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Thursday, June 21, 2012
Conference expansion talk resurfaces

By Matt Fortuna

Not even the news that 99 percent of this sport's fan base has been waiting for eternity to hear -- that yes, a playoff is coming to college football -- could keep the conference expansion chatter from running wild Wednesday. And while the Notre Dame football program's independence does not appear to be threatened, the Irish are again the subject of much of this chatter.

To recap: Orangebloods.com's Chip Brown wrote a story Wednesday with the headline "Sources: Irish Olympic sports likely headed to to B12."

Later Wednesday in Chicago, after the playoff announcement, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick shot down the report. The Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton was on the scene at the InterContinental Chicago Hotel.
"I saw that and I thought (Bob) Bowlsby and I should hold hands up there," Swarbrick joked, alluding to the incoming Big 12 commissioner. "I have no idea what prompted that. It is not based on any discussion, any meeting we have done."

...

"I've said all along that there were three important factors for us," Swarbrick said. "One was the resolution of postseason football, which we are closer to. One is a resolution of our media relationship, which we are in the homestretch of. The third is related to the stability of the Big East, which we get more information on every day. In that sense, pieces of that are starting to fall into place, and that will put us in a time and place where we probably take a look at it and decide what we're doing."

The chatter is similar to what was making waves a month ago, when Texas AD DeLoss Dodds told CBSSports.com that he had talked to Notre Dame about a similar scenario. That prompted Swarbrick a day later to say that the Irish were committed to the Big East in their Olympic sports and that he and Dodds are two people who often talk about the business.

All of which brings us to today: A four-team playoff on the table, seemingly with access for conference champions and non-champions alike, leaving Notre Dame, as Swarbrick said Wednesday, with "no obstacle to that for us. If we earn it, we can play in it."

The Big East of today clearly isn't the Big East that Notre Dame signed up for in 1995. But it has been a viable home for the athletic department's other sports. There is a cultural fit there, and the travel is not as difficult as a Big 12 schedule would be.

The men's and women's basketball programs have been conference contenders (and, in the case of Muffet McGraw's squad, then some) in recent years, and men's hoops coach Mike Brey inked a 10-year extension this week. Brey has said that he hopes, if push comes to shove, that the program can end up somewhere east. And we can't forget about other programs, such as men's lacrosse, which is coming off its second final four appearance in the past three seasons. That's one other element, albeit a small one, that would come with such a move, as there is no Big 12 lacrosse conference. (No Big 12 school, in fact, fields a Div. I lacrosse team.)

Of course, this isn't about lacrosse. Or hoops, for that matter. It's about football, and despite recent history, Notre Dame football remains a giant. No conference would turn down the chance to land that program, and the Big 12 would seemingly have little to lose in providing a safe haven for the Irish's Olympic sports as the expansion carousel continues to spin.