When the Big Ten came calling in 1999, Notre Dame put its arrogant ideal of independence ahead of all else. Let’s see how that worked out:
Since 1999, Notre Dame football has fallen off the cliff. The school with 11 national championships and seven Heisman winners has added zilch to those totals. Notre Dame has finished in the top 10 just once, way up there at No. 9 in 2005, and although it strong-armed a private door for itself into the BCS, it has used that door just three times — and gone 0-3 in those bowl games.
Since 1999 Notre Dame has fired three or four coaches, depending on whether you count George O’Leary, and has failed to land the coach (Urban Meyer) of its dreams (Bob Stoops). It has lost eight consecutive years to Southern California, which is understandable, and twice in a row at home to Navy, which is not.
Financially, its BCS payout has been reduced nearly 75 percent since the BCS was created in 1998, from $17 million then to $4.5 million now. That’s the same as Boise State gets, with one big difference: Boise State football is better. And the Fighting Irish’s exclusive network television deal? Notre Dame makes barely half as much from NBC as each Big Ten school — even Northwestern — makes from the Big Ten’s deals with ESPN, ABC and the Big Ten Network.
Read that sentence again.
Independence isn’t the primary reason for the erosion of Notre Dame football — Lou Holtz is the primary reason — but it has been a contributing factor. Without a conference title to play for, Notre Dame stops being relevant every year in which it falls out of the national title picture, which since 1999 has usually been mid-October. NBC still shows its games, but on the other six days a week Notre Dame is in the news only when its coach is about to be fired. That kind of irrelevance cripples recruiting, and you only have to watch the Notre Dame defense get out-athleted by Navy to know what crippled recruiting can do to a program.