Over the past 10 days, in the midst of various conference media days, one of the talking points has suddenly become Notre Dame and its lack of a conference when it comes to consideration for a College Football Playoff spot. Head coaches from Missouri to Clemson to seemingly everyone in between has been very publicly — and loudly — calling for the football-independent Irish to join a conference in order to be eligible for one of the four playoff spots.
If the South Bend institution is going to be forced into becoming a conference member (don’t count on it), the pressure won’t be coming from the folks who run the playoff.
Thursday, CFP executive director Bill Hancock, in a conversation with ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich, confirmed that there has been no internal discussions about forcing Notre Dame or the other two independents, Army and BYU, to join a conference in order to be eligible for one of their postseason slots.
“The three independents are perfectly happy being independent,” Hancock said. “They have the ability to craft their schedules to fit their needs. If their need and goal is to be in the playoff, then they’re in the same boat as everybody else. You better play a good schedule if you want to be in the playoff.”
When it comes to the Fighting Irish, that last sentence shouldn’t be a problem.
In 2015, Notre Dame will play nine games against teams from Power Five conferences (Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Boston College, Stanford) and three from Group of Five leagues (UMass, Navy, Temple). In 2016, it’s the exact same split between P5s and G5s.
In fact, those two regular season slates stack up quite well with the four teams that qualified for the inaugural CFP last year:
Ohio State — eight Big Ten games; one P5, two G5 non-conference games
Oregon — nine Pac-12 games; one P5, one G5 non-conference game; one FCS game
Alabama — eight SEC games; one P5, two G5 non-conference games; one FCS game
Florida State — eight ACC games; two P5, one G5 non-conference games; one FCS game
What Notre Dame would lack, the same thing that impacted the Big 12 last season, is a conference championship game on its résumé, something all four of those semifinalists had. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney suggested ND add a 13th game in lieu of joining a conference, although that would require a change in current NCAA bylaws that only permit a 13th game when a road trip to Hawaii is involved.
Like the Big 12 and its lack of a title game, Hancock stated that the Irish would have to weigh the benefits of joining a league — and a potential 13th game in the form of a conference championship game — against its storied history as an independent.
“The risks and rewards of conference championship games will always come into play,” Hancock said. “I feel the same way about Notre Dame that I feel about the Big 12. It’s impossible to quantify the effect of a championship game because you don’t know who’s going to win the game.”
In another breath, Hancock very plainly explained that a league title game had no impact on how the four teams were selected last year, even as some would suggest otherwise.
“Frankly, in the committee room, it wasn’t a factor,” Hancock said of a 13th game. “The committee has the luxury of looking at the full body of work from an entire season — 12 or 13 games — for each team, irrespective of what conference they’re in. Having been in the committee room, I can tell you, it’s just not a factor.”