Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
PROVO — It was no coincidence that on the day BYU announced it was going independent in football that the school also announced a six-game series with fellow independent Notre Dame, one of the most prestigious brands in college football.
But Notre Dame's landmark announcement Wednesday that it is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in all major sports but football could impact BYU in a major way.
In 2010, the Fighting Irish and Cougars agreed to play a six-game series between 2012 and 2020. However, as part of its deal with the ACC, which starts in 2014, Notre Dame will play five ACC opponents per year, facing each ACC member at least once every three seasons.
That means the Irish "may have to buy out of existing contracts to balance its schedule," Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reported.
Could BYU's future games against Notre Dame be in jeopardy?
The Cougars and Irish are scheduled to meet in South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 20, and again at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 23, 2013. No announcements have been made about the dates for the other four announced contests, and two of those were expected to be played in Provo.
ACC schools like Florida State are thrilled at the prospect of playing Notre Dame on a fairly regular basis. FSU athletic director Randy Spetman told the Panama City (Fla.) News Herald that "more specific scheduling details will be revealed when the ACC and Notre Dame confer about contracts with other schools, including BYU and Navy, to see when games can be worked into the schedule."
Notre Dame already has several traditional games on its schedule, with opponents like USC, Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Army and Navy.
"The school would definitely like to preserve its traditional games with USC and Stanford because the school wants a presence on the West Coast," according to Dodd. "Notre Dame also wants a presence in Texas."
Notre Dame officials have expressed interest in playing more games outside of the Midwest.
"It's hard to get into too much detail until we really work through it," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday. "It is important to us to get out to the West Coast annually, and as everyone close to Notre Dame knows, the tradition of playing Navy is important and has deep roots. Those are probably building blocks. Beyond that, we have to work through it over time."
So will there be room for BYU on Notre Dame's schedule moving forward?
Looking at the bigger picture, could Notre Dame's jump to the ACC signal that the Cougars could re-examine their current status as an independent?
All of Notre Dame's major sports have been in the Big East, the same Big East that invited BYU to join its ranks last year as a football-only member. The Boise State and San Diego State football programs both decided to leave the Mountain West Conference for the Big East, but the Cougars opted to remain independent.
The Irish's alliance with the ACC makes it likely that the Big East could once again pursue BYU.
Will the Cougars continue to stand alone?
"Notre Dame's independence and BYU's independence are two entirely different things," wrote Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel. "The No. 1 reason for Notre Dame's move was the Irish felt a scheduling crunch and needed the guaranteed five ACC games to lighten that burden. It abhors playing weak opponents. It's never played a team from the former Division I-AA and does everything it can to avoid a non-BCS team. It's basically 10 or 11 major conference opponents and the service academies …
"So the assumption that Notre Dame's move shows that independence can't be done anymore isn't necessarily the case," Wetzel continued. "BYU can do it because of its flexibility in picking opponents. BYU could join the Big East if it chose (and if it's invited), but only if it feels like it's the best strategy. Besides, one of BYU's unique purposes is promoting [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. Independence may behoove that."
BYU issued a statement in response to media inquiries about Wednesday's developments: "Like most universities, BYU continues to monitor the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, including today's announcement by Notre Dame. BYU is pleased with its status as an independent football program."
Also on Wednesday, New Mexico State announced it is going to be an independent, just like Idaho did earlier this year. For BYU, that could mean more future games against those two schools.
While the future of the BYU-Notre Dame series is unclear, what is clear is that both the Irish and the ACC benefit from this newly formed alliance.
"I don't think there's out there a better situation than the situation we have," said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president. "The ACC has allowed us to retain a tradition (of football independence) that's so central to our identity in football while we're joining a conference that athletically as well as academically fits Notre Dame perfectly."
BYU-Notre Dame series
In 2010, BYU and Notre Dame agreed to a six-year series through 2020, beginning with the first meeting on Oct. 20 in South Bend. The Cougars and Fighting Irish are also scheduled to play in South Bend on Nov. 23, 2013. No dates have been announced for the other four games.
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