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Independence Day should have special meaning for Irish fans

Jul 4, 2012, 9:47 AM EDT

Swarbrick Playoff

Nebraska. Colorado. Texas A&M. Missouri. Pitt. Syracuse. West Virginia. Proud athletic programs that uprooted themselves, chasing money, power, and potential preferential treatment on their quest for a better existence as the seas of collegiate athletics got rockier and rockier over the past two years.

As a heatwave covers our country as we celebrate America’s independence, Irish fans should think about the work Notre Dame — led by its athletic director Jack Swarbrick — has done to keep the Irish football program independent.

Continually battling questions of irrelevance and a diminishing role in the importance of college football, Swarbrick has all but silenced any of his critics by his ability to protect Notre Dame’s best interests — independence in football — all while bringing together a disparate group of conference commissioners as college football finally reworked its postseason system for the betterment of the game.

Swarbrick has played the role of Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson in almost two years of work maintaining the Irish’s foothold in a sport that could look vastly different if he hadn’t stuck by his guns. Playing mediator and agenda setter these past six months, it was Swarbrick’s work with eleven conference commissioners that set up a four-team playoff, ending a Bowl Championship Series that’s lasting legacy might be a reconfiguration of schools that threw tradition in the trash can and went hunting for a bigger piece of the pie.

Before he brokered any playoff agreement, Swarbrick was the first to alert everyone to the rapidly changing tides in college athletics. Two years ago, he was heckled by some Irish fans when he publicly mentioned the “seismic shifts” that could potentially take over college football. Back then, it was the Big Ten and Pac-10 striking first, with Jim Delany making a power-play that eventually netted the conference its twelfth member in Nebraska while the Pac-10 took in Utah and Colorado. All of these moves were made in anticipation of a new BCS television contract, with conferences looking to lock-in two automatic bids for their teams.

With conferences using the media to drive the narrative, Swarbrick saw through the smoke-screens of financial bonanzas courtesy of conference TV networks or multiple BCS autobids. With schools pinballing in and out of longstanding conferences, throwing away rivalries and traditions for a better postseason football position, Swarbrick kept his hand on the pulse, working with key cogs in the machine like Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds to keep the Big 12 in place while the BCS self-destructed.

With a new postseason on the horizon, many publicly questioned what Swarbrick’s role would be in the discussions that produced college football’s first playoff. He explained that for everyone with this interview on

“I had the opportunity to draft the plan and sort of be the one who facilitated that dynamic of it, and then had the good fortune to be able to represent the group presenting it to the presidents,” Swarbrick told

In other words, Swarbrick was a vital part of the process, steering college football in the direction it badly needed to go, while also protecting the Irish’s independence.

“I was intent throughout on focusing on the interest of the game, rather than the interest of the university. My view was, if we produced a role that was good for college, given our role in college football, it would be good for Notre Dame. I think we did that.

“We’ve got a playoff with four teams. No restrictions, no encumbrances on getting to that, you earn your way in or you don’t.”

Earning your way into the championship on the field. Now that’s an idea as American as Apple Pie.

Swarbrick’s work these past two years likely solidifies Notre Dame’s role as an independent for the foreseeable future, while also enacting change for the better in college football.

Talk about a busy offseason.


  1. whynoti - Jul 4, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    Well done Jack.

    Now that you done the easy to do’s; lets get to the turf and video board installed.

  2. gtizzo - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Bold article Keith,

    Nice job! Although I would debate Jim Delany didn’t have much to do with Nebraska’s move to the Big 10. Tom Osborne the AD at Nebraska hated the expansion of the conference from the Big 8. Matter of fact there was a laundry list of things Osborne hated about the conference. He was going to taken the first viable way out of the Big 12. Once the Big 10 come knocking he got his wish and bolted. The only thing I give Delany credit for is the fact that he opens his mouth only to change feet.

    Something else that is interesting most media outlets would champion the fact that ND is “irrelevant”. When it came to the meetings between the conference commissioners, the guy who was most quoted was Jack Swarbrick. Why quote the guy from a team that is suppose to be “irrelevant”? Because he was the smartest guy in the room, just like ND staying independent. There just the smartest school in the room.

  3. smurphdoggy29 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    God Bless America !
    Happy 4th of July !
    God Bless the Irish that we have Swarbrick !
    (If you disagree think Kevin White)

    Hope everyone has a good and safe 4th !

