Independent Status Dooms Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will not fight on this year — at least not in the FBS playoff anyway.

The four teams who will be going to said playoff ahead of Notre Dame include the champion of a non-"AQ" conference (the American Athletic Conference) — Cincinnati — and a runner-up in an "AQ" conference — Georgia, which got blasted 41-24 by Alabama in the SEC championship game.

Clearly, the Irish were penalized for being an independent — severely penalized.

But before anyone cries any tears of empathy for Notre Dame, it must be pointed out that they have chosen not to join a conference (except for its one-year, COVID-driven affiliation with the ACC in 2020).

Already a member of the ACC in essentially all other college sports — and having played five of its football teams in 2021 (Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech) — the leap from that to playing four more games within the conference, and becoming a full-fledged, permanent member therein in football, is hardly a long one.

Besides the prestige attached to membership in a conference, Notre Dame joining the ACC in football could bring revolutionary changes to major college football — in that with 15 teams, the ACC can then realign into three five-team divisions, with the three division winners plus one wild card team advancing to an unprecedented conference semifinal playoff.

As for what the ACC's divisions should look like, it is hard to fault this alignment:

ACC North — Boston College, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse.

ACC Central — Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest.

ACC South — Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State.

And once the ACC does this, rest assured that it will not long stand alone, as the other "AQ" conferences will quickly follow suit, adding as many teams as applicable to bring their number of teams to 15.

The regular-season format would call for each team to play their four division rivals every year, and the teams in the other two divisions every other year, the home and away assignments alternating with each meeting in both cases, producing nine conference games for each team (three of the five "AQ" conferences — the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 — already play nine-game conference schedules, while the ACC and SEC play only eight).

Plus, Notre Dame's plight, such as it is, could, and should, lead to an increase in the number of teams in the FBS playoff — and sooner, rather than later.

The ideal number of teams for the FBS playoff would be 12 — since in that case, the top teams can be suitably rewarded for their success, as they are in the professional sports, particularly the NFL.

In a 12-team tournament, the top four seeds can be given a bye in the first round, in which the higher seeds would receive home-field advantage.

Then, the eight surviving teams should be re-seeded, thus guaranteeing that the top seed would always be assured of playing the lowest-seeded first-round winner. In this round, too, the higher seeds get the home field.

The semifinals, and the FBS Championship Game, would be played at predetermined sites — preferably at sites where no FBS team plays its home games, such as AT&T Stadium and Raymond James Stadium, homes of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.

And why should a team that gets off to an 0-2 start — or for that matter, even a 6-2 start, as Iowa did this year — be reduced to essentially playing for pride the rest of the season?

So nothing but good can come from Notre Dame joining the ACC — not only for the Irish themselves and the ACC, but for the entire FBS.

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