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Jack Swarbrick and the seismic shifts

Jun 15, 2010, 1:00 PM EST

It might be hard for some Notre Dame fans to fathom, but athletic director Jack Swarbrick might be the knight in shining armor that saved college football.

That could be overstating things a bit, but for those who clung to the idea that the status quo in college football wasn’t all that bad, they should be praising Notre Dame’s AD, a man who worked quickly and quietly behind the scenes, forging alliances and staying ahead of the rising tide the entire time, even when media reports fueled anxiety of not just fans, but collegiate coaches, administrators and university presidents. Make no mistake, this was college football’s Cuban Missile Crisis, and Swarbrick just stared down the enemy and saved the college football world.

While Nebraska and Colorado fled the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pac-10 respectively, the mass exodus of six teams to the Pac-10 never happened, largely because Texas and the Pac-10 couldn’t agree on the value of the Longhorns’ television rights. With Texas unwilling to relinquish their local television rights, it opened the door for ridiculed Big 12 commission Dan Beebe to salvage the conference as a 10 team league, with Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M all staying put after it appeared they were all but gone.

It bears mentioned that Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Jack Swarbrick spent a lot of time these past few weeks discussing realignment, and the two men might have come to some sort of agreement days before any news broke on Texas’ decision.

For Notre Dame, independence was the crucial element to all of this, and Swarbrick maintained that while also putting the Irish in the best place possible for future television negotiations. His willingness to back away from a 7-4-1 model that made scheduling impossible and embrace a 6-5-1 schedule will only benefit Notre Dame when it comes to finding attractive playing partners and networks willing to pay to broadcast those games. His ability to see through Big Ten commission Jim Delany’s smoke screen, which included a persuasive sales pitch based around a potential invitation to the prestigious AAU and fuzzy economic numbers for the Big Ten Network was something that the previous athletic administration might not have been able to withstand.

What will be the most interesting sidenote in all of the maneuvering this offseason will be the media’s role in all of this. For the first time in a few years, ESPN wasn’t out front powering this story, it was a select group of reporters with highly placed sources. Chip Brown at OrangeBloods.com, and an Austin-based radio personality, seemed to fuel most of the Big 12 based information, likely from a well placed source in the Texas administration. There’s no doubt in my mind that whoever at Texas was supplying Brown with his scoop was doing it to maximize the Longhorns’ financial grab, and from the sounds of the reports, they did so successfully.

From a Big Ten standpoint, Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune seemed to be the one waving Jim Delany’s flag. For the past few months, Greenstein was out in front of stories, writing about the virtues of the Big Ten Network as well as moving the story forward with insider information likely supplied from someone inside the league, which headquarters in Chicago. Even after it was fairly clear that the Big Ten Network was hardly the source of twenty-million dollar revenue shares, Greenstein continued to find reasons for Notre Dame to join the conference, writing this late last week:

If the Pac-10 does plump to 16 teams (by adding Texas, Texas A&M,
Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State), conference officials
reportedly will push for two automatic bids to Bowl Championship Series
games.

That threat might help push Notre Dame into accepting a Big Ten bid.
[Kirk] Herbstreit believes Notre Dame “has to” go the conference route because
of that BCS instability and the extra revenue derived from the Big Ten’s
lucrative combo TV deal (ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network).

“I’m not a Notre Dame hater,” Herbstreit said, “just a Notre Dame
realist. When you look across the landscape and where we are headed, it
becomes very important for them to align themselves with one of these
power conferences.”

Notre Dame also could face additional pressure from its TV partner, NBC,
which Comcast has acquired.

Industry analysts are certain the Notre Dame deal is a money loser for
NBC. In 2008, the network agreed to an extension that pays the school an
estimated $12 million to $13 million per year.

At the time NBC President Ken Schanzer spoke in comically glowing terms
of the “elegance of the institution” and knowing that Irish officials
will “comport themselves in ways that make you proud to be associated
with them and allow you to live in the reflected glory of that
nobility.”

Assuming Comcast cares more about its bottom line than “reflected
glory,” the company could push to move some of Notre Dame’s lesser
games from NBC to its cable sports outlet, Versus. (Efforts to reach NBC
executives were not successful.) That might give Notre Dame another
impetus to seek the Big Ten’s greener pastures.

It’s not hard to see what angle Greenstein is attacking this story from. Whether its the anonymous industry analysts that are certain Notre Dame is a “money loser for NBC,” or the threat of moving lesser Notre Dame home games to little-seen networks like Versus, this might be the playbook for Big Ten propaganda, all in one snippet of a column. He even got a quote from Kirk Herbstreit, one of college football’s more sensible voices, but one that is un-apologetically pro-Big Ten.

There is a large segment of Notre Dame fans that will forever be hyper-critical of their favorite university and the administrators in charge. They were the first to chastise Swarbrick when the “seismic change” quote started getting publicity after a small meet-and-great at the Big East basketball tournament. They openly questioned his ability to work for Notre Dame while living in Indianapolis, or his “real” goal of chasing the NCAA president job while just moonlighting as Notre Dame’s AD. Yet in college football’s most fragile state, many with inside information are crediting Swarbrick as one of the key figures that stopped Armageddon from happening. 

