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Notre Dame avoiding Big Ten looking better by the day

Jun 19, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT

Kelly Swarbrick Jenkins

Notre Dame had its chances to join the Big Ten. And while Jim Delany’s conference might not admit they were truly after Notre Dame, it’s becoming clear that the Irish’s unwillingness to join one of collegiate sport’s proudest traditional conferences necessitated the move to bring in Rutgers and Maryland.

As the dominoes of conference realignment began to tumble, many wondered how Rutgers and Maryland could get the call to join the Big Ten. Neither athletic department was profitable. Neither played sports — namely football — particularly well.

But Stewart Mandel’s recent column for Sports Illustrated takes an interesting look behind the curtain of Delany’s expansion vision, showing not just a money grab for cable subscribers in two major metropolitan markets, but also the deteriorating population statistics that necessitated the move eastward.

While the entire column deserves a read, here’s a key snippet from Mandel’s feature:

Maryland and Rutgers went a combined 13-13 last season. The Terrapins last finished in the AP top 10 in 1976; the Scarlet Knights never have. “Ohio State fans in particular are sick of having to defend the league after winning 24 straight [2012 and ’13] and still not getting the respect it deserves,” said Luke Zimmermann, founder of the Buckeyes blog Land Grant Holy Land. “This is not in their mind anything more than adding another Indiana or Purdue.”

To which Delany says, “That’s not a compelling comment to me. If the standard for expansion is you have to bring in Nebraska or Penn State, no one’s ever going to expand. There’s only a couple of those out there.” In his vision Rutgers and Maryland will soon develop into big-time football programs in large part because big-time football is now coming to them. Season-ticket sales are up 25% at each school mainly because Rutgers is now hosting Penn State and Michigan instead of Cincinnati and South Florida, while Maryland’s last ACC home game was against Boston College but its first Big Ten visitor will be Ohio State. Nearly a half-million Big Ten alums live from New York to Virginia, and the two newcomers will add a half-million more in that area.

Most of all, Delany believes the conference had no choice. As the Big Ten’s population moves South and West, the conference’s base is rapidly shrinking: Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa all rank among the 12 states with the smallest projected growth from 2000 to ’30. Meanwhile, between June ’10, when Nebraska joined the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-12, and the Maryland and Rutgers announcements in November ’12, the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, and most important, the ACC delivered a death knell to the Big East, poaching Syracuse, Pittsburgh and, as a partial member, Delany’s long-coveted target, Notre Dame. The Big Ten, which had long claimed the most populous footprint of any conference, suddenly ranked a distant third. And with Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, the ACC had moved directly into the neighborhood. A still unfolding lawsuit filed last year by Maryland against the ACC over the league’s $52 million exit fee claims that representatives from two ACC schools, acting on the conference’s behalf, contacted two Big Ten schools about joining. “That’s when it changed,” says Delany. “Once people start getting on our doorstep and calling our institutions, then I think it’s important to be able to be offensive and defensive. We came to the conclusion there was more risk in sitting still than there was in exploring other opportunities.”

We will see what Notre Dame’s future in football looks like this fall, with the Irish starting their pre-arranged scheduling alliance with the ACC. That’ll bring the Irish to Tallahassee, where they’ll meet the defending national champs. It’ll bring games with Louisville and North Carolina, and reboot games with Syracuse, as the Irish begin to tour the conference for five games a season.

Looking outside the prism of football, other Irish sports began their ACC membership during the 2013-14 seasons. There were both good experiences and bad — The men’s lacrosse and soccer teams, and the women’s basketball and softball teams thrived, while men’s basketball and baseball and women’s lacrosse struggled mightily. But with competition levels clearly going up, the Irish athletics department can’t help but get better in the coming years.

While the Big Ten has lagged behind, Notre Dame’s migration east started a long time ago, far before any conference alignment or expansion. Whether it was playing the Big East or in Shamrock Series games in New York, Notre Dame has never struggled to attract eyeballs on the East Coast. Add to that the Irish’s fertile recruitment of the Carolinas and Florida, getting stronger and stronger each year.

But the beauty of independence also allows a foothold on the West Coast. Annual trips west for Thanksgiving make keeping Stanford and USC on the schedule a no-brainer, keeping (and building) rivalries with both historic and strategic significance.

There’s no question that the Big Ten has figured out how to financially bridge the gap, with the Big Ten Network printing cash for its member schools as long as cable service providers keep the channel in bundles that sports-lovers need and are willing to pay for. But at the same time, money can’t make up for a disintegrating brand — and as Mandel’s article points out, Michigan doesn’t win with a home conference football schedule of Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland. (Non-conference home games include Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio) and Utah. Ugh.)

