The biggest unaffiliated team remaining on the college football realignment board is reportedly taking steps to retain that status.
According to a Monday report from CBS Sports, Notre Dame is currently in negotiations with NBC, seeking a new grant of rights deal that would pay the school $75 million annually. Such a contract would not only keep the Fighting Irish on equal footing with the Big Ten and SEC in terms of annual GOR payouts, but also allow the team to exercise independence in scheduling.
How those dealings proceed over the course of the next few weeks will likely have a massive effect on any further realignment. The Big Ten, in the middle of renegotiating its own GOR deal with several suitors, is reportedly waiting for the Fighting Irish to make a move before adding any additional teams.
That in turn will affect which additional teams the Big Ten will elect to invite from the Pac-12 (if any) after its move to add USC and UCLA beginning in 2024. Early reports indicate Oregon, Washington, Stanford and Cal are under consideration, but it’s all contingent on what Notre Dame does.
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Here’s a look at how Notre Dame’s impending decision can serve as a catalyst to yet more college football realignment:
Notre Dame contract details with NBC
Nothing is set in stone, as the Fighting Irish’s current grant of rights deal is set to expire in 2025. That gives Notre Dame plenty of time to ensure it signs the best possible deal while keeping as many options open for as long as possible.
Per CBS, Notre Dame is seeking a deal that would pay $75 million annually to the school to renew its contract with NBC; the parties will continue negotiations over the next two to three weeks. CBS reports that Notre Dame’s current deal with NBC has an annual payout of $15 million.
CBS Sports reports that if NBC were to sign such a deal, it would look to acquire shoulder programming — pre- and post-game content — to bolster its deal with Notre Dame. That likely would manifest as additional games involving Power 5 conferences. This is where the Big Ten can play a factor in Notre Dame’s future.
The conference, which created another massive fault line in college football realignment by adding USC and UCLA, is currently negotiating a new grant of rights deal that could reportedly exceed $1 billion annually (and that was before the Los Angeles jumped aboard).
Fox is the primary network in negotiations with the conference, but NBC is reportedly in the mix to secure some form of partnership with the Big Ten. If it’s successful in reaching such an agreement, it could make an easier transition for Notre Dame to join the conference.
(Then again, NBC acquiring even partial Big Ten rights might make it more feasible for Notre Dame to remain independent. It merely depends on how much NBC is willing to spend to retain Notre Dame.)
If NBC fails in its bid to acquire broadcast rights in the Big Ten, it could look to the Big 12 to bolster its deal with the Fighting Irish, which would likely remain independent in such a scenario.
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How will Notre Dame further affect realignment?
The most obvious way Notre Dame can affect realignment has to do with the Big Ten. The conference currently has no plans to add any additional teams, though it has reportedly reached out to the Fighting Irish already.
Though nothing has been substantiated, reporting suggests the Big Ten would look to add more Pac-12 teams depending on Notre Dame’s next move. To that end, adding Stanford — another academically elite school with a historical rivalry with Notre Dame — would be an excellent companion addition to the Fighting Irish.
If Notre Dame remains independent — a move that will be heavily impacted on the team’s ability to access the College Football Playoff — it’s still possible the Big Ten could add schools from the Pac-12, which this week reportedly ended with the Big 12 negotiations for a possible merger. Oregon and Washington would enter the fray at that point, considering the former’s affiliation with Nike and the latter’s foothold in the Seattle TV market.
Any move by teams from the Pac-12 would result in either a mad scramble by the conference to retain autonomy, or potentially see it dissolve from further poaching by the Big 12.
It’s possible the Pac-12 could extend invitations to current Mountain West schools such as Boise State, San Diego State and more. But the potential loss of some combination of Oregon, Washington and Stanford plus the Big 12’s four target schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado — might be too much for the conference to withstand.
In that scenario, it’s just as likely the remaining schools would disperse and join a group of 5 conference, with the Mountain West as the most likely option. Schools could also send their basketball teams to a basketball-only conference such as the West Coast Conference, home of national power Gonzaga.
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How will ACC’s grant of rights weigh in on dealings?
The ACC has a reportedly ironclad grant of rights deal with its member institutions that ran until 2037 — one that simultaneously keeps the conference whole (for now) causing consternation among its biggest revenue producers.
That said, any contract Notre Dame reaches with NBC will be unaffected by the ACC’s grant of rights. The school has a five-games-a-year scheduling agreement with the ACC that bolsters the conference’s slate of games while allowing Notre Dame to remain independent and cash in on its deal with NBC.
Notre Dame’s affiliation with the ACC only becomes an obstacle if it decides it ultimately wants to join the Big Ten. The school is contractually obligated to join the ACC if it revokes its independent status. At that point, the Big Ten would likely look at funding Notre Dame’s move to the conference, including a significant buyout and purchase of the ACC’s grant of rights for the school.
What would be a short-term loss would almost certainly result in a long-term gain for the Big Ten, however; it would only be a matter of time and accounting at that point.
So it is for Notre Dame, which remains the biggest catalyst left in college football’s move toward superconferences.