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New playoff system works for Notre Dame

By Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune –

Back in the office Wednesday, Jack Swarbrick could beam at the college football playoff baby birthed a day earlier. Then the Notre Dame athletic director could sigh over the eye-dilating detail drudgery that will drone on for months. Still.

Turns out you have to take care of the thing, you know.

“Man,” Swarbrick said in a phone interview, “it’s a lot of work.”

The same holds for managing Notre Dame’s place in the new postseason apparatus, which under ideal circumstances will amount to running a variety show Swarbrick finds engrossing.

Apparently, the Irish won’t shop for a guaranteed high-profile spot in a Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl in years neither party is in the playoff structure. The new selection committee seemingly will disperse chosen teams to the four “host” bowls not running semifinals.

So in a de facto top 12, the Irish could land in multiple locales. Swarbrick likes that. He also likes the potential for the next tier of bowls to wait on the upper tier to flesh out yearly, meaning middling Irish teams could be in beauty contests they almost always win.

“In this model, I can get to all those bowls,” Swarbrick said of the “host” tier. “No one has locked them up to the exclusion of anybody else being in them. And then because all that activity happens at that level, I think there’s going to be more flexibility among the next tier of bowls.

“If two SEC teams make the final four, and a third SEC team goes into the Champions Bowl, and another SEC team is ranked in the top 12, the first SEC team below that might be four or five. In that model, those (lower-tier) bowls will have more flexibility and may be able to carve out situations where we can come more frequently.”

It’s a little more exclusive than that — take care when passing the piranha-infested moat installed by the Big Ten and Pac-12 around Rose Bowl slots — but the point remains.

When successful, Notre Dame is a coveted commodity at a high level. When not particularly successful, Notre Dame can be a coveted commodity at a less lustrous level. And it doesn’t have to box itself into anything, not yet, to enjoy a cornucopia of options.

“We think the semi is going to be an exceptionally exciting game, no matter who’s in it,” Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said. “We think in the other two years it’s going to give us a chance at teams that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to get here in the past or haven’t had in a while, teams like Notre Dame.

“We’re not going around cutting any deals, but as I’ve mentioned to Jack … with a certain number of wins we’d take Notre Dame in a heartbeat.”

As of Tuesday, it’s likely Notre Dame’s nine-, 10-, 11-win seasons still take care of themselves. Swarbrick’s main concern is those 8-4 (or worse) years, and then he’s gunning for open ears and open minds.

“I hope either because the system is very flexible, or because we can create specific relationships with specific bowls, we’ll be in a good position,” Swarbrick said. “Frankly, we’re already in a better position.”

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