“It seems like they keep pushing and pushing to see what our breaking point is,” founder Brian Cook told Mandel of the Big Ten’s changes.  “They keep doing things they know people will hate.”

As it pertains to Notre Dame, grumbling will continue as long as the Irish have to walk away from select rivalries, some painful to lose like Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. But keeping the ability to build a schedule that allows the team to play coast to coast and retain its national brand was essential in keeping the Irish as one of college football’s marquee brands.

So while the Big Ten builds nine-game schedules and utilizes non-conference matchups with MAC programs, the Irish will continue playing their most important rivals, while “servicing” it’s commitment to a conference that’s supporting every other athletic program at the university. All in all, not a bad trade-off.

The Big Ten’s challenges are a nice reminder that Jack Swarbrick and the powers-that-be at Notre Dame had a very clear image of the big picture. That hasn’t always been the case for the men in charge under the Golden Dome.

  1. 4horsemenrideagain - Jun 19, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    I am going to borrow a page from Delany’s playbook and anytime someone says something that I find stupid, irrelevant, annoying or just in general uninteresting I will respond “That’s not a compelling comment to me.”

    • twebb2 - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      I agree…. “That’s not a compelling comment to me” is one of the funniest responses I’ve ever heard and I must use it. The guy brings up a GREAT point, but Delany dismisses it out of hand. Hey Jim Delany, you missed out on landing Notre Dame! “That’s not a compelling comment to me.” Jim, the overwhelming response of everyone to the Leaders and Legends divisions were that they were awful! “That’s not a compelling comment to me.” By all accounts, the Big 10 has been almost irrelevant for a decade! “That’s not a compelling comment to me.”

  2. iamgolden4life - Jun 19, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    Lots of good info to take in. I’m glad were not in the big Ten, We will travel anywhere, anytime, and play anybody. It’s just the way Notre Dame does it. Plus it has great influence on our recruiting efforts as we have seen. Anybody think we might get a commitment or two over the weekend, if so whom? Keith are you going to the “II” tomorrow? if so I think we would all love an update on how things are going/went this weekend in terms of the recruits that attended. Thanks Keith…. WeAreND

  3. danirish - Jun 19, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    A. Thank God the Irish didn’t join the Big 10, er, 11, er, some number that isn’t 10. Thank God.

    B. Thank God the Irish did join (kind of) the ACC. Here down in Charlotte North Carolina I have so many better opportunities to see the Irish. UNC, Wake Forest, heck, I’m even going to Clemson. Never seen a game in South Bend but I’ve seen a few road games.


    • mattymill - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:48 PM

      Never seen a home game? I think it’s time you schedule a road trip up to see all the beauty that is Notre Dame Stadium.

  4. johngaltisspeaking - Jun 19, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    The Big Ten market , no more growth and more and more moving out looking for a warmer climate. The ACC and SEC have the biggest potential growth markets. I am not thrilled with the ACC, I think Florida State truly wanted out and to join the BIG 12. If the ACC losses Florida State and or Clemson the ACC will become the old Big East.

  5. collegebg - Jun 19, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    no wonder we irish get a bad name for being elitist. turning down the big ten was a huge
    mistake. if you think dropping Michigan and Michigan State for schools like Wake Forest,
    and Syracuse is a good thing, you are crazy. Big state universities with huge alumni
    following bring eyeballs……whereas Duke in football does not. A big ten diploma has huge
    rewards, and commands respect. I am sad at the idea of these small private schools in
    the ACC are now playing NS in football…….I for one will be watching elsewhere.

    • tedlinko - Jun 19, 2014 at 6:31 PM

      “That’s not a compelling comment to me.”

      Talk about elitist — see the comment about dropping Michigan and Michigan State for Wake and Syracuse. First — it’s not a fair statement. Part of an ACC schedule does include Wake and Syracuse, but also FSU, Miami, VT, Clemson and now Pitt (who has given us trouble many times over the years).

      But more to the point, if I recall, the offer from the Big Ten was for full membership – which means a 9 game schedule — that would include Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, (shall I go on?). Plus, with only 3 non-conference games, what do you do? Keep the series with USC and Stanford? If we do that and don’t reneg on our commitment to Navy, then bingo we’re done. So much for scheduling the SEC. No Shamrock Series. Forget “go anywhere, any time to play anyone.”

      You have to look at the whole picture. The ACC agreeing to a 5-game schedule for ND was Huge. It’s the only thing that made the deal work.

