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Notre Dame and the BCS: The “Notre Dame Rule”

By · July 2nd, 2009 · 6 Comments · 21,314 views
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Notre Dame and the BCS: The “Notre Dame Rule”

With Independence Day upon us, some college football fans have difficulty in swallowing an independent Notre Dame. The cartel that is the BCS—a conglomeration of the biggest bowls and the biggest conferences—succeeds in siphoning more money into their teams’ coffers. Meanwhile, some delusional non-Irish fans think that somehow, someway Notre Dame has a BCS “rule” that bestows preferential treatment. Nothing is further from the truth.

Fallacy #1: “Notre Dame is preferred in the BCS selection process.”

Notre Dame is guaranteed a BCS selection if they finish in the top eight in the final poll. To guarantee themselves a BCS game, ND must finish higher than some conference champions each year.

In the eleven-year history of the BCS, nineteen BCS conference champions have finished below the top eight teams. Here they are:

  • 2008-09: Cincinnati (#12), Virginia Tech (#19)
  • 2007-08: West Virginia (#9), Hawaii (#10), Illinois (#13)
  • 2006-07: Oklahoma (#10), Wake Forest (#14)
  • 2005-06: West Virginia (#11), Florida State (#22)
  • 2004-05: Michigan (#13), Pittsburgh (#21)
  • 2003-04: Miami (#9), Kansas State (#10)
  • 2002-03: Florida State (#14)
  • 2001-02: Maryland (#10), LSU (#13)
  • 2000-01: Purdue (unranked)
  • 1999-00: Stanford (unranked)
  • 1998-99: Wisconsin (#9), Syracuse (#15)

In the three years Notre Dame played in BCS games, the Irish finished higher in the final BCS standings than Big Ten champion Purdue (2000-01), Big East champion West Virginia and ACC champion Florida State (2005-06) and Big 12 champion Oklahoma and ACC champion Wake Forest (2006-07).

Notre Dame has never been selected for any BCS games when they have lost more than two games in a season. In ten of the eleven years, BCS conference teams have played a BCS bowl with three losses or more—more than any Notre Dame BCS team.

  • 2008-09: Virginia Tech (9-4), ACC Champion
  • 2007-08: Illinois (9-3), At Large
  • 2005-06: Florida State (8-4), ACC Champion
  • 2004-05: Pitt (8-4), Big East Champion
  • 2003-04: Kansas State (11-3), Big 12 Champion
  • 2002-03: Florida State (9-4), ACC Champion
  • 2001-02: LSU (9-3), SEC Champion
  • 2000-01: Purdue (8-3), Big Ten Champion
  • 1999-00: Stanford (8-3), Pac-10 Champion
  • 1998-99: Syracuse (8-3), Big East Champion

Somehow, a three or four-loss BCS team confers a special dispensation from the criticism aimed at Notre Dame. Every BCS conference has a champion in that list. Of those ten teams, only Virginia Tech and LSU won their games. Only Illinois was an at-large selection.

Who is really getting preferential selection treatment?

Fallacy #2: “Notre Dame gets an unfair distribution of BCS money.”

With the implementation of the most recent BCS contract in 2006, Notre Dame no longer gets a full BCS share for a BCS game ($14 million at the time, now $18 million) but settled for $4.5 million, the amount given to a second place team from a conference.Additionally, for the length of the four-year contract, the Irish would receive a 1/66th share of BCS money as the 66th team in the BCS – about $1.3 million – when they did not go to a BCS game.

For the last two years, here are the BCS conference’s profits and average per team:


  • 2007-08: Profit — $19,263,649, Average/Team — $1.6 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $18,765,375, Average/Team — $1.56 Million

Big East

  • 2007-08: Profit — $14,197,021, Average/Team — $1.77 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $15,526,656, Average/Team — $1.94 Million

Big Ten

  • 2007-08: Profit — $24,394,305, Average/Team — $2.2 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $23,846,330, Average/Team — $2.17 Million

Big 12

  • 2007-08: Profit — $21,706,427, Average/Team — $1.81 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $22,521,061, Average/Team — $1.88 Million


  • 2007-08: Profit — $17,647,012, Average/Team — $1.76 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $18,766,786, Average/Team — $1.88 Million


  • 2007-08: Profit — $28,991,720, Average/Team — $2.42 Million
  • 2008-09: Profit — $28, 362,667, Average/Team — $2.36 Million

(Source: NCAA Financials 2007-08, 2008-09)

Do you see any BCS team taking home $1.3 million—other than ND?