Now about that Western Michigan game…

  1. John - Jun 15, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    Lots of realignment talk this year, again.
    What would a Notre Dame conference addition mean for those of us who love seeing them play on T.V. 8 or 9 times a year?
    Without the NBC contract, I would imagine we would be lucky to see 3 or 4 games?

  2. liamg19 - Jun 15, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    I wonder if the fact EsPN wasn’t out in front of the story had anything to do with their role in helping to sustain the Big12 and maintain status quo. I’m not an expert and don’t know the financials for sure but I’m guessing EsPN stands to make more money having Big12 airing rights vs. those games going to a new Pac10 Network.
    Would love to see ND play some Big12 teams in a multi-team deal similar to ND’s commitment to the Big East.

  3. ricknd6 - Jun 15, 2010 at 5:27 PM

    Based on what Jack Swarbrick said in the John Taylor post “Irish Not Budging Off Independent Stance” of 6/11/10 on nbcports.com College Football Talk, I’d say Jack Swarbrick was absolutely very involved behind the scenes. He stated exactly how things would most likely play out 5 days before it all happened!
    According to Taylor on 6/11: Swarbrick seems to think that any discussion regarding expansion will cool and slow down in the near future.
    “It very well may happen,” Swarbrick said of the seismic shift he spoke of earlier this offseason. “But my best guess is, there may be a little bit of a break here as people analyze the situation and reflect on their own interest. We may have a bit of a pause before there’s more activity.”
    Swarbrick is one of the most respected people in college athletics, ND is lucky to have him at the helm of the Athletic Department, and the rest of college football is lucky to have him help to guide its future!

  4. Art Vandelay - Jun 16, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    “this was college football’s Cuban Missile Crisis, and Swarbrick just stared down the enemy and saved the college football world.” Genius analogy Keith, really. I hope Swarbrick doesn’t turn the ND athletic dept into some sort of Camelot and start dating some starlet. If I were him I would refrain from scheduling any neutral site games in Dallas.

  5. Randy75214 - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Did anybody notice that even the New York Times kept citing Orangebloods.com — which I agree appears to be a UT shill — as its source for the latest news on this. That should shows how skillful universities have become in manipulating the media to serve their interests.

  6. ourlady$ - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    I’m ready for a 24 hour Notre Dame channel in HD. I’d pay for a subscription. All games, all sports and everything Notre Dame. For crying out loud, I have a HD fireplace channel I don’t even want!

  7. shannrock73 - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    Yes i to say let us have a ND network!!!

  8. Barron - Jun 18, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Notre Dame already has a network for its flagship sport: NBC. Delaney is, and will always be, frustrated with the ability that the Irish have to command a multi-million dollar contract with a major media network. Critics, such as Mr. Delaney, often point to the recent losing seasons or lack of a national championship since 1988 as being a sign that the ND brand is weak and that ND, as an institution, isn’t capable of dictating or controlling the landscape of major college football any longer. What was it he said? Oh yeah, ND isn’t the prettiest girl at the dance anymore. Well, for all those haters out there, it appears ND still does have some pull and attractiveness in the college football world. Why else would Swarbrick and the Texas AD have conversations for weeks and, most importantly, why has Delaney consistently strived to get ND into the Big Ten if the Irish have lost their luster? Interesting, very interesting.

  9. ourlady$ - Jun 18, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    good point. And who owns NBC? Comcast. If there is money to be made, Comcast is there, and with a 51% share, NBC will tag along. If I was them, I would definitely seal a deal with ND now, because with Coach Kelly, this team is going places.

  10. willmose - Jun 19, 2010 at 8:14 PM

    Sorry Keith, but saving the Big 12 was perhaps the biggest mistake in CFB history, so if Swarbrick wants to take credit for it, then I wish him well in his next career. The USC thing is just the beginning of the end for the NCAA and many major college football programs. The break up of the Big 12 wasn’t Armageddon, it was the beginning of a way out of the NCAA dugeon into the light. Scholar-athletes? Who is the NCAA kidding? An underage kid can’t have a lawyer (NCAA calls them agents) present when he signs his life away to a NCAA university?
    Norte Dame has for years actually given a darn about the scholar part of their athletic program. The NCAA, not so much. Remember the golden rule, he who has the gold makes the rules. As we slip back into CFB as usual, it is the NCAA that still has the gold and still makes the rules.
    I wish Jack and Irish good luck with the NCAA, but if either are in their sights, money will get it done.

  11. Sgt. Moon - Jun 23, 2010 at 12:26 AM

    Ourlady$… You are 100% right about NBC. If ND wins football games, NBC will hang on for the ride. The future of ND football looks better than it has in years. NBC would be wise to to seal a deal now with Notre Dame.
    STAY INDEPENDENT!

  12. Tony - Jun 27, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    why dosen’t notre dame start it’sown network…how about The Fighting Irish neywork…

  13. BORN IRISH - Jul 24, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    For the last several seasons the hype has been there. I wish my two month memory could bring them all into focus such as the national sports pub’s, Notre Dame fans, football wizards etc. All touting a new season, more wins, bowl games and blah, blah, well you get it. Here we go again.

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