Notre Dame's independence, born of prejudice nearly a century ago, will die of asphyxiation. With the announcement Wednesday morning that the school will play five football games a year against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents as a condition of its league membership in all other ACC-sponsored sports, the Fighting Irish are still, barely, independent.
But the vital signs of Notre Dame's ability to forge its own path have weakened over the two-decade life of the BCS and its antecedents. That independence has been central to the Catholic university's identity since it was forced upon them nearly a century ago. Michigan athletic director Fielding (Hurry Up) Yost led a movement to blackball Notre Dame from what is now the Big Ten Conference.
Forced to fend for itself, Notre Dame did just that. It became the most popular team in America, thanks to the millions of first- and second-generation Catholic immigrants from all across Europe. The Fighting Irish climbed to the top of the football polls thanks to the descendants of those immigrants, players with names like Bertelli and Lujack, Stuhldreher and Connor.
Wednesday's announcement underlined how long ago that was. Notre Dame won eight AP national championships in only 46 years: four in an eight-year period from 1943-49, and four more from 1949-88. Its longest drought in that time was 17 years. But Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship since 1988, a 24-year drought that shows no signs of abating.
It was in the wake of that last national title that the first predecessor of the BCS, the Bowl Coalition, came to life on a cocktail napkin in the hand of the late ACC associate commissioner Tom Mickle. Notre Dame had just brandished its independence by breaking its bonds with the College Football Association in order to sign a television contract with NBC.
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