When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost 30-3 to the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29, it led to some criticism of Notre Dame’s inclusion in the four-team playoff field.
Some of the outcry came from Georgia Bulldogs fans since the team finished at No. 5 in the rankings behind No. 4 Oklahoma and the Irish at No. 3. Georgia, which went 11-1 during the regular season, was No. 4 heading into championship weekend, but fell after losing by a touchdown to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Oklahoma moved from No. 5 to No. 4 after avenging its only loss of the regular season against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. One-loss Ohio State finished at No. 6 after the Buckeyes beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Notre Dame had solidified its playoff spot by going 12-0 during the regular season, but as an Independent, the Irish did not play in a conference championship game. While Notre Dame, which has an agreement to play five rotating ACC opponents every season, isn’t expected to join a conference, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN that the school is willing to consider playing a 13th game if the NCAA allows it. Currently, NCAA rules dictate that teams can play 12 regular season games and a conference title game if they qualify.
“We would love the opportunity to play a 13th game to take that issue off the table,” Swarbrick said. “Nothing would make us happier.”
Changing the rules, however, would require other conferences to support the change.
“What interest does everyone else have in supporting that legislation?” Swarbrick said. “Are you writing it so that it says if you are an independent ineligible for a conference championship you can play a 13th game? Is it discretionary that anyone not in a conference championship can play a 13th game? So it’s hard to get the legislative support for that.
“They do it in the context that almost all of their schools have conference championships, so you’re essentially saying with the conference championship, the number of games is 13. That creates a differential in the number of contests I would love not to have to deal with.”
Comparing schedules has become a hot debate in the playoff era since each conference has differences in the scheduling philosophy. That creates a difficult scenario for playoff committee members when trying to compare teams with similar records. The SEC and ACC play eight conference games per season, while the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. And while Notre Dame doesn’t play in a conference, the Irish typically don’t have any FCS opponents on their schedules, while schools that are in the Power Five conferences often schedule those teams for one of their regular season matchups.
“I do feel passionately that when you schedule a noncompetitive opponent you haven’t necessarily played 13 games, and you shouldn’t be treated as having played 13 games,” Swarbrick said. “The single most valuable thing in college football from a competitive standpoint is a bye week, and when you opt to play name-your-school, you schedule a second bye week. It’s an enormous advantage. I’m fine with that. Schools can schedule however they want to schedule, but don’t be saying play 13 games to somebody else’s 12.”