Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU
SALT LAKE CITY — Now that a college football playoff is finally coming, how about some details?
Minor ones like, oh, who gets in.
That came up last month when it was announced that starting in 2014, a four-team playoff will commence. No more whining about undefeated teams never getting a chance to play for a title. It will be decided by a committee and based on a still-elusive set of criteria that will include win-loss records, strength of schedule and — who knows? — which teams have the best marching bands. Some say the Southeastern Conference will get two playoff bids with the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 splitting the other two.
Meanwhile, it hasn't been announced where Notre Dame fits into this. As a football independent, it isn't tied to a conference championship — another one of the variables. So will there be a Notre Dame exception? Plan on it, since Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick has been a spokesman on behalf of the 11 conferences and, of course, Notre Dame.
Then there's BYU, which is also independent. Will BYU get the same sort of deal, or will it need to join a conference to realistically be included?
Let's assume something will be worked out with Notre Dame in mind. At the same time, let's not assume Notre Dame is looking out for BYU.
After all, there are plenty of I's in Irish.
Every school is promising to look out for its own fans' interests. BYU would be foolish if it weren't doing the same. But while BYU is sometimes perceived as a partner with Notre Dame in the campaign for equal access, it's not necessarily true.
Notre Dame is backing BYU until it gets down to crunch time, i.e. getting a "final four" berth. Then it's vaya con dios, Cougars.
This train only goes so far. After that, you walk.
Much has been said about the similarities between BYU and Notre Dame. Both are religion-based universities, with high academic and moral standards. Both have international followings. While the Cougars have BYUtv to get their message out, Notre Dame has its lucrative contract with NBC, which is expected to be renewed.
And neither intends to do things the way everyone else does.
But while both are working toward the same goal, they're not necessarily working together. The Irish would love to have a "Notre Dame exception," rather than an "independent exception," which is basically how the old BCS system worked.
That doesn't mean the schools are enemies; they have a strong and fairly longstanding relationship. This fall they begin a new six-game series, which will be good viewing. At the same time, universities can ill afford to look out for someone else while guarding their own backs. Utah didn't get BYU's permission to join the Pac-12, nor did TCU and Boise State worry about Mountain West teams when they moved to the Big 12 and Big East, respectively.
While Swarbrick has said BYU and Notre Dame have similarities, he never said they were married.
Notre Dame is pushing strength of schedule as a major determinant in selecting the final four. That immediately creates separation. Notre Dame's lowest-regarded opponents this year are Temple and Navy, soon to be in the Big East. BYU plays lightly regarded Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State..
While BYU is smart to work with Notre Dame, it should view this as a friendly association but not a blood pact. If there's one thing Notre Dame has always done spectacularly, it is to look out for Notre Dame.
There's a reason the Irish have avoided joining a conference all these years.
Which brings to mind the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, as they are surrounded by hostile warrior braves.
"Looks like we're in trouble, Tonto," says the Ranger.
Tonto: "What do you mean we, Kimosabe?"
As BYU has learned in the last two years, being the Lone Ranger can be lonely business indeed.
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