The Fighting Irish football program has never belonged to a conference. For the last century, it has competed against the best competition it could play and committed itself to face an all or nothing mentality when it came to pursuing a national championship. While this has created numerous difficulties when it comes to scheduling and travel, it is also what makes the university uniquely identifiable. Notre Dame has drawn tremendous criticism for maintaining their independence during the ever shifting landscape of college sports, but such criticism also serves as proof that they are doing something right.
According to Swarbrick, “The more clearly defined and unique the brand, the greater the passions that attach to it. No sports fan is neutral when it comes to the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys or Notre Dame Football. You can choose to fit in and go unnoticed, or you can choose to standout and be criticized. Of course, if you build your entire strategy on avoiding criticism, you’re setting yourself up for failure from day one.”
That being said, the greatest challenge a brand faces is (1) maximizing its value during its time as a market leader and (2) figuring out how to reinvent itself before its competitors catch on. Fortunately, Notre Dame has been able to do both.