No, Notre Dame Does Not Need to Join A Conference

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Neither Colorado nor Missouri plays Notre Dame, but each program’s head coach has an opinion on the Fighting Irish.

Speaking with ESPN Wednesday, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre advocated uniformity in conference scheduling. That’s been a lingering issue in the College Football Playoff era, and with good reason. Three of the Power Five leagues — the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — play nine-game schedules. The ACC and SEC play eight.

While there are notable exceptions, the eight-game schedule allows for a less-than-ambitious nonconference schedule.

Assuming this is a chief motivator in the push for nine-game schedules, MacIntyre and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel lamenting Notre Dame’s independence lacks some substance.

The Fighting Irish play one of the most challenging schedules in college football, year-in and year-out. The 2015 schedule is particularly daunting: USC, Texas, Georgia Tech at home; Stanford and Clemson on the road.

The Clemson game is part of Notre Dame’s new arrangement with the ACC, which guarantees five games between the conference and the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is already more than halfway to an ACC schedule as is. Now, if those seven open dates were getting filled with games against FCS or Group of Five opponents exclusively — say, a docket that featured Charleston Southern, MTSU and Louisiana-Monroe — MacIntyre, Pinkel and others would have an argument.

But Notre Dame is one of just three programs to have never played an FCS opponent in its history. The Big Ten is following that model, barring the scheduling of FCS opponents in future seasons.

Meanwhile, in most seasons, the Irish see just two or three Group of Five opponents, and one is perennial overachiever Navy. Considering the scare the Midshipmen put into national champion Ohio State, no one is planning to schedule Navy as some non-power cupcake.

UND supplements the remaining, non-ACC portion of its slate with marquee, Power Five opponents, hardly gaining a competitive advantage as a result of its independence.

Preseason strength-of-schedule rankings are somewhat suspect; last season’s records are weighed, and can’t take into account fluctuation up or down that’s guaranteed to occur. Still, stack Notre Dame’s side-by-side with Missouri or Colorado, and there’s no comparison, even with the latter two playing in arguably the two best conferences in college football.

Notre Dame is just fine without a conference. Maybe someday, if the Power Five ever bars matchups with independents — not likely with the ACC and SEC granting Army and BYU “power” designation — or the ACC affiliation falling through — also unless — then we can revisit the Notre Dame conference membership argument.

Until then, it’s pretty much meritless.