White facing BCS pressure

Author: Jason Kelly

p. News from New Orleans over the weekend marked another incremental step toward a more inclusive postseason for college football.p. A bunch of college presidents got together there and promised the Bowl Championship Series would change.p. Exactly what those changes will entail, even they don’t know yet.p. Maybe a fifth BCS game. Maybe a formula to incorporate an automatic bid for a team from a conference not included in the process now.p. This will involve consultants and contracts and concessions from powerful conferences to their weaker competitors to avoid an antitrust intrusion from Congress. It’s complicated.p. That explains Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White’s reluctance to admit to anything more aggressive than monitoring the landscape.p. Not pursuing conference membership for the Irish football team, not even inquiring about it. Just monitoring.p. Looking ahead, in other words, for obstacles that might require a philosophical detour for Notre Dame football — one from a path of its own choosing to one with more company, but also more comfort.p. What the BCS will look like two years from now, or White’s intuition about it in the meantime, will be the basis for whatever move, if any, Notre Dame makes.p. Football independence has defined the Irish forever. To an international fan base, it means much more than money. It’s about identity.p. Over the last decade, as conferences tightened their grip on the game, independence may have become a detriment to that identity.p. Notre Dame’s unique arrangement with the BCS depends on its national appeal, an intangible characteristic diminished with each season that passes without a championship, or even an outside chance.p. As negotiations proceed to revamp the postseason system, the Irish need to strengthen their position, and it’s White’s job to figure out how.p. A fifth BCS game would give an independent Notre Dame a little more leverage.p. Even if an automatic bid went to a team from a current non-qualifying conference, three at-large spots would remain instead of only two now.p. That one extra slot might have been enough to earn the Irish a BCS invitation in 1998 and 2002, when eligible teams were relegated to the Gator Bowl.p. Because the presidents specifically refused to consider a 16-team playoff — the one system that seems both logical and lucrative — an expanded BCS would be Notre Dame’s best hope for increased access as an independent.p. That’s if the conferences, whose power has only increased since the inception of the BCS, decide tradition and name recognition mean enough to maintain the association with the Irish as it exists. Over the last six years, major bowls have thrived without them and their television ratings and media attention.p. A lot of teams offer those enticements now, maybe not with the same profit margin as Notre Dame, but the difference is not worth the negative PR anymore.p. Hence the hot topic of conference affiliation. Not as a concession to mediocrity, as so many Irish fans bemoan, but as means to compete, to keep up with a changing market.p. Correction: To catch up with the changing market.p. Notre Dame started to fall behind about a decade ago.p. Since an invitation to the Orange Bowl after the 1995 season, the Irish have played in one major bowl game, with only four postseason appearances overall.p. No amount of NBC money could make up for those losses in revenue and reputation.p. Adding to the pressing matters cluttering White’s in-box, Notre Dame’s contract with NBC expires after the 2005 season, the same time the current BCS deal ends.p. A renewal of that television contract or negotiations with another network also will contribute to any consideration of joining a conference in football.p. For the next two years, the future of college football will be shaped in board rooms.p. White’s challenge will be to look into the future and find the right place for Notre Dame

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