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 UND.com.
“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 UND.com.
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.