Notre Dame football: What will it take for the Irish to join a conference?
A shift in the CFP structure
Discussions over the past year pointed to College Football Playoff expansion. However, in Feb. 2022, CFP executive director Bill Hancock announced that the playoff would stay with four teams through the end of the contract.
The twelve-year contract expires after the 2025 season. At that point, the College Football Playoff could remain with four teams or expand to six, eight, or twelve teams.
College Football Playoff expansion favors Notre Dame football staying Independent. The original twelve-team proposal featured six conference champions and six at-large teams. The top four conference champions would receive a bye. If the twelve-team playoff was in place during Brian Kelly’s tenure, the Fighting Irish would have made the College Football Playoff five times (2012, 2015, 2018, 2020, 2021).
An expanded playoff further secures Irish independence.
The lack of a bye represents a major drawback in this model. The road to a national championship grows much further away with an expanded playoff and lack of bye. Hypothetically, in 2018, two games sat between the Notre Dame football team and a College Football Playoff championship.
If the expanded playoff existed during that season, the Fighting Irish would have entered as the fifth seed instead of the third. With a fifth seed, the Irish would sit four games away from being crowned the National Champion.
If conference expansion causes a different College Football Playoff model then this factor could sway in a different direction. It would need to include a conference champion exclusivity provision to affect the Notre Dame football program.