CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Notre Dame the sticking point on which teams get BCS playoff berths

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Despite decades of mediocrity, the Irish continue to have broad appeal and a huge fan base. (US Presswire)  
Despite decades of mediocrity, the Irish continue to have broad appeal and a huge fan base. (US Presswire)  

I get most everything about the coming college football playoff.

What I don't get is where Notre Dame fits in.

Everywhere else, the pieces are already settling into place for a playoff to begin in 2014. No games until Dec. 22 because of exams. Stifle that laugh. Forget the apparent hypocrisy that allows FCS (Division I-AA), Division II and Division III to conduct playoffs during that period. We're talking big-boy football with all its big-time scandals. Going there during exams only invites more criticism.

The championship game seemingly will be played on the first weekend after Jan. 1. The BCS commissioners don't want to go head-to-head with the NFL, so let's forget Sundays for the moment. Using this year's calendar, that leaves Friday, Dec. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 29 as the first possible weekend dates for the national semifinals.

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Suggestion: Make it a weekend college football festival with games on back-to-back days in Dallas (Cowboys Stadium), Atlanta (Georgia Dome), New Orleans (Sugar Bowl), Indianapolis (Lucas Oil) or Phoenix (University of Phoenix). With the semifinals out of the way, that leaves plenty of room for traditional Jan. 1 bowls.

As you might have noticed, that's a date that has lost significance in recent years. That leaves either Friday, Jan. 4 or Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, for the championship game. The commissioners agree the season has to end as close to Jan. 1 as possible and in the first week of the year, if possible.

What I don't understand is where Notre Dame fits in all this. For decades, N.D. has been the hot blonde butting ahead in the velvet rope line to get into the club. Its record barely mattered because of its broad appeal and fan following.

That access continued when the rules were actually written down. In the third year of the old Bowl Coalition (1994), the Irish went to the Fiesta Bowl at 6-4-1. The next year the Bowl Alliance replaced the Coalition and Notre Dame was made to finish in the top 10 to get in. The access continued to narrow when the BCS started. In 2004, the Irish would get into the BCS if it finished in the top eight.

The days of Charlie Weis seem like a lifetime ago. The Irish went to back-to-back BCS bowls in 2005-06. Since then, Notre Dame has won no more than eight games in a season. Eight games would have gotten the Irish a major bowl back in the day. Since 2005, Notre Dame has received $1.3 million per year from the BCS just for existing. That's what it gets each year, minimum, whether it plays in a BCS bowl or not.

That special access is up for discussion as the commissioners decide what the landscape will be in 2014. They must know that Notre Dame football is mediocre, has been for a while. Strip away the label and the Irish are Northern Illinois -- which is an insult to Northern Illinois. In the last decade, the Huskies are better than the Irish by seven wins.

What to do with the 800-pound leprechaun in the room is one of the most interesting -- and possibly contentious -- issues to be settled before 2014.

"There will be an opportunity for them, I'm sure," said Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, one of those in the room making the decision. "I don't know what the guidelines will be."

There is a way Notre Dame could be allowed special access into the new postseason. The question is, should it? With the apparent end of automatic qualifiers, what is the line between the haves and have-nots? Will there be one at all? Notre Dame is the only single entity in the room deciding the future of college football. But the other partners control the football future of Notre Dame.

This could be the moment when the Irish are squeezed into a conference. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was on record as saying Notre Dame's minor sports had a landing spot in the Big 12 when the Big East was on shaky ground. He is friends with Irish AD Jack Swarbrick.

Maybe that's the first move before Notre Dame goes all-in for a conference in football. The ACC has been prominently mentioned as a good academic fit. There's always the Big Ten, which is on record as saying it is fine with 12 members.

Suuuure it is, until Notre Dame says yes.

Geography, you say? Doesn't matter anymore. West Virginia is joining a conference (Big 12) where its closest rival is in Ames, Iowa (Iowa State). Notre Dame might have noticed its basketball partner, the Big East, is about to span four time zones.

It's about access to what promises to be a lucrative new postseason model in 2014. Access, at the current rate of its football success, it may not deserve.

In a seeded plus-one, there would be no room for outsiders. The top four seeds would play -- 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3. There seems to be talk of a "wild card" spot would be reserved for special access. Let's say the top three are automatic and a fourth spot is reserved for the highest-ranked conference champion or Notre Dame -- if it is ranked above that league champ. Again, that's less access for the hot blonde.

Neinas is among those commissioners who favor conference champs only. Again, think of the top three-ranked conference champions and the spot reserved the next highest-ranked team. That could conceivably allow Notre Dame in as a wild card. Still, that's more of an iron door than a velvet rope.

The TV rightsholder(s) would love it. Advertisers would love it. The Domers would love it.

Would you? That's what the commissioners need to decide. Prominent on a list of priorities for the new postseason at the BCS meetings last month were two words that apply not only to Notre Dame's status but to college football's future.

Public acceptance.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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