We have heard the ravings of an old man. We have heard the lunacy of the "Conference That Time Forgot." We have seen how a conference perceived by some to be "sleeping at the wheel" can all but cripple a conference, and we have seen how grabbing teams from another conference in order to save your own doesn't always have the bang-for-the-buck a conference president thought it would have.
Still, after all that has unfolded since the 2003 raid by the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) on the Big East, there are people calling for conferences to expand, reconfigure, and split apart. I will give you that some of it makes great geographic sense.
And honestly, who wouldn't love to see the Big 10—otherwise known as Rip Van Winkle—wake up and grab a 12th team and stage a conference championship game?
With all due respect to the Big 12, the only two conferences that can pull off the conference championship game and make it a successful, money-generating event are the SEC (of course, as we see it in play now) and the Big 10.
Think about it. Eight out of every 10 years, Ohio State is probably going to be participating in the Championship game anyway, assuming it ever comes to fruition. By themselves, Ohio State can pack 100,000 rabid Buckeye Fans into the Horseshoe. Michigan and Penn State can pack in 100,000 fans into their stadiums as well. Those are three pretty good bets to be representing the Big 10 in a conference championship game in any given year.
Does anyone honestly think the Big 10 couldn't find 80,000 fans to pack the RCA Dome for a championship game in Indianapolis? The Metro Dome in Minneapolis? Ford Field in Detroit? A conference championship game would not only work, it would work great for the Big 10... if only we could get them to wake up.
Before we go any further, let's get one thing out of the way. As long as Notre Dame is an independent, the Big 10 will have 11 members. Notre Dame is who the Big 10 is holding that spot open for, bar none. Notre Dame will never join the Big 10 however, because they would have to compete for top-dog status and prove it on the field.
I don't think Notre Dame wants to face a gauntlet of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa every year.
Those are seven potential losses every season, meaning Notre Dame couldn't schedule their way into a bowl game if they wanted to. Granted they wouldn't face those seven schools every year, but in the years they faced Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, or Minnesota, they could also be facing a team in an up year, as all of those schools have shown the ability to pull out a big year pretty regularly.
And even if Notre Dame split its conference record at 4-4, they still face a loss to USC, so we are talking about a season record of 7-5, what...90 percent of the time? How long would a coach last at Notre Dame going 7-5 every year? How long would the fans accept that?
So we have established that Notre Dame is never going to join the Big 10. Now what?
Well, if not the Big 10, how about the Big East? With all due respect - again - to Ed Cunningham (who did not come across as informed, at all, on ESPN's "College Football Live" by saying that Notre Dame "wouldn't fit with the Big East schools" despite having been a conference member with the Big East for over a decade and establishing a partnership and relationship with those schools over that time) I have to disagree.
The way I see it, Notre Dame would fit the Big East better than they would the Big 10. How can anyone say that you ask? Well, because Notre Dame wants to be the unquestioned "Top Dog" wherever it goes, and in the Big East it would be. Maybe not always on the field, but even an 0-12 Notre Dame would have to be listened to by the other Big East football schools.
In the Big 10, Notre Dame is just another player. In the Big East, they would be the top voice, without question. Even if Notre Dame never puts out a winning record against a Big East Conference schedule, they would have the strongest voice in the room. And that is exactly what Notre Dame wants.
So, how do we go about getting Notre Dame into the Big East? It is pretty simple really...with money and power. Forget all that "We value our independence garbage." They have no problem selling their independence in every other sport to ensure they get paid and have a seat at the table. If the money is right and the opportunity is there, Notre Dame would join a conference in football too, but the situation has to be just right.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR NOTRE DAME?
First and foremost for Notre Dame, unlike the Big 10, which has other powerhouse programs with clout, the Big East doesn't have a program that can write its own ticket. Notre Dame can write its own ticket and it can all but make its own rules dealing with the Big East.
However, the Big East and Notre Dame have already enjoyed an amicable relationship in all other sports (sans hockey) and the two entities have proven they can get along, so being able to work out an arrangement shouldn't be too difficult for them.
It isn't as if the two sides don't already know each other intimately. As this is being written, the Big East meetings are going on and Notre Dame is sitting alongside all the other schools in the Big East.