To make the same amount ($14 million in 2005) for a BCS appearance under the old contract, Notre Dame would need to appear in three BCS bowls in the four year contract (3 x $4.5 = $13.5 + $1.3 million for the fourth year = $14.8 million). With the conference champion’s share increased to $18 million, though, ND would currently need four BCS appearances in four years (4 x $4.5 = $18 million) to equal one year. The Irish settled for 25% of what they used to take for a BCS participation.

Since ND’s BCS appearance revenue has been fixed, the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory applies to all the other BCS teams except ND. The BCS contract with fixed amounts has been an anchor to Notre Dame, while the sea rises around them. Notre Dame could appear in a national championship game for 25% of what its opponent will get for their conference.

Notre Dame’s annual share is not only less than the average for each conference team, but is 1% of the total bowl revenue distributed among BCS teams. Some fans think 1% of bowl monies is too much to give Notre Dame.

In short, it is more profitable to be Duke, Iowa State, Indiana, Washington State, Syracuse, or Mississippi State than to be an independent Notre Dame. Independence for ND is certainly not about the BCS money.

Who really is getting an unfair distribution of BCS money?

Fallacy #3: “Notre Dame keeps all of its revenue, much more than conference champions who must share it with the rest of its conference teams. This is an unfair advantage.”

This is a half-truth, part of the story. It is true that Notre Dame keeps all its revenue, but the Irish get no help from a conference for expenses and do not share in bowl revenue brought in by conference teams. The impact of that revenue-sharing for BCS teams is detailed in the profits listed above.

Furthermore, Notre Dame does not get revenue from a conference championship game, which for the SEC amounted to $14.3 million last year to be divided among its 12 member schools. (Source: SECsports.com)

“Unlike all other BCS universities, Notre Dame realizes no revenues from games in which it does not participate,” former Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White has said. “So for Notre Dame, it’s simply feast or famine.” (Source: ESPN.com)

Notre Dame, during the three years of this BCS contract, has had income revenues of $7.85 million—$4.5 million (2006) + $1.3 (2007) + $1.3 + $750,000 from the Hawaii Bowl (2008).

Expenses run from $2-2.5 million per bowl game, more for Hawaii. Notre Dame’s estimated football expenses from two bowl trips were about $4.5 million, conservatively.

So, their profits from the BCS contract and bowl appearances were probably about $3.35 million for three years total, averaging $1.1 million per year. Where’s the beef in the argument that Notre Dame’s BCS provision is overwhelmingly favorable for the Irish? Sounds like less feast with a slower famine.

In 2006, ND’s BCS profit went to financial aid, library acquisitions and scientific instruments, not football. BCS monies do not give ND any unfair advantage in recruiting, for instance. (Source: Notre Dame Office of News and Information)

Who really has an unfair financial advantage in this arrangement?

“Who benefits from a strong Notre Dame and the ‘Notre Dame Rule?’ The BCS.”

You’ve heard, “College football needs a strong Notre Dame.” Especially the BCS.

BCS rules from an ESPN article in 2002: “And if there are two teams from a conference in BCS games, they don’t get two full shares. Instead, they get 1 1/3 (between $18.1 million and $18.6 million). The BCS distributes the final 2/3 ($9.1 million) equally among BCS’ six member conferences.” (Source: ESPN.com)

As Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs explained in 2007: “One other noteworthy fact is the BCS now has in place a rule governing conferences that place two teams in BCS bowls, which the SEC did this season with Florida and LSU. The payout for a second BCS team from any conference drops from $17 million to $4.5 million. The same participation fee is taken off the top, and the remaining money is divided evenly among the 12 SEC schools and the conference.” (Source: NCAA Football FanHouse)

For Notre Dame, one can easily conclude the same payout is taken off the top from the bowls and the remaining money is split between the BCS schools.

Each time Notre Dame goes to a BCS bowl, the BCS gets $13.5 million, the difference between ND’s revenue and the BCS payout. Split between all 65 BCS schools, a Notre Dame appearance in the National Championship game (or other BCS game) could provide every other school with about $200,000 ($13.5 million/65).

In short, Notre Dame is the only team in the BCS who has a conference of 65 schools, sharing their bowl revenue with all of them.

“College football needs a strong Notre Dame.”

Why include Notre Dame? They are not a conference.

Bret Bielema: “I understand why certain teams get exemptions. I don’t understand why Notre Dame does. If they want to play by conference rules, join a conference.” (Source: Fanblogs College Football Blog)

Why include Notre Dame? It’s good business, Bret. The BCS does not want to lose Notre Dame. Conference commissioners, bowl committees, local business owners and their cities, and television and advertisers are first and foremost good businessmen.

