Notre Dame Does Not Need Big Ten Expansion

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The identity of the Notre Dame football program always has been one-of-a-kind. So now the question posed to university administrators, alumni, fans and athletes, “Does being independent in football weigh enough as part of our tradition?” The answer could determine how stubborn the Irish can be toward joining the Big Ten Conference — and all of college football is waiting.

By Kevin Hunt

The key to this whole equation might not be football at all. As of now, the Fighting Irish participate in the Big East for major sports teams that aren’t football. If and when conferences look to expand their lists of members, schools who don’t jump on an invitation may be left to figure out what to do with all of their athletic programs, not just football (as alluded to in this story from The Sporting News).

One slippery slope theory says if the Big Ten grabs a few Big East teams, the former’s expansion could cause the latter’s downfall. That theory isn’t likely to play out because even if the strength is weakened, the Big East can get new teams if it needs to do so. The issue here is that one of these conferences will require that Notre Dame join in all sports, not in a membership that allows the football team to remain independent like the school’s current contract with the Big East.

The Fighting Irish brand, as it is often called, is strengthened because Notre Dame football can put any other school on the schedule in any week of the year. Just last season, the Fighting Irish scheduled a “home” game against Washington State that was played in Texas, a state known for producing outstanding high school talent. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a conference-affiliated school that could temporarily move its home stadium for recruiting purposes.

The program’s rivalry games also pose a problem because an eight-game Big Ten schedule leaves little space for the other guys – USC, Stanford, Navy, Boston College and Pittsburgh (although it would, in theory, allow the Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State games to go unharmed).

This all means nothing if the “other Irish,” the non-revenue athletic teams at Notre Dame, can’t find a conference to call home. Independence can be done in football because there are only 12 games a year and the schedule all but fills itself out with a handful of annual games already slated. Try scheduling a women’s volleyball team for 28 matches a season or a men’s basketball team for 30 games a year without any already filled by conference opponents. But that won’t be a problem because if the Big East exists – even with some new members – there will be a spot for Notre Dame’s other Irish.

All of that is said even without mentioning the money that the university reserves for itself by staying independent. There aren’t hard numbers available, but it’s believed Notre Dame grabs about $15 million per season from NBC for the rights to its home and neutral-site games. Each Big Ten school, meanwhile, took home $18-22 million from conference contracts. An Irish signature at the bottom line of a Big Ten contract would likely ensure Notre Dame to be towards the top of that range and might even raise the overall bottom line (you know, if they could ever win a high-payout bowl game again).

Will the university sell off its independent identity for a more certain and possibly stable financial future? Or can no price be placed on being as individual as ever? Don’t expect a decision until mighty Notre Dame is ready, one way or the other.

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Comments

  1. Sure they can survive. Can any of the Big 10 schools survive without being in a conference? Or any other conference school for that matter without being in a conference.

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