Could new CFP playoff plan force Notre Dame to join ACC?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: Notre Dame Athletics

Now that the College Football Playoff’s board of managers has released the new format for the upcoming 12-team playoff, will the plan force Notre Dame’s hand to join the ACC as a football-playing member?

The CFP’s “5-plus-7” format had to be changed from the original “6-plus-6” with the Pac-12 crumbling, scattering former members to the Big 10, Big 12 and ACC. Instead of automatic playoff bids going to six conference champions, plus the next six highest-ranked at-large teams, it will be automatic bids to five conference champions, followed by the seven highest-ranked at-large teams, as ranked by the CFP.

Under the present format, the top four teams will draw a bye, leaving teams 5-through-12 battling it out in the first round. Those games will be played at the home field of the higher-ranked teams.

How does that impact Notre Dame as an independent? In the new format, the Irish could finish the regular season undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the country and still not receive a bye because they are not a conference member.

Meaning, Notre Dame would have to play four games to win a national title, something the Irish haven’t captured since 1988.

The ACC is there as a lifeline for Notre Dame, which is a member of the conference in every sport except football and ice hockey. Should the Irish join the ACC, they would be eligible to take one of the top four spots in the playoffs.

Certainly the ACC would be the league Notre Dame would join for a variety of reasons, other than already having a home for all its other athletic teams. The Irish signed the same grant of rights contract that other ACC teams — including Florida State — did a few years ago.

Notre Dame was the ACC member that pushed the league the hardest to accept Stanford and Cal for membership when the Pac 12 fell apart. Should the ACC acquire Notre Dame, the conference’s deal with ESPN could be greatly enhanced in its quest to close the financial-compensation gap between itself, the SEC and Big 10.

Should that happen, then Florida State could be more content on remaining in the league rather than threatening to jump ship for a better money deal elsewhere.

Notre Dame already plays five or six ACC schools in football annually as part of its deal with the conference.

It has been reported that ESPN has proposed a six-year, $1.3-billion package to televise the new CFP games, but the CFP has not voted on that plan.

Meanwhile, the CFP briefly discussed an expansion to a 14-team playoff in the future, but even if that is approved, the earliest it could come to fruition would be 2026. The Big 10 is already pushing for a 16-team playoff for the future.