Notre Dame can continue its relationship with the other seven Catholic schools in the Big East as well by remaining in the Big East as opposed to joining another conference.
The more specific particulars...
—Offer to Notre Dame that if they join the Big East in football, they can keep all their NBC money to themselves. They do not have to make any stipulations with their NBC contract. That money belongs to them.
Playing Big East teams will not be an issue for NBC either. Keep in mind NBC picks Notre Dame for Notre Dame, not for their opponents. If NBC were disturbed by Notre Dame's schedules, Nevada would not being playing on NBC this coming fall when they travel to South Bend.
—Offer to Notre Dame that every other year they are guaranteed no worse than the Big East's second place bowl—assuming they are bowl-eligible in the odd year they would be able to take advantage of the clause should they finish lower than second place the year they are allowed to take advantage of the clause.
This rotation of every second year is strictly followed though. If Notre Dame finishes second or higher in its first year, it will participate in the bowl it earned on the field, whether it be the Big East's BCS bowl or the Gator Bowl as the second-place finisher.
The second year, however, if Notre Dame finished lower than second place, they could invoke their clause and still get the Gator Bid should they choose it. If they earned their second place or higher bid on the field in year two, they would be placed accordingly.
If Notre Dame were to finish lower than second place its first year in the league, it would play in whatever bowl it qualified for in order of conference standing, assuming they are bowl-eligible. They can not choose which year they can invoke the clause. Every second year they can choose to use it, but it CANNOT be saved for a later year if they happen to earn second place or higher on the field their second year.
—Offer to let Notre Dame have an equal share of any Big East TV deal the Big East can broker with all the other football schools as well—this on top of the NBC money they already get.
—In terms of Bowl Money Payout, Notre Dame gets the same share due any other Big East team based on actual performance finish on the field, despite bumping an actual second-place Big East finisher from the conference's second-place bowl.
For example, in a year that Notre Dame uses its clause to bump another team from the Gator Bowl, Notre Dame will receive the payout from the Big East's pool of Bowl Money based on where they finish in conference standing. If Notre Dame finishes in fifth place in conference standings, but uses its option to play in the Gator, they will still only be paid according to what the fifth place finisher would be paid.
—Probably the real issue for Notre Dame is being able to get back to being a top 10 program nationally in terms of competitiveness.
The Big East lineup has some pretty solid teams, but it will never be akin to playing a schedule like one might face in the SEC. Notre Dame could come in and every year have a legitimate shot to win the conference based on talent alone, thus participating in a BCS Bowl every year if it gets it done on the field, no matter how high or low it is ranked.
Theoretically, Notre Dame could go 7-5 on the season and still win the Big East and participate in a BCS bowl. A 7-5 Notre Dame team will never bump any BCS at-large teams operating as an independent.
Also, Notre Dame—for all its history—has never won a conference championship. Had Notre Dame been playing in the Big East while Ty Willingham was at the helm, maybe they win a conference championship or two, get to a BCS bowl, and are able to build on that and jump right back in the national title race in a year or two. But that never happened and it will never happen as long as Notre Dame is an independent... at least not according to the conference championship format.
—Finally, Notre Dame will not be required to play any weeknight games. They value playing 12 games on 12 Saturdays and they would be able to just say no to participating on weeknights and the Big East really couldn't ever tell them no.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR THE BIG EAST?
None of those concessions will hurt the Big East football schools financially and it is easy to see why. Also, it would put an end to any speculation of a split between the Big East football schools and the Big East basketball schools.
Notre Dame actually loves the fact that there are 15 other markets to show their wares in front of during basketball season, and they would never go against the other seven Catholic institutions that participate in Big East athletics.
—First off, the Big East will get a whole heck of a lot better TV deal than what it currently has (meaning way more money for each current Big East football school even though it will be split nine ways as opposed to eight) because they can offer ESPN/ABC or CBS four guaranteed Notre Dame games every year when Notre Dame plays a Big East road game. Showing Notre Dame Football on their channels is like crack cocaine to ESPN/ABC, and they are always looking for a fix.
