Oh boy. If you thought the firestorm surrounding Big Ten expansion was heating up before, just wait until this gets around:
Per Adam Rittenberg, and the New York Times story he links to, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick admitted that giving up their beloved independence and joining a conference is possible. Not probable, but possible if they were forced to:
“We start that process with a clear preference,” he said. “You each could invent a scenario that would force our hand. It’s not hard to do. We just have to pay attention and stay on top of the game and talk to people. That’s what I’m spending 50 percent of my time doing right now. I’m talking to people who you’re writing about and trying to make sure I understand what they’re thinking and what’s going on.”
How would they be forced to? Essentially, it'd be the Big Ten taking either one or three teams that are not the Irish and then closing the doors on expansion for the forseeable ever, leaving the Big Ten and SEC as the clear-cut goliaths of college football- at least financially. And really, for the non-fans involved, that's what it's all about. Asked about how big of a change expansion could cause in college football, Swarbrick responded:
“I think seismic is a possibility,” he said. “I don’t know where the spectrum falls out. You have such an interesting media environment here. It’s having such an impact on people. You have two conferences who have separated themselves economically. And you have all the other conferences lined up in successive years for broadcast negotiations. That’s a tough situation for everyone in that position. The bar has been set so high, and the media market is so tepid, that it creates tension.”
Indeed, Jack. Indeed. As Swarbrick admits, the Big Ten and SEC have each not only signed a whopping TV contract that dwarfs everyone else, the fact they have those contracts for the best time slots with the main networks that show college football (CBS, ABC, and the E!SPN family of networks) means there isn't much left for everyone else. And if the Big Ten gets bigger which, as their study showed, makes them even more money, there's going to be even less around for everyone else.
Now, this doesn't mean the Irish are in danger of going bankrupt if they don't join the Big Ten. Far from it, obviously. If the Irish stay independent they can have that NBC contract from now until eternity because it seems people will always watch Notre Dame football. But the amount of money that they COULD make by joining the Big Ten will be lost, and that amount will continue to grow.
The Irish have remained independent because their alumni and boosters love it and, more importantly, because they don't need a conference to make money. While that's still true, not joining a conference in this expansion push means Notre Dame will miss out on gigantic dollars that would and will dwarf anything they could make with NBC, or by joining anyone else.
“I believe we’re at a point right now where the changes could be relatively small or they could be seismic,” Swarbrick said. “The landscape could look completely different. What I have to do along with Father Jenkins is try and figure out where those pieces are falling and how the landscape is changing.”
Swarbrick is not saying Notre Dame wants to change, or that it will change, but just that like any good business man he's reading the market and trying to set up his company to be as profitable as possible. I imagine that if they can stay independent, they will, but if the signs continue to point to making a boatload more money by joining the Big Ten or losing the possibility to someone else, I have to think the Irish will finally join a conference. And that confernence is the Big Ten.
Any other Gopher fans excited to see Notre Dame every other year? Hey it'd be better than once every never like it is now.