  6. italianirish - Jun 19, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    Not mentioned in the article, we have guaranteed bowl game spots every year, plus we can leap frog any team with 1 more win than us in the ACC (if I read that correctly). That seems like the best part of the deal–along with getting out of a dead basketball conference.

  7. collegebg - Jun 19, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    the snarky comment about the big ten scheduling MAC schools was off base……HELLO,
    we just played Western Michigan, and they ARE a MAC school. And have you seen
    some of our future opponents?….Nevada, Temple, and lowly Army. Please, lets be fair
    in such stories…….lets’ face it, ND’s football schedules are going down hill! Please bring back
    Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and others!!!!!!…

    • Keith Arnold - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:44 PM

      @collegebg — Maybe you misinterpreted what I was saying. Scheduling MAC teams would be an IMPROVEMENT for most B1G teams. And that’s not my opinion, it’s Barry Alvarez’s, the most respected AD in the conference.

      One game against Western Michigan — a fill-in when there was a hole in the schedule — isn’t exactly a trend. And while service academy digs aren’t new, I wouldn’t lump Nevada in. That was Colin Kaepernick the Irish shut down.

      Find me a way to bring back Michigan, MSU and Purdue. Especially with their schedules going to nine conference games. Easier to say than do.

      • jommy995 - Jun 20, 2014 at 12:33 AM

        I like Purdue. Really. But do they deserve mention here? Other than the Davies years when we had Secret Agent Colletto on staff (frequently calling the QB sack on important third downs), has anybody ever circled the Purdue game on the calendar?

        Ok, sure, in pre-disco time. But come on.

    • 76michael - Jun 20, 2014 at 3:36 AM

      Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule is 4th toughest in the nation (NCAA method)

      Using the same method, the toughest Big-10 school’s schedule is newcomer, Rutgers, at ninth, then Illinois (21), Indiana (24), Nebraska (25) and Ohio State (35) with the next three in the 40s with the other six from 55th-87th toughest schedules.

      Last year every Big Ten school but two (10) played a game against a FCS school. This year again every Big Ten school but two (12) will play a game against a FCS school. ND has never played a FCS school – one of only three BCS teams who can say that.

      Michigan’s home schedule this year is impacting their ticket sales – Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio) – winless last year, Utah, Minn, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland. You can get a ticket for the Miami game in the Big House for $34 – or wait if you think it will drop further.

      I’ll like our scheduling – and the ACC partial membership, which gives us more flexibility in scheduling rather than the three B10 schools in Sept with none of them interested in playing a Nov game. I’m looking forward to the Texas game next Sept. You have a right to your opinion.

      • mediocrebob - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:17 AM

        Can’t argue with facts. Good stuff Mike.

      • ndgoldandblue - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Agreed. Notre Dame probably can’t sell recruits on the city or the weather (no offense, South Bend, but the B1G has several institutions situated in nicer locales than South Bend), and even if they can’t sell athletes on a Notre Dame education, they can sell them on a strong and diverse schedule. In my opinion, that’s probably the biggest hook that ND has over the Big Ten.

        The most difficult games that Ohio State and Michigan play are within their own shaky conference. If I’m a recruit, I’m going to be more drawn to the 5-7 marquee match-ups that the Irish have each year over the 3 that Ohio State and Michigan have.

    • danirish - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      Notre Dame playing a more southern schedule just helps with exposure to those southern recruits. The ACC play should help recruiting.

  8. gtizzo - Jun 19, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    Going to SI for the truth is like going to the Sahara looking for a drink…in the end you end up dry in mouth with no hope in site. Rutgers was a predictable choice to join the Big Ten because they fit from an academic stand point and they are in New Jersey. Which means it opens up a new television market for the Big Ten network. Maryland, while I have no clue about the academics, opens up new recruiting (same would go for New Jersey) and new TV for the Big Ten. Winning was never a reason for any school to join a conference this all about TV. Notre Dame brings in a national viewing audience which makes them a great pick for a conference. There fans travel so even if the Irish are 6-6 or 12-0 you never lose when bowl season rolls around. Keith you know more about college football in your big toe than SI has knows about…anything…there an awful source for sports news.

  9. rocket1988 - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    Living in Michigan I will miss driving 20 mins to MSU and 1.5 hrs to UofM. And as an alum of a MAC school (Fire Up Chips!) I’m fine with the B1G scheduling the MAC. There were 65,000 people in Mt. Pleasant MI for the 2012 CMU-MSU game. What bothers me is the B1G playing 1-AA/FCS schools.
    The sad reality is the B1G cares more about $ than rivalries. If you disagree than explain why you need 9 conference games? We could still play purdue & msu but $ and wins to make a bowl game super cede that.
    And lastly ND would’ve suffered being under the thumb of all those giant public schools. ND wanted like minded and same sized schools to partner with. Want to know why we play Duke and Wake Forrest or even Clemson? They’re all private schools with enrollments of 10,000 or under. And that region is growing by leaps and bounds. The B1G and SEC are mirror images of each other. A groupthink of loving their conference over the advancement of the future of their individual success. These are regional deals, not national exposure. Bo & Woody equal The Bear & Vince Dooley. ND made the right choice.

