Did Notre Dame Open the Door to the Idea of Big Ten Expansion?

B.Senior Analyst IMarch 9, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 21: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish wait to walk out of the tunnel before lining up to enter the field for a game against the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies at Notre Dame Stadium on November 21, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Big Ten Conference has the world of college football completely captivated with the possibilities of expansion.

Several schools have been named-dropped in the media since conference commissioner Jim Delaney announced the expansion study back in December.

Some big-name schools like Texas and Nebraska have been heavily discussed as possible expansion targets, as have some smaller schools out of the Big East conference, like Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame is a school that's always been mentioned in expansion chatter, as well. It is likely the most desired school on the Big Ten's wish list, but is never given much consideration in discussions due, in part, to the school having walked away from expansion negotiations twice in the past.

Now it appears as though the Fighting Irish might be giving up their fight for football independence. 

The NY Times is reporting that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has opened the door of interest for Big Ten with recent comments he made concerning conference expansion possibilities. With the Big Ten and the Pac 10 considering expansion, Swarbrick suggests the university is now having to give the idea more thought.

"What if realignment impacts the shape of the BCS?" Swarbrick hypothetically asked the NY Times.

As ESPN blogger Adam Rittenberg points out, by going public with its expansion study in December, the Big Ten sent out signals around college athletics that major changes might be on the horizon.

Notre Dame is one of only a handful of universities in college football not affiliated with a conference. While in some sports they are a member of the Big East, in football Notre Dame has maintained its independence.

That independence has helped the program maintain its own television contract with NBC that's rumored to net around $9 million a year. 

The contract with NBC might not be lucrative enough to stop the school from accepting an expansion invite, though. With major conference shifts being discussed in every corner of media, Notre Dame is claiming their hand might be forced.

"The Big East has been a great conference for us," Swarbrick said. "If there is a fundamental change to the Big East, what does that do?"

Major conference shifts aside, the money might be a more motivating factor. The revenue potential from the Big Ten Network is far beyond what the NBC contract could provide. 

With the NBC contract, Notre Dame can only make a set amount of money.  With the Big Ten Network, the potential is there for more because the network pays out based on a percentage of income. 

According to a report on the New Times Web site, each school received over $11 million in 2007.  In 2008, each school received roughly $22 million.

With the way revenue is increasing for the Big Ten Network, adding a school like Notre Dame would likely boost income to a point where teams would still see an increase in that amount even after an additional team was added to the share.  Notre Dame would be foolish not to seriously consider an offer, should one be extended.

The Big Ten has given no hints about what schools it might be after, or how many schools are in consideration, but that doesn't stop the Blogosphere and Twitterverse from discussing the possibilities. Those possibilities seem to have caught Swarbrick's attention.

"You have such an interesting media environment here. It’s having such an impact on people," Swarbrick added. "I've been in and around this business for 29 years now. This is as unstable as I’ve seen it."

A down economy tends to make things unstable, and the Big Ten seems to be in a great position to take advantage of that instability.