Notre Dame tried to join the Big Ten but Michigan opposed the Fighting Irish. At the conference meeting, Notre Dame's representative "pumped limp hands, talked into unwilling ears, looked into shifting eyes.'' His Michigan counterpart gave him "a hand clasp of hatred and a glare of defiance.''
The educator reporting this was Professor J.E. McCarthy, secretary of Notre Dame's faculty board; the year was 1926. The story is in Murray A. Sperber's entertaining "Shake Down the Thunder, the Creation of Notre Dame Football."
A mere 84 years later, Notre Dame again might join the Big Ten. With Knute Rockne and Fielding Yost not around to feud, South Bend and Ann Arbor are no longer such enemies; and both are diminished football powers.
But these prestigious schools are involved as several major college conferences negotiate expansion and realignment this month. It could create a tsunami of television money, reshape the landscape of amateur sports and leave some prestigious schools snubbed.
Will it happen? Consider, first, the big issue in college sports last spring. It seemed like a slam dunk that the NCAA basketball tournament would expand from 65 teams to 96. And then: the tournament grew by exactly three teams.
The new issue involves mostly football, although basketball would be affected. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self mixed it metaphorically by saying "football is driving the bus'' and it is a "pretty tough pill to swallow.'' The Jayhawks could miss out.
The big football conferences might want to think through the unintended consequences. The Big Ten might expand to 12 teams by adding Notre Dame. Or both the Big Ten and the Pac-10 could grow to 16 teams each and fight over Big 12 schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri.
Among the after-effects could be the diminishment of traditional rivalries and the increase of bitterness if lesser foes are left behind with less chance for the Bowl Championship Series.
For instance: How might Kansas State fans react to Nebraska's nationally televised Thursday night visit on Oct. 7 if the Cornhuskers commit to leaving the Big 12? And what would happen to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry if the Big Ten splits into two divisions and institutes a conference championship game?
If the Wolverines and the Buckeyes play in the same division, one would be shut out of the conference championship game and major bowl consideration. If they go to different divisions, they could meet in the traditional season finale and then play again a week later at a neutral site in the conference title game.
That event would generate ticket revenue and TV money in the domed stadiums of Detroit, Indianapolis or Minneapolis. But it would reduce their regular-season showdown to something less significant, sort of the like the Rose Bowl in the BCS era.
And how to balance a schedule in a 16-team conference? Schools would not play each member every season, so some would get a slate of weaker opponents.
Oh, but college sports will find a way to make it work. The Big East survived the defection of Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference. It probably could survive the loss of Rutgers and Pittsburgh. The southwestern United States survived the demise of the Southwest Conference.
Football even thrived under the "College Football Association.'' Remember the old CFA? It rose like a Confederacy against the vise grip of the NCAA in the early 1980s. After lawsuits and an anti-trust verdict in the Supreme Court, they shoved aside the NCAA and made more money.
You want tradition in college football? It's traditional for schools to cut self-serving deals and shift their alliances and allegiances when they hear the clicking sounds of poker chips as the pile grows in the middle of the table. Now it's time to shuffle the deck, cut the cards, deal the hands and call each other's bluffs.