How to evaluate this latest Notre Dame-to-the-Big-Ten speculative grenade?
Run. Take cover. Fire in the hole. It could be a dud -- but not likely.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is a lawyer by trade with a deep background in business. The NCAA consulted with the man on its move from Overland Park, Kan. to Indianapolis.
|Jack Swarbrick would be wise to realize the Big Ten's money potential is greater. (AP)|
Swarbrick essentially pulled the pin, telling reporters covering the Big East tournament in New York on Tuesday that if conference realignment is "seismic" enough, the Irish might have to rethink the whole independence thing.
Translation: Indiana and Purdue already make more than us as it is. If the Big Ten is going to be paying out $25 million per school, what the hell are we waiting for?
The tipping point, then, may have finally come for the Irish. Their new contract that begins with NBC next year reportedly will pay it more than $10 million per year.
Again, what the hell would they be waiting for? With superpowers forming on its borders, Notre Dame might be forced into a conference. How do you leave that much money on the table?
It's no secret that the only two slam dunks in conference realignment are Texas and Notre Dame. For Texas, there are geographical as well as political hurdles too big to overcome. Even if Texas AD DeLoss Dodds was suddenly enthralled with the idea of flying his volleyball team from Austin to State College, Pa., Texas wouldn't come alone. Texas A&M, at least, would have to accompany the 'Horns.
If the Big 12 seems like a shotgun marriage, Texas to the Big Ten would be an awkward long-distance relationship. Besides, Texas is on track to create its own network. The school already enjoys a favorable (to Texas) imbalanced revenue-sharing plan in the Big 12.
Notre Dame in the Big Ten is such an obvious fit, it's like the sexual tension between Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in Moonlighting. You just wanted to scream, "Do it, already!"
When they did get together, it was anti-climatic and the show went downhill. Not so in a marriage between the Big Ten and Notre Dame. A new day of college athletics would be dawning. Think of Notre Dame playing in a conference championship game. Think of Notre Dame playing in the Rose Bowl. Think of Notre Dame competing for a national championship again.
That's what playing in a conference gets you, especially one as potentially powerful as the new Big Ten.
It's the money, stupid. It always is. Notre Dame basically set us on this road to the BCS by breaking away from the College Football Association 20 years ago to sign with NBC. The money was too good.
Now with the Big Ten Network fueling expansion, the money might be too good again. It's refreshing to at least hear Swarbrick admit it.
"You can each come up with a scenario that would force our hand," he said.
While the Irish have been scheduling neutral site games against Washington State and Army, the SEC has signed a $3 billion deal with CBS and ESPN. The Big Ten is the big dog trying at all costs to increase the value and reach of its network.
Meanwhile, Irish football is struggling for relevance. It's been 22 years since the last national championship. Fanhouse.com pointed out that Notre Dame was on the first GameDay in 1993 but hasn't appeared in five years.
It wouldn't make much sense for Notre Dame to stay stubborn and independent while everyone around it is a superconference raking in money. It's almost a case of NBC being too small for Notre Dame.
This current round of realignment speculation is fueled by one simple fact. The SEC and Big Ten have 50 percent of the nation's population in their "footprints" (basically regions where schools are located).
It's up to the rest of college football to carve up the other 50 percent. No matter what happens, the Big 12 is going to remain No. 3 in revenue. The Pac-10 is going to struggle finding television value among its far-flung schools with or without expansion.
"You have two conferences [Big Ten and SEC] that have separated themselves economically and you've got all the other conferences lined up for their [TV] renegotiations," Swarbrick told those reporters. "The bar has been set so high and the media market is so tepid that it creates a lot of tension."
The only variables are Texas and Notre Dame. Texas isn't going anywhere. Notre Dame just told the world it is open to discussion.
And filling its bank account.