When it comes to beating to your own drum, the University of Notre Dame athletic program has been unparallelled forever, or so it seems. No football program over the past century has been more celebrated and lauded -- both internally and externally -- than the mighty Fighting Irish. With the help of football-crazed Catholic immigrants, the small school in South Bend, Ind., became a football juggernaut in the mid-1900s, winning an incredible eight AP national championships in 46 years. The gold-marked helmet and the echoes of the late, great coach Knute Rockne all the way to Lou Holtz have the distinctly unique tune of Notre Dame.
But times have changed, and the current world of college football is vastly different today than it was even 20 years ago. Coaches from all over the country can now sell their programs to five-star recruits just as well as the Irish once did. National television deals make Notre Dame's weekly game with NBC that much less significant and, as I discussed recently on The New Notre Dame Network, the school's steadfast commitment to academics has kept premier recruits from gaining acceptance as freshmen.
All of this comes on the heels of Notre Dame's move to the ACC, known more for an elite basketball tradition than for football. The Irish, who won't play a full conference football schedule (the only sport not to do so), will still play five games against the ACC, along with seven designated games of choice.
While head coach Brian Kelly may in fact have his program headed down the road to success, the key element to consider is why Notre Dame -- who hasn't won a national title in 24 years -- made the switch.
As the football program has admittedly shifted to average by its own standards -- it hasn't been to a BCS bowl game since 2007 and hasn't ever won one -- its influence on the BCS has drastically weakened. In other words, even if the Irish were to win nine games this season amid the nation's hardest schedule, an at-large BCS appearance would be far from a guarantee. That's because the Boise States of the world have become just as relevant by winning double-digit games every season, and the notion of Notre Dame's once unmistakeable monopoly has faded.
While the school's move to the ACC (which will not take place later than 2015) may very well prove beneficial for the football program -- the upcoming four-team national playoff is certainly a plus -- it is also a glaring admission that Notre Dame football is no longer the national stalwart of old. Even when it joined the Big East for all sports but football in 1995, the school was still able to maintain its normal dose of independence on the gridiron.
Notre Dame's seemingly archaic administration has long been criticized for failing to understand the new landscape of college sports, especially when it comes to football. But, the school's move to the ACC signifies that even the oldest and proudest of regimes are willing to change. For better or worse though, we don't yet know.
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