    • joeschu - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      Why must you bring up Kevin White on such a wonderful, happy day? The next thing you know, people will start talking about Tommy Rees and then it all goes downhill from there.

  4. 11thstreetmafia - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    I love nd, but I don’t know if I would compare swarbrick to Thomas jefferson or Paul revere.

    • 9irish - Jul 5, 2012 at 3:48 AM

      I would agree with that. I get the point, but the analogy is a little too reaching for me. Other things to talk about than independent football on the 4th of July. Cheesy was the first word that came to mind.

  5. edlut63 - Jul 4, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    What is so great about being independent in football? We play many of the same teams every season just like we would in conference play. The games do nothing more than build a win/loss record. ND has no seasonal goal except to win as many games as possible in hopes of gettting a big money-making bowl game. Conference play would put a heckuva lot more meaning into the seasonal contests because a championship might be obtainable. ND’s independence in football has helped destroy the Big East conference. ND is a spoiled child that wants everything its own way. That selfishness is creating irrelevancy, inch by inch and yard by yard.

    • nudeman - Jul 4, 2012 at 1:00 PM

      And who are you? A Rutgers subway alum?

      I’ll take the “what’s so great about independence?” seriously, against my better judgment.

      Here’s what’s so great about it:

      There is no other school that has the ability to set up a schedule that includes Navy, Michigan, Stanford, Miami, BC, Brigham Young, USC and Oklahoma.

      In the SAME YEAR.
      Coast to coast.
      Private schools and public schools.
      Multiple conferences.

      In other years, that list has included Washington, TX, Nebraska, GA Tech, LSU, tOSU, FSU, and other great prominent programs.

      Don’t like ND? Many agree with you.
      Think ND has stunk recently? I concede they haven’t been what they once were.
      Think they’re irrelevant? You’re way wrong there.

      Happy 4th.

    • gtizzo - Jul 4, 2012 at 2:03 PM

      The conference model is old and does nothing but support below average football.

    • runners00 - Jul 5, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      Three reasons:

      1.) Recruiting is national at Notre Dame. Go to a Midtown Manhattan sports bar on any given Saturday and you’ll a Notre Dame game on TV and a crowd of dozens of watchers. Go to Kansas City or St. Louis and you’ll see the same thing. Head out to San Francisco and at 11 on a Saturday morning, the ND game will be on and you’ll see a whole bunch of viewers. There are some schools with massive followings — Alabama, Michigan, Texas — but it stems from the state itself (i.e. Michigan transplants watching in Midtown or St. Louis or San Fran), not necessarily the university. A conference model is regional, which may stifle recruiting.

      2.) Scheduling is national at Notre Dame. Whether we’re playing Oklahoma, Miami or Southern Cal, our scheduling model advances the university and its football program and all of college football. A conference would make scheduling on a national basis much more difficult. If we played the Big Ten schedule, for example, would we also play USC, Stanford, Miami and Oklahoma? Never.

      3.) Conferences = Divided loyalty. Once you join a conference, you get paid by other universities in the conference and you pay the other universities in the conference. Typically it’s for bowl payout, but there could be other revenue sharing requirements. So, there is divided loyalty, which is inconsistent with Notre Dame’s approach. And, hey, given the brand power of the “irrelevant” university (as if), why would we share the proceeds from the ND/USC game (the most watched college football regular season game of any given year) with a conference rival? And why would we want to depend on a conference rival’s rivalry (or bowl) game for revenue? No thanks. For Notre Dame, independence is good.

    • c4evr - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM

      Just as I hated seeing Joe Montana and Michael Jordan in Chiefs/Wizards uniforms, seeing ND in any division of any conference would only represent the continuing erosion of all things meaningful into all things money. But, as the agent told ‘Mr. Anderson’, that on coming train is the ‘sound of inevitability’. It probably will happen. And it will be another sad statement about what matters most in college football today.

  6. edlut63 - Jul 4, 2012 at 1:54 PM

    Nudeman, I graduated from Notre Dame fifty years ago this August. We cheer for a good record. We cannot win any championship except for the national championship. As soon as we lose our first game, the championsip season is essentially over. We have nothing to live for except the hope of a 10-3 or 11-2 record. We can still play many of the same teams you are writing about. But, frankly, I am tired and bored with Michigan, MSU, Purdue, USC, Stanford, Navy, Pitt and Boston College almost every year.

