ND looks to improve seat at BCS table

Colleague Ivan Maisel's story on this week's postseason meetings in South Florida has a phrase so natural that it may as well be ingrained in the college football lexicon. Most other stories regarding BCS changes include some version of it as well.

"The 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick …"

That sound you hear is the sigh of relief from every Irish fan with an attachment to the program's history in the national landscape. The relevance of Notre Dame football, often called into question, might never be on display more than it will be this fall. In addition to playing regular rivals Boston College, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford and USC, the Irish will open their season against Navy more than 3,000 miles away in Dublin, Ireland; will face old rival Miami (Fla.) in Chicago; will host independent brethren BYU and will travel to Oklahoma to play the perennial Big 12 favorite. Notre Dame will also host Pitt, which might be playing its final season in the Big East.

For those counting, those are opponents from five of the six automatic-qualifying conferences, in addition to two of the nation's other three independents. The games will be played in three of this country's four time zones, in addition to the opener in Dublin, which is five hours ahead of local time in South Bend, Ind.

Notre Dame has its own television deal with NBC. Most of the program's road opponents will likely push for a night start against the Irish, who are a draw everywhere they go. Hence, the phrase that will continue to be thrown around as details of this week's meetings emerge.

"The 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick …"

Swarbrick and head coach Brian Kelly spoke at a dinner Saturday at the Joyce Center, and, naturally, the subject of the BCS, and specifically Notre Dame's fit in it, came up.

"The goal and priority is to remain independent (in football)," Swarbrick said, according to Notre Dame's sports information department. "What the postseason becomes is the lynchpin. There's still one chapter to come as far as conference realignment and that will come after these BCS discussions. These are an important three-and-a-half days (of meetings) this next week in Florida. (The result) will have a significant impact on us one way or another."

Colleague Travis Haney pointed last week to the paradox Notre Dame facesInsider in years like this one — managing a potentially damaging on-field slate while refining its brand. The goal every year, however reasonable or unreasonable, is to earn a berth in a BCS bowl, something the Irish need a top-eight finish to clinch while others must win their conferences. Of the many potential models for postseason change, one limiting a playoff pool to conference winners presents the biggest obstacle for Notre Dame.

Thus, weeks like these are important for Notre Dame, not ready to show its hand. Could that hand be forced, marginalizing the program as another Midwestern power in a conference full of them (Big Ten)? Could it move to another stable, expanding conference, clutching some of its broader appeal and easing its BCS path but surrendering the all-encompassing allure of Notre Dame Football (ACC)?

The answers, like most everything else when it comes to change in this sport, will reveal themselves slowly over the coming months. So long as that reassuring phrase keeps popping up in print and online, Notre Dame fans can breathe a little easier, their collective seat at the table momentarily secure.

"The 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick …"