Stephen A. Smith bemoans Notre Dame's relevancy on ESPN's "First Take." Stephen A. Smith bemoans Notre Dame’s relevancy on ESPN’s “First Take.”

The ambitious 12-team expansion for the College Football Playoff (CFP) has adapted to the recent dissolution of the Pac-12 conference. Originally planned as a “6+6” model with six guaranteed bids for conference champions, the format has shifted to a “5+7” model. This means five slots are reserved for champions, leaving seven open for at-large contenders, offering a slight edge to the remaining Power 5 conferences.

Under the new 12-team College Football Playoff format, even an undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame wouldn’t qualify for a first-round bye due to its independent status. This effectively incentivizes conference membership for a shot at the coveted bye week.

Naturally, we’ve since seen complaints about the new format and how it directly affects Notre Dame, but both Chris “Mad Dog” Russo and Stephen A. Smith had no interest in hearing about it on Wednesday’s edition of First Take. Russo said he had no sympathy for Notre Dame, while Smith begged the question of the program’s relevancy and why they should even be a topic of discussion in the fallout of the CFP’s announcement.

“You know what’s interesting and nobody has said this, so I will,” began Smith. “I’m listening to two renowned pundits (Russo and Paul Finebaum), and what have you? Your reputations speak for themselves; they proceed y’all. This is the No. 1 show in the morning — 12 years and counting, by the way. I’d just like to ask you both — albeit rhetorically — I’d just like to throw out this question. You talk about you have no sympathy for Notre Dame, why are they even relevant? Can somebody answer that question for me? The Notre Dame Fighting Irish in college football has not won a championship since 1988 when they won in the Fiesta Bowl; I think it was against West Virginia.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, if my math is correct, that’s 36 years without a national championship. I know they went to a national championship game. I remember when Brian Kelly was coaching them, and he took them to the national championship game against Alabama. What happened in that game, Paul? They got bum-rushed in that game so badly — they got annihilated, OK? — I mean, Brian Kelly was probably planning his exit from Notre Dame at that moment. This was an annihilation that took place.

“They have not won a national title since 1998. That is 36 years. 36 years ago, doggie, I was graduating from High School. I had an afro, [my] hairline was two feet forward. Are you ready for this, doggie? You had just started with Mike Francesa on the Fan in New York City; that’s how long ago that was. The last time these brothers was relevant, and everyone walks around — and don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting for the brother (Marcus Freeman) coaching them now and I’m not rooting against them — the Fighting Irish is the Fighting. I’ve been there; it’s a prestigious university; I get it…But what the hell have they done?”

Smith went on to criticize a perceived media bias towards Notre Dame, arguing that they receive more coverage than other teams with arguably stronger recent achievements, like Georgia and LSU.

“Everywhere you look, we’re talking Notre Dame,” continued Smith. “You got ’em on national television. Has anybody questioned NBC as to why you gave them this television deal? What have they done? I’m still waiting. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you win more than you lose…but when we talk about the elite, the crème de la crème of college football, we talk Nick Saban; we talk Kirby Smart; we talked about Dabo (Swinney) when he had Deshaun Watson and lost in the national championship game, and came back and won a national championship game. We talk about them; we talk about Trevor Lawrence going up against LSU in the national championship game; we talk about a lot of things, but for some reason, Notre Dame, who hasn’t won squat, manages to infiltrate the conversation. I need an explanation. Why?”

Without an explanation, Smith cited sportscasting legend Hannah Storm’s recurring point about Notre Dame’s extensive international fanbase and their contribution to high ratings. While recognizing this factor, he cast doubt on whether their viewership truly exceeded that of powerhouse Alabama.

“We sure? They’re not. I don’t know if they were better than Georgia over the last few years,” said Smith. “I don’t know if they were better than Ohio State or Michigan over the last few years. I understand they get ratings, but…there is no question — because it sickens me to acknowledge it — that there is no question that is the case with the Dallas Cowboys by a mile. That’s not the case with Notre Dame. I know they get ratings, but they ain’t No. 1.

“How many times have the rules changed since 1988? I mean, damn; they modified it in such a way that you would think they would’ve found a way to win something. I don’t hate on Notre Dame. I’m not here to castigate them on anything; I’m just saying, who are these people? We got a 12-team playoff coming up — the 5+7 model — and the No. 1 story that peels from that is a team that ain’t won since I graduated from high school? That’s the No. 1 team that people talk about when we talk about the playoffs? Something’s wrong with this picture.”

[Awful Announcing]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.