Will Notre Dame ever lose its independence?

Notre Dame is disliked by a lot of programs - most due for no particular reason.

They dislike the Irish for being 'holier than thou'.

They dislike the Irish for droning on about academics (never let good academics get in the way of a good sports program, as every SEC program bar Vanderbilt teaches us), Rudy, Touchdown Jesus, and National Championships from decades again.

But most, programs dislike Notre Dame for their independence.

While Notre Dame is quite happy to play its Olympic sports 'in-conference' (we get the feeling it has to, or otherwise it won't get to play for a Championship), there is one sport where it's happy standing on its own, and that's Collegiate American Football.

Why? It's quite easy - it earns $15m per year from NBC to broadcast every single one of its home games. So last year, the fans got to see the Irish lose at home to Southern California and.....(deep breath)....South Florida. Also, they got to see the Irish put together a mediocre season, in which they went 8-4 and lost their bowl game, this time to Florida State (we say this time because rarely does a season go by when Notre Dame doesn't lose its bowl game).

The Notre Dame Network (sorry, NBC!), then fills us in with stories of great Irish players from the past, but fails to tell us how Jimmy Clausen, Brady Quinn or Charlie Weis have been doing since they left the Saints of South Bend.

But what we will give Notre Dame the big thumbs-up for is their schedule. Year in, year out it's a tough schedule. Care to name on SEC team that has Michigan, Michigan State and Southern California on the schedule and for fun then adds OKLAHOMA to the resume? We might rag on the Irish about being a poor team, but let's be honest - a lot of schools out there would be pretty poor playing a rough schedule year in, year out.

The Irish are going to have their hand forced about their independence, we feel. The college football powers - if there is a four-team play-off, may well say: "If you're not in a four team conference you're out of National Championship reckoning, even if you are Sainted", and then Notre Dame's hand is forced.

But they haven't said anything of the sort yet. And you can be guaranteed with the power that Notre Dame has, they won't go to a conference without a big, big fight - and a big, big paycheck.