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Will Notre Dame be forced to join a football conference in the next few years?

March 10, 2010 | 12:35 pm

Notre dame Reporters from around the Tribune family tackle the question of the day, then you get a chance to chime in and tell them why they are wrong.

Dom Amore, Hartford Courant

For nearly as long as there has been college football, there has been Notre Dame, and then everyone else. This may not be the case on the field any more - in fact, it hasn't been the case for quite some time.

But the Notre Dame brand is still the 800-pound gorilla that sits anywhere it wants.

The Big 10 as a conference, and several of its schools, are also strong brands, and are much closer to Notre Dame than 30 or 40 years ago, but still not strong enough to force Notre Dame to throw its Golden Dome into a conference ring. Notre Dame football is likely to be independent for some time to come.

Like the Yankees, Notre Dame  is never more than one championship away from becoming a full-blown obsession again. If the Fighting Irish begin winning again, the school will be able to chart its course successfully for the long term. If not, ND, as an independent, will still find plenty of work.

Andrea Adelson, Orlando Sentinel

The business of college athletics has changed so much over the last 10 years, Notre Dame is going to have no choice but to join a conference. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has finally realized as much. Just a few months after saying he would decline an invite to an expanded Big Ten, Swarbrick said Tuesday that his school may forced to lose its independence.

Notre Dame is a member of a conference in every sport but football. While it enjoys the riches it gets from its own TV deal, imagine an expanded Big Ten with Notre Dame and the even bigger windfall that awaits. Surely a new blockbuster TV deal would be negotiated with ESPN and the Big Ten network. Notre Dame would also be eligible to get a piece of the conference pie when it comes to BCS and bowl payouts.

With the Big Ten and Pac-10 considering expansion, college football is set for another sea change. Notre Dame is going to have to put on its life jacket and go along for the ride.

Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times

No doubt things have changed since 1999, the last time the Big Ten made a run at Notre Dame and Notre Dame said no thanks. The Big Ten, with its growing television network, is more powerful now and Notre Dame football is less powerful. College football's greatest brand didn't need a conference then--it was its own conference. It had special, if not unbelievable, privileges in the BCS. When Notre Dame made it to a major bowl, it got to keep the whole check. It's different now. Notre Dame only gets a conference-like cut of the payout when it makes a BCS game, $4.5 million, in exchange for a million-dollar guarantee in years it doesn't make a big game.

Since 1999, the football program has toiled in mediocrity as it fumbled its way through the last decade. It has bungled coaching hires and posted one lousy bowl win in Hawaii.

But does that mean Notre Dame should be forced into joining a conference? No way. Independence is STILL the thing that sets Notre Dame apart. And, with Brian Kelly set (in my opinion) to return the Irish to greatness, this might be the wrong time to become Purdue with a better fight song.

The only thing holding Notre Dame back as powerful independent is football performance. The Irish are vulnerable now, for sure, but the day they get to 10-0 is the day they move back to front and center back as America's Team. Notre Dame still enjoys huge independent advantages within the BCS structure as the Irish are guaranteed a BCS berth if they finish ranked No. 8 or higher. Why give up a sweetheart deal like that? Notre Dame still enjoys its exclusive contract with NBC, which has stuck with the school through thick and thin, mostly thin.

With all this crazy talk of expansion changing the college football landscape, a reminder: It already happened a few years ago when the Big East exodus of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College started the dominoes tumbling.

Notre Dame should not be rushed into a conference because Charlie Weis wasn't a good coach. The school needs to take a deep breath and consider how good it already has it. Wait and see how far and fast Brian Kelly can take the program on its own.

The financial bottom line for Notre Dame is simple: Win more games and keep all the glory ... and the money.

Photo: Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. Credit: Joe Raymond / Associated Press