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Football independence isn't a financial decision

Dec 17, 2009, 3:22 PM EDT

As it seems to every few years, the idea of Notre Dame joining a conference becomes a topic of conversation. What people seem to forget is that Notre Dame is already a part of a conference (the Big East) and enjoys that relationship in many of their major sports. Yet football independence is what seems to get people the most riled up, and now that the Big Ten has announced they are looking to add to their eleven schools, Notre Dame inevitably shoots to the top of the list.

Speaking with the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, athletic director Jack Swarbrick once again reiterated his stance on football independence.

“Our strong preference is to remain the way we are,” Swarbrick said. “Independence is a big part of the tradition of the program
and our identity. We’d sure like to try to maintain it.”

Greenstein does a nice job laying out the financial issues of the decision, pointing out that the Irish could actually make more television money joining the Big Ten than they do with their current NBC television contract. Even if that is the case, Swarbrick points out that the decision isn’t merely a financial one.

“All of this has a lot more to do with our priorities than it does with
business issues,” he said. “Our independence is tied up in a lot of the
rivalries we have. We play Navy every year and have the tradition of USC weekends. Frankly, it works pretty well to play USC in October at home and in November at their place.”

A few months ago, Clay Travis at FanHouse tried to make an argument based on the financial ramifications that Notre Dame was better off joining a conference. If the decision was strictly financial, I’d agree.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Big Ten Network, the new SEC Network and the millions and millions of dollars ESPN has thrown at college football have changed the financial landscape of collegiate athletics. The ground-breaking deal the Irish made with NBC no longer puts them in a class by itself, and the financial advantage the Irish used to enjoy may no longer exist.

But independence allows the Irish the ability to stay unique and to continue to be a truly national university with a fanbase that has no geographical restraint. And while the revenues that come along with the new television networks have certainly buoyed the bottom line of the universities in the Big Ten, the ugly battle the Big Ten Network had to fight to even get into the homes of their constituents kept a lot of people from actually seeing games, and it’s a battle that even now limits viewership for some of the Big Ten’s premiere games each Saturday.

As Swarbrick smartly alluded to, just because the Irish aren’t interested in joining a conference, doesn’t mean the Irish won’t be monitoring the situation.

“The question that any school faces — not just Notre Dame — is, ‘Does this
start the dominoes falling again, like the last round of
reconfiguration?'” Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick’s referencing the ACC’s purging of the Big East’s three biggest football schools, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College in 2003. What if the Big Ten comes calling and pulls three more of the elite athletic schools from the Big East, leaving a conference filled more with mid-level athletic schools like Seton Hall, Villanova, and South Florida.

Would the demise of the Big East, possibly without schools like Syracuse and Pitt, be enough to force Notre Dame to join a conference in football, if only for the betterment of the school’s other athletic programs? Or would Notre Dame then look to find another conference that would allow the Irish to join in every sports but football?

“It’s less about our willingness to enter into
discussions than what happens to the industry. What are the
implications?” Swarbrick told Greenstein.

Just another example of why Jack Swarbrick was a great hire for the university. 

  1. Certificate of Deposit - Dec 18, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    You’re probably thinking, “Learning math in english class…that makes a lot of sense…NOT.” and honestly, it doesn’t.

  2. StephenOfTroy - Dec 19, 2009 at 2:50 PM

    CofD, I missed the math in english class reference. Probably because I was still shivering at the idea of having to go to South Bend in November every other year.
    Unless you were just arguing that it doesn’t make sense for ND to join a conference. Which then brings up the awkward point that they already DO belong to a conference. Just not in football.
    Good article. I thought it nicely explained a multi-faceted problem that appears to have an easy answer but doesn’t.

  3. grandpashyena - Dec 21, 2009 at 4:35 PM

    I’d like to nominate Oklahoma for the Big Ten.

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  5. ND Fan - Jan 11, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    Those were some really great points.
    Bottom line, tradition is what make the Irish stand strong. Without those traditions, Notre Dame loses everything they’ve ever worked for. Thus, if they join a conference for their football program, then Notre Dame really wouldn’t be Notre Dame anymore.
    Plus, why does it matter to everyone else? If it would be a better financial decision for ND to join a conference, then let ND make that decisions.
    And do you really think they need more money?

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