    • papadec - Jul 4, 2012 at 5:16 PM

      edlut63 – ed, just what conference affiliation would you not get “tired and bored with” every year? Being a part of a conference would ensure playing the same teams every year – with a few non-conference games thrown in. Also, what happens if you lose to a conference powerhouse, early in the season? I think you just made the best argument against your conference affiliation assertion.

  7. edlut63 - Jul 4, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    Come on, what has been above average about Notre Dame football over the past decade? Very, very little. The last two years have been a writhing perplexity for the anguished hopefuls like myself. The Irish play like a different football team every game. Consistancy is an Irish dream. At least conference play would give us another championship title to shoot for. Right now, ND is shooting for the stars and dissipating in the clouds.

    • nudeman - Jul 4, 2012 at 5:05 PM

      So let’s say for the sake of argument they join the Big 10.
      USC is replaced on their schedule by Indiana. Or maybe Minnesota.
      Say good bye to the occasional home and home with OK or TX or WA.
      Say hello to Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern.

      A conference makes ND a regional school. No different than UCLA.
      Or GA Tech or TX A&M or Iowa or Virginia.

      I hate to use the word “special” because it sounds arrogant and elitist.
      But being independent and playing a big time national schedule is awfully “cool”, in my opinion.

      One other thing: As far as being able to play for a conf. championship, really? Borderline meaningless, in my opinion. That’s like getting excited about your NBA team making the conf finals (and losing).

      ND has always been about chasing a NC and always should be.
      Will they be able to retain their independence? I hope so, but who knows? I’ll still cheer for them, regardless.

      • papadec - Jul 4, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        nude – scary to me (not really) that the two of us think alike lately. Note your post time & mine to ed. Have a great Independence Day!

      • nudeman - Jul 4, 2012 at 6:46 PM

        This (being in synch with me) means you’ve jumped the shark
        It’s over for you

  8. nudeman - Jul 4, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    By the way, it is hard to argue against your point about their mediocrity recently. 20 years ago none of us would have seen this era coming.
    But I don’t see how joining a conference changes that.

    It’s more about an entire program overhaul, which I believe is what Kelly is undertaking. I have some definite concerns about some of his decision making and game management, but am still on board overall.

  9. jonestownkoolaidtastesfunny - Jul 4, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    Conference affiliation is just a crutch for teams that don’t have the “brand” power to stand on their own. It seems to me that people have deluded themselves into thinking the conferences are about football. They’re about revenue, period. Minnesota can go 2-10 and make almost the same money as they would if they had won a BCS Bowl. They would not be able to do that without the B1G. As a matter of fact, there might only be 6 FBS teams in the country that could stand on their own as Notre Dame does. By joining conferences teams are accepting and admitting the weakness of their “brand”.

    It makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy knowing that Swarbrick has positioned Notre Dame for at least another 12 years of independence. All of the conference homers out there saying Notre Dame should join or be forced to join a conference can suck it.

  10. edlut63 - Jul 4, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    Nudeman, let’s face it. The ND football followers are arrogant and elitist in their philosophical support of the Irish eleven. Many of them beat their chests in support of a team that is just a shadow of the great squads built by Leahy, Ara and Lou. But, they think yesterday is today!! The football team has been a disappointment for me and others for many, if not most, of the seasons since 1988. I am tired of the same old, same old. And, yet, those avid, awe-struck supporters behave like ND is battling for the national championship every season. They stand by Notre Dame’s independence like it is a God-given blessing. For many of today’s high school players, Notre Dame is just another football-playing university. They know nothing about its history or could even care. Winning would change some of that. But, we do not win enough anymore. And, when the team is 2-2 after four games, the ND season is over as far as the NC is concerned. There is little left except for team pride. And, the past two 8-5 seasons give me little hope for better results soon. I am praying, though. At present, Notre Dame football is mediocre. Independence does nothing to improve those prospects. It is opening a black hole of disppointment, though, before the middle of October. On the other hand, I do not think ND officials would relinquish their money-making contract with NBC to join any conference. But, let football mediocrity harm the ratings. I hope I live long enough to see what develops at that point in time.

