It’s a short holiday week this week, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop and take time to appreciate what we’re celebrating. Thursday is Independence Day, where we celebrate the United States breaking free of British colonial rule, and then doing absolutely fine on our own, WE’RE FINE, MOM, stop asking.
Thursday? We’ll celebrate independence. Today? We’re celebrating the independents. Those figures who embraced that patriotic spirit, broke free, and did their own thing.
BEHOLD, A POWER RANKING APPROACHES:
1. NOTRE DAME
I don’t like putting them this high, but here we are. They’ve managed to live in the best of both worlds: the complete freedom afforded by independence from a conference, setting their own schedule and preserving their historic rivalries, but the knowledge that if they ever really needed to, they’ve got a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency ability to join pretty much any major conference, especially the ACC or Big Ten.
They’ve swung their own television deal, they’ve got national brand reach, and they’ve got options. Congratulations, Notre Dame: you’re finally ranked #1 in something.
Let’s review the tape.
Step 1: records a hit song called “Independent Women Pt. 1”
Step 2: realizes she doesn’t need those other women, starts a more successful solo career. Legendary.
I know I’m risking death not putting her number one, but until she leaves Jay-Z, the committee’s gonna hold her back. Sorry, Bey-hive.
They’ve fallen off a bit in recent years, but they’ve still got enough national cachet and broad respect for their historical achievements that they can survive. They’re also a program that recognizes their own unique needs — in scheduling, in program culture, in using the football program primarily as a marketing tool for the LDS church — and sticks with independence even if it presents other difficulties.
To a similar if lesser degree than Notre Dame, if they decide they need a conference, someone will let them in.
4. JASON ISBELL
Had a successful run as the third singer/songwriter for the venerable rock band Drive-By Truckers, contributing heavily to three of their best albums. Creative differences and substance abuse issues derailed the relationship, but he’s thrived as an independent. He got clean, married up, and his solo career’s cemented him as the Millennial Dad Sportswriter Springsteen.
They’re doing fine. They might join the American Conference. It’d be fine for everyone if they did, and it’d be fine for them if they didn’t. Jeff Monken’s led them to three straight bowl wins and an 11-2 record last year. They’re doing their thing and they’re doing it well, and part of that is recognizing the limitations of that thing.
6. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
PRO: That first solo album was a genuine surprise and an absolute banger.
CON: Was lost in the woods last year and is presumed dead.
CON: Cast adrift by Sun Belt Conference, forced to drop from FBS to FCS
PRO: More schools at this tier of football should drop to FCS, also they no longer have to travel 2,000+ miles for most of their games.
CON: Justin Timberlake possibly lost in them
8. NEW MEXICO STATE
Also cast out by the Sun Belt Conference. Not wise enough to just give up and head down to FCS, though. Cobbled together a schedule by playing Liberty twice.
CON: Is that the Bob Davie one?
PRO: No, that’s UNM.
CON: Played Liberty twice.
Rewards fans for their support with an annual trip to Shreveport.
Punishes players for their performance with an annual trip to Shreveport.
They showed how hard it can be to be an independent football program playing at a basketball school in football-talent-thin New England, by beating Connecticut last year.
The American Athletic Conference had just signed a billion-dollar football television rights deal, one of their members left, and their TV partners simply said “we will not pay you any less because of this”.
But hey, they’ll probably get more games against traditional powers like UMass.
12. BILLY CORGAN
“Alexa, show me the rock n’ roll equivalent of 2018 UConn football”
“I was kidding, Alexa, why would you do that”
The thing about independence is it allows you the freedom to be exactly who you are.
It’s not always a good thing.