    • tampabayirish - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:34 PM

      Duke, Wake, Syracuse and Miami are private schools like Notre Dame. Clemson is a public school in South Carolina. But I do agree with your main point. Other than geography, Notre Dame has more in common with schools in the ACC from a cultural perspective than it does with the large, land grant, state universities of the Big 10.

  10. fnc111 - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    collegebg = college football novice.

    Notre Dame has played a MAC school one time over the last 90+ years and you have the nerve to mention that one game in 2010 because UCONN backed out of an agreement and TCU couldn’t make it work in their schedule with ND. Do better next time bra.

    I hear a lot of haters like John Feinstein mentioning Wake and Duke a lot on ND’s schedule. Rarely do I hear the haters mention the likes of Texas, Clemson, Florida State, Va Tech, and possibly Georgia on our future schedules.

    • onward2victory - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:07 PM

      Boom! Good post.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:45 PM

      , rotate Texas and Oklahoma ever year.

    • danirish - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:06 AM


    • andy44teg - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      Finally…a good post by fnc!

    • ndgoldandblue - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:52 AM

      Whoa! Where did that come from, fnc? I like the ferocity.

  11. abnparatrooper - Jun 20, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    @danirish I Couldn’t agree more with your comment. Having been removed from my home sweet home about an hour from SB and dumped in Fayetteville NC by Uncle Sam I am glad they joined the ACC. This will give me more opportunities to attend games besides when I’m back home visiting family and friends. A couple of years ago when they came down to WF I had to purchase WF season tickets to ensure I would have decent seats to the ND/WF game.

    • danirish - Jun 21, 2014 at 6:10 PM

      Was that the Wake game a few years ago that they almost lost? It was really cold and LSU and Alabama played to a mighty 3-3 tie?

      I was at that game…

  12. irishmob89 - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    The beauty of Notre Dame football is its National following. We wouldn’t exactly lose our National brand mystique if we joined the Big Ten, but it would be greatly diminished. Big Ten fans don’t understand that. People call us cowards for not joining a conference full time. Bologna. Notre Dame has the largest fan base in the country, stretching from coast to coast. We are a Catholic University. Being anything other than Independent would be foolish. With our National following, it only makes sense we play games all over the country every year. That’s what makes Notre Dame so unique. I’m not too crazy about the ACC deal, but it still benefits us. We will play games all along the Atlantic coast and most importantly, we will play games down South in the states of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. So for the Big Ten fans who say we are cowards for not joining your conference, look at things from Notre Dame’s point of view. We don’t need you but you clearly need us. As for people calling us out over our schedule, Notre Dame will play anybody, anywhere, anytime. Heck, Brian Kelly recently said he wants to play the SEC and we are in talks for a series with Georgia. Playing in the South and on the West Coast is a lot more attractive to recruits (especially the Southern recruits) than playing in the Midwest every single game. GO IRISH

  13. cfballfan1 - Jun 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Not joining the B1G was a Big Time Mistake. Shedding rivalry games such as UM, MSU, and UP for games against inferior ACC teams (basically all but FSU & Clemson) along with the continuation of games against service academies will spell doom for ND in the new playoff system.


    • ndoneill - Jun 20, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      …and what about inferior B1G teams like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Rutgers, Maryland? That’s not even listing the mediocre ones. Listing the top B1G teams and claiming ND is swapping those for the worst of the ACC is a facile argument that can’t stand up to 2 seconds of scrutiny.

  14. 1historian - Jun 20, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Let us not forget the pleasure of being the ONLY ones able to make that exquisitely elitist, snobby, fun-to-say remark – “We’re Notre Dame and you’re not.”

    C’mon folks, let’s just admit it’s fun to say that. You don’t have to fess up right here, but it IS fun to say.

  15. getsome99 - Jun 20, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Anyone arguing that ND made a mistake by not joining the Big Ten is obviously an Ohio State homer. The rotating 5 ACC team schedule will be far more challenging than playing in the Big Ten. We still have UM and Purdue on the schedule this season, along with adding FSU, UNC, and Louisville. Don’t even bring up Mich State, but we don’t have any issues beating them every year. And don’t ignore the Big Ten team’s strength of schedules. If Big Ten teams were good, all of their SOS’s would be much higher. Notre Dame is #4. Regardless of service academies and the 2 average teams on the ACC schedule.