    • nudeman - Jul 5, 2012 at 12:11 AM

      First, EVERY team’s followers are awe struck. That is part being a fan, I guess.
      Some here are over the top in their assessment of every 3 and 4 star player we get.
      I give them grief – sometimes – and other times I just say “wtf”.
      The only ones I have a real problem with are the ones who want nothing but happy talk.

      Second, if ANY team is 2-2 after 4 games the season is over. In or out of a conference doesn’t change that. If UM loses the opener to Bama, then loses to ND a couple weeks later, they’re finished for 2012. Maybe they go to the Jockstrap Bowl, but their season is essentially finished.

      And if ND loses to UM then Stanford in week 4 (?), THEIR season is over as they will have proven – yet again – that ND can’t beat big time teams.

      BTW, if that happens and if Tommy Rees plays any meaningful role in those games, Kelly is two steps closer to the door.

      • papadec - Jul 5, 2012 at 1:44 AM

        nude – have to partially disagree with you. If UM loses to Bama & ND then they are most likely out of the NC chase. But, and this would support ed’s argument, they would still be a contender for their conference title & a major Bowl game. Likewise, if ND were to go 10-2, with losses to UM & usc, they’d be out of the NC hunt – but still eligible for a major Bowl. BTW – is that shark Tarkanian or Norman?

      • nudeman - Jul 5, 2012 at 10:22 AM

        I guess you’re right, but the context of my point was that ND is and always has been about NCs. These days we’ll take a major Bowl and a couple losses, but overall, would any of us get excited if they were in a conference and lost 2-3 games and still won the Big 10?

        The whole conference championship thing and the conference championship games are, in basketball and football, nothing more than a money grab. Meaningless in terms of anything else.

    • jonestownkoolaidtastesfunny - Jul 5, 2012 at 12:31 AM


      You mentioned 1988. You also mentioned the last two 8-5 seasons. Do you realize Lou Holtz went 5-6 and 8-4 the two seasons prior to 1988? Just give BK a chance.

      • c4evr - Jul 5, 2012 at 3:44 PM

        Whoa cowboy… I hope you aren’t comparing Kelly to Holtz. If you are, I feel compelled to interject. Holtz’s first team lost to 5 top 20 opponents by a total of 14 points – not a Tulsa or South Florida in the bunch. Lou also increased his win total by a minimum of 3 games each of his first 3 years. But those are just stats, watch these 2 clips of Kelly’s and Holtz’s first time in front of a crowd after being named ND coach. Lou knew what rallied people and inspired players. Kelly has yet to prove he’s even accountable for his team, much less an inspiration.

    • papadec - Jul 5, 2012 at 1:51 AM

      ed – sorry, but I have to take offense at being called “arrogant and elitist” by someone I have never met. I can appreciate your disappointment over football teams that haven’t performed up to your standards. But, name calling doesn’t improve the quality of the program.

      • bernhtp - Jul 5, 2012 at 11:16 AM

        Ed says he is a Notre Dame grad (50 years), but I don’t believe it:

        1. I have never met a Notre Dame grad – not one – that would term ” arrogant and elitist” the desire to stay independent.

        2. A real Notre Dame grad would be smart enough to hit the (obviously) correct Reply button so the conversation is not scattered about.

  11. acieu - Jul 5, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    It is a shame ND is not relevant on the football field.

    • jonestownkoolaidtastesfunny - Jul 5, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      True dat.

  12. acieu - Jul 5, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    Hell I can find an Iowa State bar showing games here so the act that people gather to watch ND in other paces isn’t unique.

  13. edlut63 - Jul 5, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    I graduated 8/2/62 and I am a member of the class of 1963. I love Notre Dame. I love being on campus. I fully enjoy visiting my old haunts and chatting with old friends. I adore our five-year reunions. I feel blessed when I am involved in the ND environment. I love stirring the pot and I fully enjoy controversial discussions. I have had enough of this one. Go Irish. Let us see if we can win nine this coming season.

  14. runners00 - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    I think we are giving Coach Kelly a chance. But let’s not kid ourselves: Holtz won a title in 1988 because he had the kids in place by 1988, his third season. Kelly hasn’t exactly lit up the recruiting world yet.

    Even with the best high school quarterback in the country, this year’s class ranked number 20 on Rivals and in the low-teens on ESPN. And while last year’s class was impressive, Kelly’s already lost one of the best kids in the class. So while the numbers are okay, with our challenging schedule, we have to do much better on the recruiting trail.