The three highest-rated BCS TV ratings years all included Notre Dame teams:

  • 2006-07: 56.0 rating, Sugar Bowl — ND vs. LSU
  • 2005-06: 55.9 rating, Fiesta Bowl — ND vs. Ohio State
  • 2000-01: 55.5 rating, Fiesta Bowl — ND vs. Oregon State
  • 1999-00: 52.4 rating
  • 2008-09: 51.1 rating
  • 1998-99: 50.4 rating

The Fiesta Bowls in 2005-06 and 2000-01 have the two of the three highest, non-national championship TV ratings in their history. The 2007 Sugar Bowl has one of the highest ratings. That’s more advertising dollars.

Notre Dame fans travel, stay for days, and fill their allotment of seats and more, if available, even to Hawaii. The Hawaii Bowl enjoyed a 43% jump in their attendance, setting a record. The Hawaii Bowl set records in viewership for their bowl and for all ESPN regional bowls, had a live rating of 3.03 and, combined with replay, had 3.70 rating, reaching 6.6 million viewers. For the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame received 45,000 ticket requests for their allotment of 15,000 tickets.

Blame the businessmen behind the BCS, blame your conference commissioners, not Notre Dame.

Would the BCS prefer Notre Dame be totally independent, sign their own contracts with the bowls, and enjoy the “feast or famine” of a market economy for the Irish? Think of the money they would lose.

Notre Dame has much to gain by going totally independent outside the BCS and taking home only what market forces and their performance each year would demand.

“Notre Dame’s BCS bowl performance stinks.”

Absolutely. No question that they are still evolving into a national powerhouse and have a lot to prove.

Bielema: “They don’t take, maybe, into consideration past bowl history. Notre Dame hasn’t won in the last nine bowl appearances, or whatever it is. And to me, we’ve proven over time that we deserve the opportunity.” (Source: see above)

Hindsight is always 20/20, Bret. In 2005-06, Barry Alvarez, then head coach at Wisconsin, voted the Irish as 5th in the nation (poll finish was 6th). In 2006-07, the Big Ten coaches had an average ranking of 10.6 for Notre Dame (poll finish was 11th). The only teams higher than ND that were not selected were Wisconsin (7th) and Auburn (9th) who were ineligible by BCS rules since they were their conference’s third teams.

Big Ten coaches, including Bielema’s previous head coach, have ranked Notre Dame slightly higher or at the final BCS poll ranking. If Notre Dame has been overrated, it has been by Wisconsin, other Big Ten, and other coaches nationally, pollsters, and the computers.

Most of this talk is the kind of posturing and gamesmanship that goes on in BCS rankings. Bielema just needs to make sure his Badgers are one of the top two Big Ten teams. Otherwise, they have not proven they deserve the opportunity. Blame the BCS for the rules.

While Wisconsin is in negotiations to play Notre Dame in the future, Bielema implies that an independent Notre Dame does not deserve the same opportunity his team does because they are not a conference team and the BCS is for conferences.

I’d prefer the top 10 teams, no matter what conference they are in, be the BCS teams, and that each get a full share. But each conferences has to assure their pieces of the pie.

The “Notre Dame Rule”: Preferential Bull

Should Notre Dame qualify for a BCS berth, they will, with all statistical probability:

  1. finish higher than one or more BCS conference champions
  2. have a better record than one or more BCS conference champions
  3. meet stricter criteria than one or more BCS conference champions and a non-BCS qualifier

The Irish will also:

  1. earn less money after conference bowl distributions than BCS teams
  2. increase BCS TV ratings and revenue, making the BCS more attractive
  3. sell more tickets and bring in more revenue to cities than some BCS conference champions
  4. earn the BCS 2/3s of their payout

Despite these facts, a few Irish trashers may keep shovelling the idea that the BCS contract provisions favor Notre Dame in some sinister way.

With the ‘06-’10 BCS contract, bowl revenue increased by 13% in 2006 from 2005. Of the $16.7 million increase, $13.5 million (80%) went to BCS conferences. (Television revenue increased only $4 million.) Since then, bowl revenue has increased annually only by a minimal 2.2% and 1.6%. Restructuring the BCS contract, including the “Notre Dame Rule,” certainly benefitted BCS teams.

For those who want the Irish out of the BCS, be careful what you wish for.

Who really benefits the most from Notre Dame’s involvement in the BCS?


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