Squashed! Notre Dame & Big Ten Expansion Rumors

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Will the Irish force the issue?

The University of Notre Dame is in a strong position to put a halt to every conference expansion rumor circulating, buzz started by the Big Ten Conference following their announcement late last year that they were considering adding one or more teams.

college footballThat’s because if the Fighting Irish decide to join the Big Ten for all sports including football, the venerable midwest sports conference will have no need to look elsewhere. And, with only the football independent Irish making the move to the Big Ten, the pressure to “expand or die” is off of the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12 and PAC 10 conferences, immediately cooling down red-hot expansion chatter. At least for now.

Uncooperative Irish

But don’t expect the Irish to be so cooperative. After all, the legacy of the Irish football program continues to loom large in the university’s decision-making even though since going 11-1 in 1993, Notre Dame has had eight seasons where they won seven or fewer games—certainly not the hallmark of a great football program.

What needs to take place to help the Irish seriously reconsider its football independent status is a real dressing down by its opponents this season. New coach Brian Kelly, fresh off of his wildly successful tour of turning the Cincinnati Bearcats into a top tier program, is expected to help the Irish return to its glory years quickly. But that may be easier said then done, because other than playing games against Navy, Army and Western Michigan this season, most of its remaining nine opponents won’t be easy victories.

No, I haven’t forgotten that Navy has beaten Notre Dame twice in recent years—I just don’t see the Irish being fooled thrice by the Midshipmen within a decade. Perhaps this will be Army’s year….

NBC Contract

Even if Notre Dame does finish, let’s say, 3-9 this year—a thought deliciously consumed by Irish hateful—the fact remains that the South Bend institution will still have four more years left on its lucrative contract with NBC. That original contract, hammered out in 1991, has been extended several times even as the Irish have slipped more often than not.

NBC is contracted with Notre Dame through 2015 to broadcast its seven home games and one neutral location game annually, a financial package that helps the Irish rake in $15 million annually according to The New York Times. Sure, they had to buy out the remaining $18 million of Charlie Weis’s contract, but with Kelly at the helm better days are ahead for Notre Dame. Or so the thinking goes.

Fighting Alumni

Financially, Notre Dame has no reason to abandon its independent status for the Big Ten at the moment. But, if Kelly has a lousy first year, influential Notre Dame alumni may squeeze the Irish to make the move sooner rather than wait until after the conference rearrangement smoke has settled.

That’s because the good money train won’t go on forever especially if mediocre Irish football has to go up against 3-4 super conferences fielding 14 teams or more with their own lucrative media contracts in place.

That sort of scenario would relegate the Irish to permanent also-ran status, a footnote in the annals of college football.

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