Big Ten, Notre Dame Are Talking ... Again
According to sources, the Big Ten officials and Notre Dame officials have entered into talks that could drastically alter the realignment talk which has dominated headlines in recent days. One insider told FanHouse on Tuesday that the two sides are talking about the nation's biggest independent joining one of the most influential conferences to give the Big Ten its desired 12 members.
The source said the talks "could not necessarily" be described as negotiations but said if Notre Dame can be convinced to give up its long standing independence that things could move rather quickly. Another source familiar with the back-and-forth between Notre Dame and the Big Ten over the years believes all of the Big Ten expansion talk which began with commissioner Jim Delany's announcement last December has always been aimed at getting the Irish to join the conference.
The realization that the Big Ten's threat to add five members could trigger a reaction that would create four super 16-team conferences, and effectively put the squeeze on Notre Dame scheduling, has convinced Irish officials to again sit down at the table with the Big Ten. Earlier this decade the two sides explored the possibility of Notre Dame joining the Big Ten, but in the end the Irish opted to remain independent and enjoy a lucrative television deal with NBC.
Since then, the major conferences have shifted away from giving Notre Dame a full conference share of any BCS game it participates in and, in order to get to the national title game, the Irish have to go undefeated during the regular season.
"Now Notre Dame has to be asking themselves who will they schedule in a four-conference,16-team (per conference) environment?" the source said. "They can maybe schedule the WAC, the MAC and Sun Belt Conference. The questions are: Is that less than what NBC bargained for and will those schools get to a BCS national championship game? I'd say no."
Meanwhile, there is a strong belief that if the Big Ten is successful in luring Notre Dame that it would no longer be interested in expanding from 11 to 16 teams. Currently, the Big Ten's expansion threat has leagues such as the Big 12 and Big East in complete disarray.
The Big 12 could be looking at dissolution soon if the Big Ten is able to lure Nebraska and Missouri, which would then cause a chain reaction that will see Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor or Colorado join the Pac-10 schools to form a 16-team conference. The Big East, in which Notre Dame's other sports compete, also likely would implode with Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt also being targeted for Big Ten expansion.
Most experts agree that the formation of four 16-team conferences would be good only for television partners and fattening the pockets of those leagues. Geographically, there would be major issues plus the cost of travel -- especially for the non-revenue producing sports -- would shoot up significantly.
"The same thing has been stated by the SEC commissioner, the ACC commissioner and myself, that we'd hate to see the landscape change," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said last week of the possibility of 16-team leagues. "We think 12 is an optimum number. We are prepared in case we need to change our membership but I think that is the number that works.
"Those of us who have been around the business for a long time feel like that's the number that works. I think it's a huge disservice to the student athlete if it grows to a bigger number where they have to go further and not have as much chance to win championships and have as much access to national championships."
Those worries all go away for now if Notre Dame and the Big Ten are able to come to an agreement.
The addition of Notre Dame would give the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network a football program with a global draw while also giving the league 12 members -- which allows for a lucrative conference championship game.
A phone message for Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was not returned.
Notre Dame joining a conference also seems to resolve some of the issues that it will face down the road, chief among them are scheduling. Inside a conference, scheduling would not be a problem. And the conference payout of between $20 and $22 million in the Big Ten would be a significant bump from the exclusive NBC deal.
The key for Notre Dame is deciding if joining the Big Ten is worth giving up the mystique of independence.