Why it’s Time For Notre Dame to Join Big Ten

Notre Dame is literally surrounded by Big Ten teams.

So why haven't the Irish ever joined that conference?

It's not as if they never play Big Ten teams: Over the last dozen years — from 2018 through this season — Notre Dame has played, or will play, Michigan nine times (including an October 26 game at Ann Arbor), Michigan State eight times, and Northwestern twice. Why Notre Dame has never played Ohio State in the regular season during that time is a mystery — although there was one meeting in the postseason, with the Irish losing to the Buckeyes in the 1985 Fiesta Bowl (actually played on New Year's Day in 1986).

But wouldn't a 15th team in the conference create an impossible scheduling situation?

As Bart Simpson liked to say, "Contraire, mon frere!"

With 15 teams, the Big Ten could implement a revolutionary realignment into three five-team divisions, with the three division winners plus one wild card team advancing to an unprecedented conference semifinal playoffs, with the top two division winners being rewarded with home field advantage, and the winners meeting in the conference championship game at a predetermined site, as is done now.

And now for the divisions:

Eastern Division: Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers

Central Division: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State

Western Division: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin

The regular-season schedule would consist of eight conference games for each team, one fewer than the nine games now played (two 14-team conferences – the ACC and SEC – play eight-game schedules), each team playing one game against each of its four division rivals and two games against teams from both of the other two divisions, all pairs of division rivals playing five of their eight games against common opponents — one common opponent outside the division in addition to the four within the division.

If, at the end of the season, two teams are tied for a division title, whoever won the head-to-head game between them wins the division; in the event of a three-way tie, if one team beat both of the other two, it wins if the division; if the three teams split among each other, division record decides (if two teams had the same division record, better than the third team, it goes back to the result of the head-to-head game between the two that had the same division record).

In the event of a tie for the wild card, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head, if applicable; in a three-way tie involving all three second-place teams, head-to-head is applicable so long as all three teams had at least one opportunity to play one of the others; if A beat B, B beat C, and A and C did not play each other, A wins the tie-breaker for having a 1-0 head-to-head record to B's 1-1 and C's 0-1; however, if C played neither A nor B, or if none of the three teams played each other, head-to-head cannot be applied (if three teams are tied for the wild card and two are from the same division, the division tie is broken first, and whoever wins that tie-breaker if the tie was for second place, or whoever loses it if the tie was for first place, then goes through the tie-breaking procedure with the other team), followed by record against common opponents.

If ties for either a division title or the wild card still exist, it goes to strength of victory (conference games only), strength of schedule (conference games only), and best combined conference ranking in points scored and points allowed.

Once the four playoff teams are decided and seeded, in the semifinals the 1 seed hosts the wild card and the 2 seed hosts the 3 seed, unless the 1 seed and the wild card are from the same division, in which case the 1 seed hosts the 3 seed and the 2 seed hosts the wild card.

It is very likely that if the Big Ten does this, one or more of the other major conferences will follow: UCF could join the ACC, Cincinnati could join the SEC, Boise State, BYU, and Utah State could join the Pac 12, and three holdovers from the dear, departed Southwest Conference — Houston, Rice, and SMU — along with Memphis and Tulane, could join the Big 12, giving all five major conferences 15 teams.

And with only eight conference games instead of the nine that are currently played in the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12, only the two teams in each conference that advance to the conference title game would play a total of 10 games before the postseason, which may be expanded to eight teams at any time, begins.

But first Notre Dame has to do the right thing and join the Big Ten to set the chain reaction off.

Comments and Conversation

September 24, 2019

J.D.:

That proposed Central division is BRUTAL. Nine times out of ten, the Big Ten playoffs would be Wisconsin/Nebraska, Penn State, and pick two of OSU/ND/UM/MSU.

That said, while I love the idea, it’s tough to do three pods in the Big Ten in any balanced way, because the conference has so many intertangled rivalries.

September 26, 2019

Anthony Brancato:

That’s why there is a wild card in this plan. In most years, two teams from the Central would make it to conference semifinals.

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