Does the Big Ten's crazy new TV deal make it more or less likely that Notre Dame joins a conference?
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Earlier this week, shockwaves went through the world of college football, with the announcement of details surrounding the Big Ten's new TV contract.
While numbers like "$80 to $100 million per school, per year" have been discussed since the announcement that USC and UCLA would join the conference, it's one thing to hear that number, and it's another thing to see the raw data on paper.
FOX will still broadcast the league's featured game in its noon kickoff slot. CBS will now pay around $350 million for a second, 3:30 ET window, and NBC will broadcast a primetime game with reports indicating that TV package too is worth well over $300 million per year.
It's an insane dollar figure, but once you get past it, it opens up a fascinating pandora's box of questions, namely this: With clauses allowing the contracts to be renegotiated with further expansion, does this deal make it more, or less likely that Notre Dame will now be forced to join the league?
AT Online college football writer Garrett Carr and Aaron Torres have different views, and they debate here.
Garrett Carr - More Likely They Join the Big Ten
When you think of Notre Dame football, you immediately connect it with NBC. The network has been Notre Dame’s broadcast partner for home games for 31 years now, and that in part allowed Notre Dame to stay independent. It gave them reliable income and a major broadcast partner with flexible Fall Saturdays to allow Notre Dame to schedule games at the times and dates it wants, something the Irish covet. When Notre Dame signed a deal to join the ACC in olympic sports and play some ACC teams every year, it came with the understanding that the home games would still be on NBC, while the away games against ACC opponents would fall into the purview of already-existing ACC contracts.
But, things have changed. The money (Notre Dame is getting around $22 million a year from NBC and $10 or so million from the ACC television deals) has increased exponentially. The Big Ten is targeting $100 million in annual television revenue per school, a number that would dwarf any other deal. Notre Dame is targeting $75 million a year from NBC in the next round of negotiations, but this, to me, is an empty number Notre Dame knows NBC won’t pay and one that gives them cover to join the Big Ten.
From Notre Dame’s perspective, in an era where money in college football means more than anything, while at the same time Notre Dame returning to a point as a program where they could seriously win multiple national titles, a place they haven’t been in decades, why would Notre Dame want to play at a huge financial disadvantage? Notre Dame has a lot of built-in advantages, but it has some built-in disadvantages too, and putting it further behind the financial eight ball would add another one.
One of those advantages currently is that NBC’s, who carries America’s number one television show, Sunday Night Football, sole college football marketing focus is Notre Dame. You can’t go through a Sunday night broadcast, or the preview show, Football Night in America, without getting a lot of advertisements for the next Notre Dame game. It serves as a constant reminder that Notre Dame is different and can command a major television network all on their own. That changes with NBC getting a slice of the Big Ten pie. Now, they share the spotlight with programs who can legitimately compete with them on an eyeball level. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State were three of the top five teams last year in average viewers for their games. Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa are also top draws, and that does not even include a rejuvenated college football market in Los Angeles with UCLA and USC.
Whether Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick wants to believe it or not, Notre Dame staying independent and sharing the spotlight with those teams makes them just another high-profile team, something that Notre Dame has not been since Knute Rockne and the four horsemen. And, that previously mentioned schedule flexibility will be gone without Notre Dame even joining a conference, as it sounds like NBC is going to be locked into the primetime slot. ESPN may still promote the Irish in some capacity if they stay in the ACC deal as currently constructed, but it’s simply not the attention the top SEC schools would get from ESPN or the top Big Ten schools will get from their three broadcast partners. When you factor in that the prestige of the Big Ten and SEC will only increase from the clear-cut top two conferences now, while at the same time the other leagues face falling prestige and attention, it’s not hard to see a scenario where Notre Dame no longer has the shine to stay true to their independence.
It makes no sense for NBC, either. This is a major investment for NBC, one many believe is designed to leverage subscribers to Peacock, with Peacock lagging behind industry competitors in number of subscribers. With both the SEC and Big Ten both likely being at nine conference games in the near future, eliminating opportunities for the Irish to play those schools, why would NBC want to pay big bucks for inferior games Notre Dame is scheduling, rather than paying a little bit more on their television deal, but not $75 million more (the money to increase the share of revenue for each Big Ten team while adding another team to divide the pot with would come from all three networks,) could and should tell Notre Dame they will both make more money if Notre Dame they join the Big Ten.
The money would flow. Notre Dame has history with the Big Ten, and once USC and UCLA will have joined they will have played current Big Ten teams around 300 times. Major, longtime rivalries with USC, Michigan State, and Purdue are built-in for the Irish. Maybe more importantly, it allows the Irish to play two teams it has played in some huge, national title-implicated games with in the past, Penn State and Michigan, as well Ohio State, who they play week one this year in what will be a blockbuster game ratings-wise, more frequently.
