Brothers in independence: Notre Dame's presence at playoff talks may help BYU football

Published: Friday, June 22 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Then there's Florida State and Clemson, who made noise this spring about their interest in ditching the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big 12. If the Big 12 does expand, is it looking east instead of west?

When it comes to trying to forecast BYU's future, keep eyes on Notre Dame.

"There's always talk and speculation about what Notre Dame might do," said Dan Murphy, staff writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated, a publication devoted to coverage of Irish athletics. "There are more people now than in the past saying that maybe it's time to get rid of the old traditions. But the majority of people understand that independence is a big part of Notre Dame's identity. The conference realignment stuff is obviously governed by money. I think it's a little bit different for Notre Dame. They have other things at stake. They're not just looking to see who is willing to pay top dollar. Notre Dame will do whatever it can to hold on to independence."

Murphy added that when Swarbrick was hired as the athletic director a few years ago, "a big part of his job is to see Notre Dame through everything that's going on (in college football realignment) and remain independent if at all possible. He's made that clear through all of the meetings and realignment, that his top priority is, if there's any possible way for Notre Dame to remain independent, he's going to make sure that happens. Their hand will have to be forced for Notre Dame to join a conference."

If the Irish do align themselves with a league, which would it be? Big 12? Big Ten? ACC?

"Until recently, I would have said the ACC, because of academics and other factors," Murphy said. "Notre Dame is an East Coast team. A lot of their alumni is on the Eastern seaboard. It kind of has that mentality. It doesn't have the same mentality as most Midwest schools, in my opinion. If the ACC falls apart, who knows? Maybe the ACC is willing to take Notre Dame as a non-football school and focus on basketball and the other sports. That would work out well for the Irish. The ACC and Big 12 are the two that get talked about most often and are the most likely future homes if Notre Dame decides to join a conference."

And if Notre Dame does join a conference, what does BYU do?

Athletic director Tom Holmoe told the media in April that he is constantly monitoring the situation. He added that the school has a contingency plan for every scenario and will continue to adjust those plans as necessary.

"I certainly need to keep in touch with key friends of mine in the business," Holmoe said. "That open communication continues."

While Notre Dame has a seat at the table with conference commissioners when making decisions about college football's postseason and other major issues, BYU does not.

But are the Irish an advocate for the Cougars in those meetings?

"I wouldn't say that Notre Dame goes into those meetings representing the independents of college football," Murphy said. "But what's good for Notre Dame is good for BYU. Having Notre Dame at the table helps BYU I would think when it comes to conference-only playoffs. Obviously, Notre Dame would work hard against that. One of Jack Swarbrick's main talking points during the playoff meetings has been making sure the strength of schedule is a focal point in deciding which teams might be included in the playoffs. That would probably work in favor of a team like BYU, which can schedule whoever they want. Notre Dame is definitely an advocate of trying to play top competition."

Swarbrick has said he is "comfortable with Notre Dame's place" in a future four-team playoff format.

How comfortable is BYU about its place?

Holmoe has said the Cougars are happy to remain independent for the foreseeable future, adding that Notre Dame stands as an example of what BYU hopes to be as an independent.

"We look at them," he said, "as a model that they make (independence) work, and they have had success."

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series examining the relationship between BYU and Notre Dame and the impending start of a six-game football series between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish. Today: How Notre Dame's future could impact BYU in conference realignment. Read Part 2. Read part 3.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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