Notre Dame isn't acting like a loyal, upstanding, proud member of the Big Ten this week at the conference's spring meetings in Chicago.
|While speculation swirls, the Irish go about their business. (US Presswire)|
No formal announcements are expected this week while expansion speculation grinds on. Still, you might have noticed over the weekend that word leaked out about ND and Miami renewing hostilities. The rivalry developed into one of the fiercest in college football in the past 40 years. Start with Catholic vs. Convicts and the tunnel fight in 1988. No matter what side you're on, your heart rate just increased.
The schools are reportedly talking about playing three times through 2016. Get ready for Kelly vs. Konvicts.
That's not the end of it. Various reports have ND playing Oklahoma (2012, 2013), Arizona State (2013, 2014, 2017) Pittsburgh (2010-2014), South Florida (2011) and Wake Forest (2012).
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick won't make anything official. He says the 2011-15 schedules will be announced in the near future.
What does this have to do with the Big Ten? I'm looking at Notre Dame's 2012 "nonconference" schedule and I already see a mother. Let's assume the Irish jump to the Big Ten. Their non-con is essentially set that year with Miami at Soldier Field, a road game at Oklahoma in addition to Pittsburgh and Wake Forest at home. It's hard to spot any breathers.
In 2013, it's Oklahoma at home, Arizona State in Arlington, Texas and Pittsburgh on the road. In 2014, there is a game against Miami (home or away), a road game at Arizona State and a home game against Pittsburgh.
Now plug in, say, an eight-game Big Ten schedule. Well, you can't unless Notre Dame is about to drop Southern California and Navy. One is half of the longest intersectional rivalry in the sport. Notre Dame administrators have a soft spot for Navy. That game isn't going away either.
Big Ten Expansion
Infographic: The future of college football?
In the Trenches: Big East might be left out
SB Nation: Big East will not exist in 2013
When news hit about the Miami series, was ND quietly telling the world a decision about its independence has been made? It can't say so publicly, not yet, because no one knows how this conference realignment thing is going to end up. ND's minor sports need a place to play and the Big East is the perfect spot -- as long as it exists. Despite Notre Dame's determination to stay independent, the school is smart enough to leave itself an out. Brian Kelly reiterated his program's stance last week but added: "It will be a decision that is made above my pay grade -- you know that. ..."
At least now we know some fairly big-game contracts are going to have to be bought out or delayed if Notre Dame goes to the Big Ten.
Yes, the Irish regularly play Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. But they don't regularly play Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. All those schools are in play to create a mega-schedule if Notre Dame joins the Big Ten.
Sure, ND would be chasing a Rose Bowl in the Big Ten. But considering the way it is scheduling ahead, it will be chasing a bunch of Outback Bowls in the Big Ten. At best.
Let's just say things are a lot easier playing Western Michigan and Tulsa (as the Irish do in 2010).
Any Big Ten invite would be complicated and tied up in political machinations. I hear that Notre Dame would have to come crawling to the Big Ten after leaving it at the altar in 1999. The Boston Globe reported last month that Notre Dame was definitely out of Big Ten discussions. So why haven't we heard it from the leprechaun himself?
The only certainty is that the Irish still look a lot like America's Team. Independence has its privileges, which is why I'll say it again:
The only way any of this Big Ten expansion talk makes any sense is if Notre Dame and Texas are involved. Texas is out of it because of the geographical challenge and the likelihood that the Big 12 is going to survive, at least in some form.
ND is in it until it says otherwise, definitively. The program doesn't want to regionalize itself by playing in a conference. Its national appeal hasn't waned. This year alone Notre Dame will travel to Boston, New York (twice for Navy and Army) and Los Angeles.
No matter how many trees die or keyboards wear out chronicling the worthiness of the likes of Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Nebraska or Syracuse, there's something that doesn't add up about Irish-less Big Ten expansion.
Those are fine schools, sure, but in the space of six months they've become perceived as gold mines. I get the Big Ten Network stuff and the conference expanding its footprint. But there are major holes in each non-Notre Dame school's résumé.
• Until some TV source I've talked to tells me different, neither Rutgers nor Syracuse -- apart or together -- make a big impact on the New York market. I've been told over and over that New York is not a college athletics town, never mind a college football town. A little bit of Penn State, Notre Dame and Big East tournament here and there, maybe, but the Big Apple does not long for Rutgers-Michigan State games.
• Pittsburgh isn't a fit because the Big Ten (and its network) already is in Pennsylvania with Penn State.
• Missouri and Nebraska believe they're going to the Big Ten. Why do I get the feeling this is the biggest tease since the thong? Nebraska brings a brand, not a market. Missouri brings a couple of middle-of-the-road markets (Kansas City, St. Louis) but isn't a brand.
Meanwhile, the No. 1 brand is holding out, while it can, making northern Indiana the biggest market there is.