BT expansion push could force ND's hand

March, 9, 2010
3/09/10
2:43
PM ET
Very interesting news out of New York today, as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters that the recent expansion push in college athletics could force the school to consider relinquishing its football independence.

The door to South Bend definitely has been cracked open a bit, which could be huge for the Big Ten.
“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."

Will Notre Dame be part of that changing landscape or is the school content to stand aside and hold onto its tradition as an independent, even when doing so might be a poor financial decision?

As I read Swarbrick's comments, I can't help but think that the plan mapped out by Jim Delany and the Big Ten might be working to perfection.

As we all know, the Big Ten twice had expansion discussions with Notre Dame that ended up fizzling. The two parties came close to an agreement, but it didn't end up happening for a variety of factors.

The game has now changed. The Big Ten is more attractive than ever, largely because of the successful Big Ten Network. Everyone used to talk about Notre Dame's exclusive TV contract with NBC, but Notre Dame would make much more in television revenue -- possibly double the amount -- if it joined the Big Ten. Notre Dame also could gain more exposure for its nonrevenue sports by joining the Big Ten. The costs of keeping so many sports afloat are only going up, so anything these athletic departments can do to bring in more revenue is key.

From The New York Times:
Asked for his sense of how big the change would be, Swarbrick said that he didn’t know.
“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.”

By going public with its expansion study in December, the Big Ten sent out signals around college athletics that major changes could be on the way. The Pac-10 has since reacted with its own expansion push, and other leagues are bracing for the possibility of realignment. By the Big Ten opening up the possibility of expansion to a number of schools, rather than Notre Dame, the league puts Swarbrick and the Fighting Irish on notice.

Everyone seems to be reacting to the Big Ten, which is exactly what Delany and the league want.

In a sense, Delany is asking Notre Dame, without formally reaching out to the school: "Do you want in on this? If not, we'll at least consider other options. You could get left out."

You'll likely continue to hear names like Rutgers and Missouri get mentioned as Big Ten expansion possibilities, but make no mistake: The big fish for this conference is and always will be Notre Dame. If Delany can reel in the Irish, his legacy will be cemented.

And after two failed attempts, he might start to feel a tug on the line.

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