Could you imagine, Alabama playing at Notre Dame every other football season? They haven’t played in a regular-season since 1987, and Notre Dame has never played in Tuscaloosa.
Or how about Notre Dame at LSU every few years or so in a Catholic vs. Catholic crusade? Notre Dame has not been to LSU since 1997, and LSU has not been there since 1998.
Defending national champion Georgia has played Notre Dame only three times. Notre Dame has never played Auburn or Arkansas.
Could SEC newbies Texas and Oklahoma be playing Notre Dame under the SEC banner in 2025 or 2024?
Crazy? At this time last week, you probably thought USC and UCLA playing in the Big Ten with trips to Piscataway, New Jersey, and College Park, Maryland, was nuts. LA Confidential is no longer. USC and UCLA start playing in the Big Ten in 2024.
And the Big Ten may not be done adding schools either. That conference has always coveted Notre Dame, which is located in the original Big Ten country in South Bend, Indiana.
But Notre Dame Football has always shunned conference affiliation. Just too common for the elitist Fighting Irish. Notre Dame’s non-football sports are in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but not football. It took COVID in 2020 for the Irish to play football as if it was in the ACC for a year.
And joining the Big Ten may be a little too predictable, pedestrian and parochial for Notre Dame.
This is the same school that stuck its nose up at playing in bourgeoisie bowl games from 1926-68. Over that span, Notre Dame wanted to appear a cut above everyone else and chose not to play in the Nouveau riche postseason galas. Campus leaders also said they avoided the bowls so its student-athletes could focus on final exams in December. Well, la-de-da.
Suddenly that changed as fall became winter in 1969 and Notre Dame needed money.
Father Edmund Joyce, who had been Notre Dame’s executive vice president and chairman of the faculty athletic board and the University building committee since 1952, altered his world view on bowls in 1969 because of the money.
“The change in policy is due to an urgent need for funds to finance minority student programs and scholarships,” Joyce said in an Associated Press story filed on Monday, Nov. 17, 1969.
NAME, IMAGE & LIKENESS MOTIVATED UCLA TO BIG TEN; ARE NOTRE DAME, WASHINGTON, OREGON NEXT FOR THE BCC
Notre Dame, which had won only one national championship from 1949 to 1966, was very good on the field in 1969 with an 8-1-1 record. The only loss was 28-14 at No. 16 Purdue with the tie at home against No. 3 USC, 14-14.
So, Father Joyce decided to break with tradition and go bowling. And Notre Dame wasn’t just going to go to any bowl in its return. No, it would play at one of the very best at the time – the Cotton Bowl in Dallas – and it would play the best – No. 1 Texas, which would later finish the regular season at 10-0 after a 15-14 win at No. 2 Arkansas in the Game of the Century with President Nixon in attendance.
And Father Joyce, whom the Joyce Center basketball arena at Notre Dame was later named after, accepted the bid for $300,000 from the Cotton Bowl for those “minority student programs.” That would be roughly $2.3 million today.
Nevermind that Cotton Bowl officials had previously told LSU it was headed to the Cotton Bowl to play Texas. Instead, one of the best teams in LSU history at 9-1 with its only loss to Archie Manning and No. 20 Ole Miss, 26-23, in Jackson, Mississippi, stayed home, refusing to later accept bids to lesser bowls.
“Notre Dame, feeling a financial pinch and needing a boost in prestige, broke a 45-year tradition Monday and agreed to meet the Southwest Conference champion in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1,” that A.P. story from ’69 said.
Texas beat Notre Dame, 21-17, in that Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970, for the national title, but the move worked as Notre Dame won two national championships over the next eight years in 1973 and ’77, and has since gone to 38 more bowl games. No. 2 Notre Dame also beat No. 6 LSU, 3-0, at Notre Dame in 1970 before losing, 28-8, in Tiger Stadium the next year. Of the current SEC teams, by the way, Notre Dame has played LSU the most as it leads the series, 7-5.
But Notre Dame needs “a boost” in prestige again as the college football world continues to lap it, much. USC just announced its exit from the Pac-12 for similar reasons.
Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988. It reached the College Football Playoff in 2018 and ’20 under coach Brian Kelly, but the talent differential was painfully obvious in 30-3 and 31-14 semifinal losses to Clemson and Alabama, respectively.
As good as Kelly was consistently at Notre Dame, he couldn’t recruit as well as the national powers from the SEC. In fact, Kelly left Notre Dame after his 12th season in 2021 because he wanted a chance to be able to recruit with the big boys like Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson, which have more in common with SEC powers than ACC powers, and truly contend for a national championship.
When Kelly went to LSU last December, Notre Dame lost a head coach to another school for the first time since Thomas Barry went 6-0-1 with the Irish in 1907 and left to become Wisconsin’s coach.
What better chance does Notre Dame have to recruit SEC-quality players and get SEC transfers than by being in the SEC?
If Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, it would basically stay the same. If Notre Dame joined the SEC, it could recruit to the SEC, particularly if it quietly relaxes some academic requirements.
A move to the SEC by Notre Dame would be just like Notre Dame sees itself – bold.
Considering the travel challenges of the new Big Ten, aka the Both Coasts Conference, Notre Dame is practically an SEC neighbor. The SEC would listen to Notre Dame. And Notre Dame, it is your move in this high-stakes chess match of conference realignment matriculating as we speak.
“While college athletics is undergoing transformational change on many levels, the SEC and our member universities are uniquely positioned to continue to provide our student-athletes with unequaled opportunities to compete as well as provide access for our fans to support their schools in unprecedented numbers,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told OutKick on Friday.
That was his way of saying the SEC may not be done adding schools either after Texas and Oklahoma. He had been asked exactly that.
“Conference membership change has been a constant in college athletics over the years,” he said. “And modern issues facing college sports have only accelerated further realignment.”
Read you loud and clear. Notre Dame would be the ultimate name catch for the SEC.
Name and large, nationwide television following. And here’s the great part. Notre Dame would be like the additions of Texas and Oklahoma – great brand names, but they’re not going to come in and take over. They’re not as good as Georgia or Alabama, and will likely enter through the mediocre-to-good portal.
In the meantime, Greg, go for Clemson, too, before the Big Ten beats you to it.