  16. collegebg - Jun 20, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    calling someone a homer, and this infatuation with the ACC because “we have more in common”
    stuff does not settle well with me. maybe because I am looking at the football angle, I see
    big problems with ACC scheduling. If you pay any attention to tv ratings, the ACC does NOT
    move the needle much, except for Clemson and FSU……and they wanted to leave, and almost
    did. The Big Ten and SEC do move the ratings needle……and I am sad about dumping
    UM, MSU and Purdue. The UM game is always a very high tv rating, and for some non-ND fans
    is the only ND game they watch. The last I knew, ND’s campus was still in northern Indiana….and
    I am not comfortable blowing off these great Midwest games if favor of some of these small private
    ACC schools. South Carolina already left…..Maryland is paying millions to get out,……so this
    joy about rejecting the Big Ten in favor of the ACC is just mystifying to me.

    • danirish - Jun 21, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      Considering the SEC has its own networks – ABC and E$PN that is why they are such a draw – plus they play good football. If Notre Dame could’ve gone to the $EC things could have gotten real interesting.

      The Big 10, er, 12, whatever, besides Ohio State is becoming the blunt of jokes, it is a conference gasping for air and the best view is the rear view.

      • nd78 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:36 PM


  17. rocket1988 - Jun 20, 2014 at 5:47 PM

    Are you a Michigan fan? You sure talk like one. You may need to go re read your history books on the ND-Mich series. Screw Brandon and Delaney they’re out for themselves not CFB.

  18. irishmob89 - Jun 20, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    Consistently playing games in talent rich states like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and other ACC states benefit the Irish far more than it would playing in the Midwest all year, not to mention the Irish playing games in California every year. Plus there’s future games in Texas. Notre Dame is successful in recruiting because they recruit coast to coast and playing games all around the country every year is a major reason why. As for television ratings, the Notre Dame brand name gets high ratings in itself. It doesn’t matter who the Irish play, people watch. From an academic standpoint and recruiting standpoint, the ACC benefits the Irish far more than the Big Ten.

  19. wisner74 - Jun 20, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Since the Big Ten would only accept ND as a full-time member including a complete conference football slate, I don’t quite understand the debate about not joining the BT. The ACC affiliation with only a five-game per season football commitment is clearly a much better situation (and would have been better still if we could have managed a four-game per season commitment). The ACC overall is a major upgrade over the old Big East.

    It becomes a different and more interesting question if ND ever decides it must become a full-time conference member, including football. In that scenario, I would certainly want to see the Irish in the Big Ten, EXCEPT for the fact that it would be a nine-game per season conference commitment. That alone is a deal-breaker, I think. I don’t understand the thinking behind adding a ninth conference game.

    Otherwise, if the BT scaled back to eight games, it’s the logical choice for many reasons. But I’ll raise just one, that I don’t believe has been mentioned here yet: of the major athletic conferences, it is clearly the most prestigious academically. While there are certainly significant differences in quality between the conference’s members, overall these are all highly-respected academic institutions. Several of them are world-class as research universities. I’m not saying you can’t find similar quality schools in other conferences, just not as high a percentage of them as in the BT.

  20. fnc111 - Jun 20, 2014 at 8:45 PM


    I wake up on the right side of the bed every so often lol.

  21. mulder1127mulder1127 - Jun 21, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Notre Dame needs to keep playing cupcakes so they can get to 8 wins. So not joining the Big Ten was a good move.

    • borromini - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:26 AM

      Wow…the trolls have shown up for this particular article. Of course they add nothing to the conversation. At least a good troll would bring up some facts to backup their argument.

  22. bernhtp - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    The few remnants of the Big Ten cult are pathetic. Going with a Big Ten schedule would be a huge step down for Notre Dame given that not a single, not one, Big Ten team has the strength of schedule of Notre Dame.

    Given the fading demographics, popularity and relevance of the Big Ten, it was a smart move for Notre Dame to align with the ACC and diminish the scheduling role of Big Ten schools. While ND will probably continue to play one or two Big Ten teams a year, the BT’s incestuous nine-game conference schedule and ND’s five-game ACC commitment make the three annual midwest charity events quite passe. About as passe as the name Big Ten itself, given that its diminished importance is now further diluted among 14 schools and there is nothing Big about it other than numerical bloat.

  23. abnparatrooper - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    Yeah I was at that game too. But since I’m from Indiana I thought it was quite warm for a November night. But yes same game

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