B1G expansion: What happens if Notre Dame says no to the Big Ten?
As anyone with more than a passing interest in college football knows at this point, the future shape of the sport hinges on what happens at Notre Dame.
Tuesday, we broke down the possibilities should the Fighting Irish say yes to the Big Ten’s overtures. Notre Dame’s contract with NBC expires in 2025, so it’s possible the Big Ten would function as a 16-team conference for 2 seasons before the Irish join.
And then there’s the other possibility.
Though it seems remote the way things are headed, Notre Dame may stay the course and remain a football independent. Or maybe the Irish show some appreciation to the ACC for making it possible for Notre Dame to have a season in 2020 and join that league as a full-time member.
There’s precedent for that type of behavior in South Bend. A relationship with the Naval Academy is credited with saving Notre Dame from going under due to low enrollment during World War II. Now they still play annually despite inhabiting very different college football stratospheres.
Let’s say that spirit is still alive in South Bend. Notre Dame says no to the Big Ten.
Then what happens?
* * * * *
Standing pat: A 16-team B1G
It feels rather pointless to go through the rigmarole of adding USC and UCLA with no further goal in sight. But that’s a distinct possibility.
Call it the Hemingway scenario.
In “The Old Man and the Sea,” the titular old man is only interested in keeping the 18-foot marlin that he catches. No other fish matter. To the point that he comes back to port with nothing more than a fish head after sharks eat the rest.
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Apologies if that was a spoiler alert. And back to the point of this analogy.
Notre Dame is the big fish here. And it’s quite possible Kevin Warren is willing to come back to port with nothing more than a leprechaun head.
None of the other options on the table do nearly as much to enhance the Big Ten brand as much as Notre Dame would. If the Irish join, the conference grows to 18 or 20 members. But if the B1G wanted to add schools for the sake of adding them, it would have cut more meat from the Pac-12 in the first place.
The B1G’s work is done if it can’t get Notre Dame.
Or at least it will be until the next round of SEC retaliations.
ACC deconstruction: Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia
This option seems more likely should Notre Dame attempt to maintain its independence, leaving the ACC vulnerable to SEC intrusion — even though the financial penalty would be severe. In addition to an exit fee that could approach $100 million per team, the ACC owns the media rights of the 14 football programs through the 2035 season no matter what conference they are in.
And as noted previously, the likes of Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech or Louisville are appealing options for the SEC.
Should the SEC strike first — or even if it doesn’t — American Association of Universities members Duke, Georgia Tech, UNC and Virginia are right up the B1G’s alley. All Big Ten members except Nebraska are AAU members, and the Cornhuskers were in the AAU when they applied.
From a television market perspective — and remember, that’s the only thing these suits care about — this move gets the Big Ten into Atlanta (10th), Charlotte (22nd) and Raleigh-Durham (24th). And considering that the SEC Network is based in Charlotte, that looms as a particularly delicious outcome for the increasingly FOX-affiliated Big Ten.
So too will the boast of having a program in the middle of SEC country, though it would also mark the first time anybody has boasted about Georgia Tech since the ’90s.
The Pac-4: Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Washington
If you’ve already gutted the Pac-12, why not pick up some more entrails? The path is simpler in part because the Pac-12’s media deal expires in the summer of 2024.
Cal’s remaining appetite for big-time college athletics has come into question before things ever reached the point they’re at now, so this certainly isn’t the most likely option. But the cash infusion the B1G could provide might change those appetites.
And why would the B1G want the Golden Bears? That has more to do with where Berkeley is located. Combined with Stanford, Cal provides access to the nation’s No. 6 TV market — San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose.
And if it’s a race to 20, might as well throw in Oregon and Washington for good measure — though it does seem there is some sort of message being sent by the fact they weren’t included with UCLA and USC in the first place. (Hemingway would not approve of the length of that sentence.)
The Seattle-Tacoma TV market is 14th, and Portland is 25th. Not quite as strong as the ACC option, but also not too shabby. It feels likely this would only happen if the B1G really wanted Stanford and the Cardinal leveraged that into “OK, but you also have to take our friends.”
Basketball blue-bloods: Arizona, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina
Because I insist on living in a world where college basketball moves the needle, I’m including this possibility. It’s the same grouping I included in this category if Notre Dame joins the B1G, but with the Wildcats taking the place of the Fighting Irish.
Let’s face it. This basketball conference would rule. Every new member would have won a national championship since 1997. Michigan State is the only current Big Ten program that can stake the same claim.
The combination of Arizona, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and UCLA nets 34 national titles. Bill Walton, no doubt left reeling by UCLA’s defection from the Pac-12, could happily call this new alignment the Conference of Champions.
The prospect of a saddened Bill Walton is too much to bear. Let’s do the right thing here.