—The Big East will also get better national exposure when it plays their games at Notre Dame every year on NBC. Every two years, every current team in the Big East will have at least one game televised on NBC—regardless of how well they are performing on the season.
Ordinarily a team had to play in the Gator Bowl or hope to be lucky enough to have a road game at Notre Dame before it could be showcased on NBC. In this scenario, it is almost the equivalent of the Big East having its own little round-robin contract with NBC. Those are four games every year that may not have otherwise been televised, and they are all another opportunity to showcase Big East teams on a national scale.
—The Big East will receive way better lower-level bowls because of the possibility of a smaller-venue bowl getting Notre Dame every other year. Can you imagine the folk's reaction at the Meineke Bowl if they were able to one day land Notre Dame as part of the Big East's bowl package?
Besides, the Sun Bowl was willing to sell its soul in an attempt at getting Notre Dame just once, and you can bet others would too. The Big East won't be getting the Cotton Bowl, but its second-place bowl won't be the Meineke Bowl either, and I bet no Big East team has to play in Canada in the future if Notre Dame joins up.
—Each school will benefit from having Notre Dame on its schedule too, as attendance will certainly increase by having Notre Dame on the schedule, which means more season ticket sales and donations translating to more revenue. More revenue means better facilities, and better facilities means better chances to land top-notch recruits.
—Concerning recruiting, that would be a nice little nugget to dangle in front of kids looking at your school—that a kid would get a shot at playing against Notre Dame every year. Never hurts to be successful by association.
—Also, corporate sponsorship for the league will increase as well over what it has had in the past even though we are in a recession.
Will Chrysler suddenly pay to be the official car of the Big East? No, but then Chrysler may not be around much longer anyway.
However, corporations know that Notre Dame is a name that sells, and being tied to Notre Dame is a sure-fire way to get your product in front of a lot of the eyes of consumers with money to spend.
—Finally for the Big East, it will put an end to any "BCS berth being taken away" garbage and will give the football schools that coveted ninth member that evens out scheduling, allowing for four home conference games each year and four away conference games each year.
Each school would also be tasked with finding only four non-conference games each year instead of five, and with skyrocketing payouts to the Buffalo's and Kent State's of the world to get them to come and play a one-and-done at your house, eliminating the need to coax even just one into signing a contract with you could potentially save you a few hundred thousand dollars every year in payout money.
In short, conference games are cheaper nowadays than non-conference games, regardless of who you are playing.
AND WHAT DOES THE BIG 10 DO?
Assuming that Notre Dame joins the Big East and kills all hope the Big 10 ever had of landing the Irish...
We all know who Father Time mentioned as possible targets for the Big 10, and you could make any of those work if you had to, but in my opinion there are better choices out west.
Besides, Syracuse has too small of a stadium and aren't even close to being competitive in football right now. Pittsburgh doesn't even have a stadium, as they have to rent from the Steelers. And Rutgers—although a good academic fit—has been decent in football for all of about 10 minutes and don't fit the geographic footprint nor the constituency of the Big 10.
As for looking out west, you could add Iowa State and they do fit geographically, but I don't think they add value to the Big 10 that the Big 10 doesn't already have. Plus, the Big 10 is looking for television sets to sell the Big 10 Network on. They already have every TV set in Iowa that they could carry with the Hawkeyes anyway.
Nebraska is an intriguing possibility, and personally I think they fit the bill as far as the best demographic fit for the Big 10. The Nebraska name is well known and a Nebraska-Ohio State matchup is going to make people want to tune in and watch.
Still, I think the Big 10 wants a given top-25 TV market. The Big 10 already has "Top 25 Markets" in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland-Akron, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and maybe Philadelphia if you want to give them Philly due to having Penn State in conference.
Adding the No. 21-ranked TV market would be a huge boost to what price the Big 10 could receive for airing its network on respective cable carriers around the country.
So what is the "No. 21" market? St. Louis. By bringing in Missouri from the Big 12, you are getting a huge number of households, a strong player on the field and on the court, and a great geographic fit.
In turn, the Big 12 could grab up a very worthy TCU program and not miss a beat. All's well that ends well.