    With respect to the actual coaching, I will give Kelly a pass (i.e. pass/fail) on his first two years because he’s basically been hamstrung at quarterback. If we were giving actual grades, Kelly’s would be somewhere around a C or C-minus. On defense, we’ve improved a lot over the last couple of years but on offense we’re lousy — and it’s because of the quarterback position. Crist is a good guy and a good quarterback who made some big mistakes in key situations. Rees was not a good college quarterback. I mean, that sounds harsh but good quarterbacks make good decisions — and Rees didn’t make good choices. And, while this is harsh, he also didn’t have the physical ability to do the job. I’m using past tense here. I hope I don’t regret that. Perhaps, with Kiel, Golson or Hendrix, things will improve. They have to if we’re to win nine games this season.

    Finally, as camp starts/progresses, I hope that Kelly recognizes the talent and fairly evaluates each of the quarterbacks competing for the starting job and gives the position to the best one. We need a functioning offense — not one that is judged based on how many yards we achieve but how many wins we manage.

    • bernhtp - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      Holtz was certainly great, but he did inherit better players than Kelly. Weis lacked recruiting balance and his two best offensive players (Clausen, Tate) bolted to the NFL with the coaching change. While Faust was a terrible coach, he was an excellent recruiter (made far easier by ND’s top-tier reputation back then) who reeled in top recruiting classes. The shelves were pretty stocked when Holtz took over.

      I am still very hopeful about Kelly.

      • nudeman - Jul 5, 2012 at 8:50 PM

        I am hopeful as well, but he’s made some unconscionably bad decisions so far
        Rees as his QB and Crist, thrown overboard like a bad anchor
        Hendrix into a drive down to the USC goal line for one play
        Hendrix plays well against Stanford, then doesn’t start against FSU
        The pass against Tulsa
        Rees with ZERO accountability for his bad play
        The turnovers, penalties, a playbook that apparently no one can learn

        This needs to get better. Or else he’s done, sooner rather than later

      • irishfb05 - Jul 5, 2012 at 10:08 PM

        I understand Holtz inherited better players than Kelly but like nude says some people just want to say nothing but good things about Notre Dame. I love Notre Dame but people need to be held accountable. Maybe the Weis and Willingham players weren’t great but unless I missed something I can’t recall a recruiting class that Tulsa or even Boise or TCU had better recruits than we had. I’m currently watching a replay of a Mizzou Nebraska 2010 game and Mizzou is ranked 6th……I wonder what there recruiting class was in 07, 08, and 09?

      • runners00 - Jul 6, 2012 at 10:49 AM

        It’s an excellent article. Thank you. Excellent, excellent, excellent. If you keep losing close games, you become the team that cannot win close games. Period. It doesn’t matter how close you are to beating Southern Cal or Michigan or any other effing team. If you lose close games, you lose close games.

        One other note worth mentioning: Faust’s co-author hit the nail on the head: if you don’t win, kids don’t listen to you. They, too, want to win. They want to compete for national titles. They want to restore glory and honor to ND. That’s it. They didn’t come here for a conference title or one or two rivalry victories. They came to win.

  15. fnc111 - Jul 5, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    With future schedules including USC, Miami, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford, and Arizona State, ND is in good shape with strength of schedule. A good chance they go 6-6 against these schedules but if they ever go 10-2 or 11-1 in a season they will lock up a top four spot.

    I will say this, get your one tune up in the first game of the season then start playing real teams.

  16. fnc111 - Jul 5, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    After the first two seasons it’s pretty tough to be in CBK’s corner and think he will lead this team anywhere special. I gave him a chance and he failed.

    I will tune in and watch and pray for those kids to do well though. Hoping for them to fight through Kelly’s stupidity/ego and win for themselves and Irish nation.

    Kelly is no Lou or Ara.

    • nudeman - Jul 6, 2012 at 10:48 AM

      I believe Kelly panics in games, or maybe just tries to do too much
      But that shortcoming pales in comparison to his mgmt of the QB position
      No coach with a brain sticks with Tommy Rees as long as he has.

  17. norcalirish - Jul 7, 2012 at 5:37 AM

    This is a very interesting article, nice job.

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