swarbrick helped craft the proposed 12-team model that he hopes could be approved within the next year or two.

Swarbrick called the Atlantic Coast Conference “a great partner” but said he would “like to make progress” on scheduling for the school’s Olympic sports.

While noting the “consolidation of power” by the two strongest conferences, the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten, Swarbrick said he didn’t think they would expand beyond 16 schools in the near term.

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick during a press conference announcing Marcus Freeman as the new Notre Dame head football coach Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 at the Irish Athletic Center in South Bend.

Barring a merger of the weakened Pac-12 and Big 12, which Swarbrick termed unlikely due to its many “complications,” a third mega-conference seems unlikely for now.

“The advantage the SEC and the Big Ten have built is probably going to be there for quite some time,” he said.

Some industry leaders have suggested the NCAA will ultimately give way to a new governance model, at least when it comes to football. Again, Swarbrick sees potential merit in that but cited the complexity of such an overhaul.

“There is a general view that something new has to take shape here to effectively govern football,” he said, “which has a position now which I don’t think any of us could have anticipated as recently as 10 years ago. Its dominance is extraordinary.”

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.