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Notre Dame wants to schedule a 13th game. Here’s how the Irish can do it legally

I can’t promise the Irish would actually like these outcomes, but there are ways to pull it off within current rules.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame made the College Football Playoff with a 12-0 record. That was one game fewer than the other Playoff teams played. The independent Irish don’t have to play a conference championship game, and boy howdy, this sure makes other college football fans mad!

But Notre Dame would love to play a 13th game, if only it were allowed, according to athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who tells ESPN: “We would love the opportunity to play a 13th game to take that issue off the table. Nothing would make us happier.”

Under NCAA rules, FBS teams can typically only schedule 12 pre-championship games. And in the Irish AD’s telling, Notre Dame needs help from everyone else to make its own 13th game happen.

Swarbrick also tells ESPN:

“What interest does everyone else have in supporting that legislation?” he said. “Are you writing it so that it says if you are an independent ineligible for a conference championship you can play a 13th game? Is it discretionary that anyone not in a conference championship can play a 13th game? So it’s hard to get the legislative support for that.”

Of course, Notre Dame isn’t allowed to just, say, schedule UCF during Championship Weekend, because that would put the Irish over the 12-game limit. For that, Notre Dame would need the rest of college football to agree to change the rules. Why would other schools agree to change the rules just to benefit Notre Dame (and, I guess technically BYU, Army, UMass, Liberty, and New Mexico State, but practically speaking, just Notre Dame)?

But there are a few ways Notre Dame could play that 13th game, if the school really wanted to do it, without getting a rules change.

Notre Dame fans, I can’t promise you’ll like any of those ways.

But I do want to point out that solutions exist.

1. Notre Dame could play a road game at Hawaii every year.

Exceptions do exist in the NCAA’s bylaws. One that applies to FBS scheduling is the so-called Hawaii exemption, which allows teams with a road game at Hawaii to play a 13th game that season. They’re also allowed to start a week early, giving them the choice of playing 13 games with a bye week or 12 with two byes.

This rule also applies to teams with games in Alaska or Puerto Rico. But there aren’t any FBS or FCS schools in Alaska or Puerto Rico, so unless Notre Dame can launch San Juan State and get them on the annual schedule, they’ll need to travel to Hawaii — something the Irish haven’t done in the regular season since 1997, when they won 23-22.

Hey, Hawaii’s beautiful! An annual trip might be great for recruiting! And the Rainbow Warriors would surely be happy to get a marquee home game each season.

2. Notre Dame could wrangle all the other independents, pay two other schools to leave their conferences, form The Notre Dame And Friends Conference, then play a conference championship game.

There are currently six independent FBS institutions. Again, they’re Notre Dame, Army, BYU, UMass, New Mexico State, and Liberty.

This intrepid Twitter user suggested Notre Dame just invent a fake conference with those teams for the purpose of getting a conference title game.

This idea’s on the right track, but to be an FBS conference under NCAA rules, a league has to have eight teams. So Notre Dame has to reach into its big pile of money and pay Eastern Kentucky to make the jump to FBS as an independent, then also pay to buy Ball State out of the MAC. Then the Irish will have their conference.

Once they have their conference, the Irish can have a championship game, so long as that league plays a round-robin schedule. This can be broken down into divisions, under NCAA rules, with no requirement to play crossover games. So the Irish could win their division with Ball State, Army, and BYU, then play someone from the other side in the championship game. Shoot, Notre Dame owes BYU some football games any way!

Sure, that’d mean that Notre Dame’s national schedule flexibility went mostly out the window, thanks to its ACC commitments and new “independent” obligations. And sure, that 13th game would be against a team that often wouldn’t crack the top 90 in S&P+. But finding a good 13th game wasn’t the assignment here, was it, Notre Dame?

3. Notre Dame could also just join the ACC, like, for real.

I mean, that’s still an option.