After 'Champions Bowl,' what's next for ND?

So goes the start of another round of conference realignment chatter, the Big 12 and SEC starting their own bowl game and creating a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots in college football.

And, as this exercise goes, here come the questions about the status of Notre Dame's football independence.

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick quickly shut those down to The New York Times' Pete Thamel, saying: "We don't think it has significant near-term consequences for Notre Dame."

And, at the moment, I think he's right.

Yes, there looks to be a dividing line in college football more and more now. And, yes, it's not exactly clear which side Notre Dame falls on. But assuming the game's four-team playoff future keeps the door ajar for schools that haven't won their conferences, it's not like Notre Dame's path to playing for a national title becomes much harder with the creation of the Champions Bowl. And, as SI.com's Stewart Mandel notes, there will only be fewer obstacles for Notre Dame -- still a huge brand name -- to sign its own deal with another marquee bowl.

The only thing I can say with any real comfort is that should the day come when Notre Dame does need to relinquish its football independence, the ACC probably won't be first on speed dial anymore. (Colleague Mark Schlabach suggests that ACC commish John Swofford should now call Swarbrick immediately.)

The Big East doesn't look better today than it did last week, and the Irish-to-Big 12 possibility will gain some steam. But it's hard to envision Friday's news forcing the school's brass to say that jumping aboard a conference based 1,000 miles away is in the best interest of its 21-sport athletic department. And as Swarbrick told Thamel, this wasn't exactly out of nowhere.

The landscape of college sports has and will continue to change. How Notre Dame fits in is part of the narrative, but the end is probably still several chapters away.