Would NBC rather have Notre Dame playing the home schedule they are now as their only games of the season, a schedule that this year includes Marshall, Cal, UNLV, Stanford, Clemson and Boston College as well as a neutral site game against BYU that NBC also gets the rights to, or a schedule comprised of a big matchup every week, that includes Notre Dame games that will get big ratings against regional, power-program, foes, as well as being able to show top Big Ten games that don’t include the Irish? Notre Dame is one of the biggest television draws in the country, but even a Penn State-Iowa game, or a Michigan-Nebraska game is going to get more viewers than Notre Dame playing the ACC flavor of the week.
On top of that, what schedule does Notre Dame want to play? Do they want the exposure of playing in the Shoe or Camp Randall the Coliseum, or do they want to play Wake Forest? That choice, to me, is pretty obvious.
NBC knows this, and it makes sense that they would push Notre Dame to finally join the Big Ten, decades after being unjustly denied membership due to their Catholicism. Notre Dame had every right to hold a grudge for that injustice, and they have done so for sixty years. But, with this television deal, and the Big Ten practically begging Notre Dame, it’s time for the Irish to come home. It’s the right move for the university.
Aaron Torres - Less Likely They Join the Big Ten
I actually discussed this very topic on Wednesday's Aaron Torres Podcast, and as soon as I hit publish, I immediately heard from quite a few of you. And the sentiment was all pretty much the same.
"Torres, you're an idiot!"
It's ok, I get it often. But I don't believe I'm wrong on this one.
First off, there are the words of Notre Dame's own athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who said earlier this week:
"I could argue that our independence has never been more valuable than it is right now."
Those were his words, not mine. And while it could have been with ulterior purpose (to calm boosters, try to get a sweetheart deal from the Big Ten) I don't see it that way.
Instead, what I see is an athletic director who is staying truly to the reality that Notre Dame is just different than everyone else in college football. You can love it or hate it, but that is the truth.
One, Notre Dame seemingly isn't motivated by the one thing that drives seemingly every other athletic department in the country: Making every single penny they possibly can off their football team. Yes, they want to compete at the highest level. But unlike so many other realignment moves that were made strictly because of cold hard cash (UCLA, Maryland to name a few) that doesn't appear to be the case in South Bend.
Instead, what appears to motivate Notre Dame is pretty straightforward. It's been widely reported that all Notre Dame really cares about for the next phase of its football existence is two things:
Make enough money to compete at the highest level
Have access to whatever the next version of the postseason looks like
To the first part, again, it's to "make enough money to compete at the highest level." Not "make the most money." And if that means they take a little less money to remain uniquely Notre Dame, then that's where their heart seems to lie. To play a national schedule, headlined by signature games and events. Last year it was playing Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago. This year, it's BYU at Allegiant Stadium in Vegas. In the coming years, it includes a trip to Dublin and another to Lambeau Field.
In Notre Dame's eyes, those games are worth making a few million less than the Big Ten or SEC schools. And it sure beats playing road games in Champaign, Minneapolis or Piscataway and just becoming another homogenized team in bloated, oversized power conferences.
The crazy part is, Notre Dame might be the only school in America that can have their cake and eat it too.
What I mean by that is this: If the reports are true, and they're pushing NBC for upwards of $75 million, plus the $7-$10 million they make from the ACC annually won't they in essence be making the same thing as every other Big Ten or SEC school? And even if NBC balks, it's not as though other entities - most notably the streaming partners - wouldn't be interested. I'm not saying "Notre Dame on Amazon Prime" becomes a thing tomorrow. But it's not as though the Irish wouldn't have other deep-pocketed suitors if NBC tries to play hard ball.
Oh, and as for access to the postseason, it's clear that we're going to a 12-16 model, heavy on at large bids soon. If that doesn't scream "access to the postseason" I don't know what would.
Beyond that, and this is the part I haven't heard anyone talk about, but Notre Dame joining the Big Ten... actually runs counter to why NBC got those Big Ten rights in the first place.
Remember, in the article in which we learned Notre Dame was asking for a cool $75 million from NBC, the author of the article Dennis Dodd, brought up a very interesting point: NBC would only agree to that number, if they could surround Notre Dame with "shoulder programming."
What is shoulder programming, you ask?
Well, it would be an additional TV package to draw you to NBC on Saturday's. Point being, NBC didn't want to pay $75 million for you to parachute in for three hours of Notre Dame football, then have you leave right away. They want to get you there for Notre Dame and keep you for something else. Or vice versa.
But they want you on that network all damn day.
Well, NBC got its wish with this primetime package. They now got the shoulder programming they so desperately desired to pair with a Notre Dame game. It appears as though NBC's plan is to get you in with the Irish kicking off at 3:30 ET, and keep you there with Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State or someone else.
So again, forcing Notre Dame into the Big Ten again runs counter to the whole point of getting the Big Ten TV package in the first place. Now, you'd just be parachuting in for a 7pm ET game, rather than a 3:30 one.
Look, in the end, if we've learned anything about conference realignment it's that it changes quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously, this could change, especially if the Big Ten does eventually decide to add more West Coast schools.
But right now, I believe that Monday's news was actually good for those who want to see Notre Dame remain an independent.
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter - @Aaron_Torres