Why the B1G needs to give up hope of ever adding Notre Dame
As soon as news broke last week of Texas and Oklahoma’s intentions to depart the Big 12, the domino talk started again.
How will the rest of the college sports landscape react? What are the next spotted pieces to fall in this seemingly never-ending game?
But here’s the thing about dominoes. To work well, they fall in some sort of order.
There’s less and less order in college athletics.
The Longhorns and Sooners’ impending entry into the SEC adds another layer of complexity to things like Name, Image and Likeness, the one-time transfer rule and the transfer portal. the Big Ten has already begun exploring counter options — Kansas? — to make sure it doesn’t fall behind in the latest round of jockeying for big brands. There are a bunch of old Big 8 schools figuring out what to do next. The Power 5 could soon be the Power 4, or fewer. It’s quite possible we just moved ever closer to a complete breaking-off by the big boys in college football — an Alliance or Confederation or whatever you’d like to call it of haves that leaves the have-nots left to fend for themselves.
In this zany, changing world, you can never say never.
But you’d be wise to pump the brakes on any hopes of the B1G finally landing the big, golden-domed fish with which it’s long been associated but never been able to bring into the boat.
It’s an easy enough thought process in these strange times: The SEC is growing, in power and footprint. Whom could a similarly influential league add to make sure it stays on level ground? As in past years, the Fighting Irish have come up in the conversation again.
Geography. Academic excellence. Regular outings against B1G bluebloods like Michigan.
Streaming and NIL are the name of the game when it comes to college football’s current growth opportunities. There are only so many big brands that would move the needle for the likes of the B1G, and Notre Dame certainly fits the bill.
But it’s probably not gonna happen.
For one, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. When undercurrents of Texas either leaving the Big 12 or forming its own TV network — the latter of which came to pass — caused schools like Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M to swim for more stable shores, Notre Dame stood pat. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame brass favored a 1-year football agreement with the ACC over exploring anything with its B1G neighbors.
The ACC connection is the most apparent strike against any sort of B1G-Notre Dame relationship. And even after a profitable year that saw the Irish go undefeated during the regular season and able to maintain operations during a global health crisis, Notre Dame appears to have zero intentions of doing anything different than it has the past century.
“The reasons we value independence — and it continues to be a priority for us — aren’t impacted by the positive experience of being in the ACC fully this year,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in December.
Furthermore, according to former ACC commissioner John Swofford, there’s language in Notre Dame and the ACC’s contract that stipulates if the program were to join a conference before 2036, it’d be the ACC. If this were a state school we were dealing with, a simple Freedom of Information Act request by a full-time reporter could squash any legal basis for Notre Dame joining the Big Ten.
But private schools play by their own rules when it comes to releasing financial info; they typically don’t. And there’s a reason big-time universities retain an entire team of bright legal counsel.
But aside from the court of law, the more important venue is the court of the big picture.
The SEC is about to add two of college football’s biggest brands to what’s already considered the best conference there is. The Big Ten will surely want to counter.
But then what? As fans begin streaming more games, media rights deals will evolve. As NIL takes hold, the way programs recruit and maintain talent will, too.
There are second-order effects coming, both good and bad, that none of us have predicted yet. Why would Notre Dame fix something it doesn’t think is broken amid all that?
Follow the money. The more moves like this we see, the closer we get to a 32- or 40-team super league of college football, where the Power 5 is its own thing and a third tier of Division I arises out of the dregs. At that point, Notre Dame would be forced to permanently associate with an entity outside its four walls in South Bend.
But this is the same university that has been independent since the Western Conference (which became the Big Ten Conference) in 1895 rejected Notre Dame’s admission for entry. The Irish have held their ground through several earthquakes — and overtures from former B1G commissioner Jim Delany — since.
It would appear only an actual tectonic shift would cause Swarbrick and the folks at Notre Dame to do anything differently. We may be feeling the first tremors, but in the short-term, the Irish likely aren’t going anywhere.