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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Miss Independent

As expansion speculation continues, the one school that would clearly be a coup for whoever they would have is Notre Dame. The Irish, of course, remain an independent which is a juggernaut in terms of history, following, and perceived prestige, if not actual on-field performance. The most logical fit and most persistent suitor is the Big Ten, currently looking to expand from 11 to 12 and add a championship game.

Recently, the good folks at Notre Dame, while stressing they would prefer to remain independent forever and ever, sang a slightly different tune. Conference of Notre Dame commissioner ND Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, "...if there are fundamental changes to the Big East as a result of realignment, what does that do? What if a few conferences further distinguish themselves from the field? What are the competitive ramifications of that?" It's a particularly curious statement because it would seem to me there is is only one such "fundamental change" the Big East could make that would change Notre Dame's position. And that change would be to issue an ultimatum: Buy in with all sports, or get out.

There are some that say that would be a crazy proposition. But is it, really? The common belief is that Notre Dame is a big enough gravy train in all sports and the Big East would be foolish to lose the association. But the fact is, while Notre Dame certainly has a following all around, the big business is in Notre Dame football, which the Big East currently gets no piece of. So who really benefits more from the current situation more, the Big East, or Notre Dame?

The assumption is that if the Big East ever did issue such an ultimatum, Notre Dame would chunk the deuces and go independent in all sports. But consider this: Notre Dame football is already a well-established independent, and standing annual rivalries and a storied past make it easy to round out the rest of a twelve game football schedule. But what about scheduling a 22 game basketball schedule on your own? What about non-revenue sports? Inability to schedule tough already scared Notre Dame lacrosse this past year, who, despite going undefeated, nearly went unseeded in the NCAA tournament due to a weak schedule, and that was in a conference--the Great Western Lacrosse League. The Irish should be thanking their lucky stars that Big East lacrosse now gives them annual shots at the likes of Syracuse and Georgetown.

I'm not saying it's a gimme for the Big East. Should they make such a demand, they better be prepared to follow through. But should they lose Notre Dame, the opportunity arises for an additional all-sports member, which would mean a 16th basketball school and a 9th football team, an expansion the league needs to make. Getting the Irish to join up, of course, would warrant the same thing. And should they walk and join the Big Ten, that conference is at its desired 12, which will hopefully provide the Big East some protection against the feared raid. Big East: Say the words and put the ball in their court.
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