This time last spring there were rumors of an impending restructuring that would shake the college football world. Talk of major realignments had many convinced that Notre Dame was finally about to forfeit its independence and take the plunge into the Big Ten.
But the "seismic shift" that many saw coming on the horizon fizzled and Notre Dame once again passed on the chance to join the Big Ten Conference. The fact is the Irish will never join the Big Ten and today we list 10 reasons why.
Many fans are unaware of the fact that the Western Conference (the predecessor to the Big Ten) blackballed Notre Dame in the early part of the 20th century. The University of Michigan, far and away the most powerful and school at the time, stopped playing Notre Dame's budding football program and convinced the other members of the conference in an indirect attempt to squelch ND's growth before they became a legitimate threat.
Michigan's strategy failed. In fact, it helped make Notre Dame into what it is today. Since they couldn't find local opponents, the Irish decided to storm the country to find opponents. This strategy led to Notre Dame developing a vast, national fan base as opposed to a regionalized one like Michigan. The old Notre Dame blog "Blue-Gray Sky" does a phenomenal job outlining how Notre Dame feels about Michigan in this archived article.
Notre Dame has far and away the largest and most far reaching fan base in college athletics. If you'd take polls in just about every area of the country, Notre Dame is one of the most popular teams besides whatever the local schools are. Whether you're in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas or Cincinnati, you're going find a sizable contingent of Irish Faithful present.
A big reason for this is the fact that Notre Dame has always received a lot of national exposure thanks to scheduling. It started with Rockne's Ramblers traveling coast-to-coast facing off against the best teams in college football and continues today. Over the next four years the Irish play in: Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, North Carolina, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Utah, Boston, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma and even Dublin, Ireland. That's the true definition of national scheduling, with a dash of international.
If the Irish joined the Big Ten, they'd be locked into nine conference games per year. This would completely cripple the flexibility to play diverse schedule that provides the level of national exposure Notre Dame currently enjoys. It would pigeonhole the Irish into staying within the Midwestern region, something they're simply not interested in doing.
There is going to come a point in the not so distant future when schools are going to reevaluate just how essential conferences are. Schools in the Big Ten will always find them a vital part of their very identity because they've had long standing traditions interwoven with conference membership. But what about a school like Texas?
Texas has no deep rooted allegiance to a conference. Their old conference (the SWC) disbanded and morphed into the Big 12 in the 1990s. As of right now they're almost single-handedly keeping the old Big 12 alive. Eventually Texas will start weighing the pros and cons of conference membership and may realize the potential that exists as an independent.
Brigham Young has already jumped head first into the independent pool. They quickly negotiated a television contract with ESPN, brokered a deal with Notre Dame to start up a long-term series, and made moves to take care of their remaining athletic programs. BYU appears to be set up for success as an independent. How long until other schools see that model and attempt to copy it?
Notre Dame is the only college football program with an individual television contract with one of the major networks. Every single one of Notre Dame's home games since 1992 have been on NBC, which televises only one non-Notre Dame regular season game per year (Grambling-Southern). This essentially amounts to ND having its own national television network, providing unparalleled exposure.
The teams in the Big Ten currently make more television revenue than Notre Dame thanks to the newly minted Big Ten Network, but it's still staggering how much money ND makes despite the fact that their team has been mediocre for most of the last 15 years.
If the Irish continue on their current trajectory and turns things around they'll have even more negotiating clout to close the revenue gap. Combine that with the fact that they haven't even attempted to tap into the cable scene (like the BTN) and you begin to realize there is a bevy of revenue potential that's available without having to sacrifice the current (ideal) situation.
If you look at the rules for eligibility for the BCS, there are specific clauses aimed to outline Notre Dame's place in the puzzle. Notre Dame is the only program specifically mentioned.
Every single iteration of the BCS eligibility requirements since its inception in 1998 has included special caveats to accommodate Notre Dame. Currently, if Notre Dame finishes in the Top 8 it receives an automatic bid. There is simply no logical reason to relinquish the special treatment.
Until 2006, Notre Dame kept every dime of BCS bowl revenue and didn't have to share the bowl appearance money like every school in a conference does. That meant from 1998 through 2005, Notre Dame had actually made more money from their two BCS appearances than Florida State's six berths because the Seminoles' bowl money was distributed amongst the other teams in the ACC.
Thanks to former athletic director Kevin White's terrible panic move, Notre Dame no longer receives the entire sum of bowl money and never will again. Why? Because once you give up an inch (or in White's case an acre) you'll never be able to get that inch back. The BCS has in place special rules that take care of Notre Dame. There won't ever be a reason to join the Big Ten and give up that inch.
Big Ten teams are going to start playing nine conference games per year, leaving the ability to schedule only three out of conference contests each season. Notre Dame plays a national schedule each and every season, usually with at least one game on each coast and a handful somewhere in between. That freedom would vanish if they joined the Big Ten.
The nine conference games limits schools' ability to schedule so much that Michigan is already talking about dropping the Irish from future schedules because the Irish's presence makes their slates "too difficult." Now Notre Dame has never been a team to try schedule their way to ten win seasons like Michigan, but instead of having the ability to pick the entire schedule ND would have nine games dictated to them every year by the conference. There's no reason whatsoever to do curtail the current level of flexibility.
Right now Notre Dame holds just about every card and sets its own course in the world of college football. Whether it's in television deals, merchandising, bowl revenue, scheduling—you name it, Notre Dame controls its own destiny.
Explain why they would forfeit that power to sit at a table with a group of other schools that won't ever have Notre Dame's best interests in mind. Notre Dame would become one vote of 13 (or 14 or 16). How does it make any sense to put any decisions that pertain to your program in someone else's hands when you have the ability to prevent it?
The Big Ten desperately wants Notre Dame to be a part of their conference because they want and need the Notre Dame brand. It's the strongest, most recognizable, and most powerful brand in all of collegiate athletics. Notre Dame would expand the Big Ten's reach and appeal from the Midwest to the rest of the entire country. It would be a colossal coup for the Big Ten Network because the number of households demanding it would instantly increase.
What does the Big Ten bring to Notre Dame? The most common argument was stability, but that's a myth debunked in large part by the settling of the "seismic shifts" that occurred last spring. It would bring a little more revenue in the short term, but the long term damage joining the conference would do to the Notre Dame brand would easily outweigh the temporary gain.
Last time this year everyone was bracing themselves for a major realignment in college football where it would turn into 4-6 mega-conferences. The claim was that Notre Dame would be left out in the cold if this happened and they weren't part of a conference.
The entire notion that this would happen was complete nonsense.
Even if the major realignment happened, the chances that a playoff would replace the bowl system are almost absolute zero. The clout the bowl possess and the strong support the current system has from the men holding all the power in this situation means there won't be any sort of major change.
In any case, under the current system there are explicit provisions in place for Notre Dame as well as schools that aren't members of the "Automatic Qualifier" conferences. What makes people think similar ones won't exist when they've always been in place before? Notre Dame is a cash cow--not just for itself, but for others as well.
The Big Ten debate has existed for years. In the late 1990's, Notre Dame appeared destined to become part of the conference and end its long standing independence in basketball. The question that was most relevant then is perfectly relevant now: Why?
In the 14 years I've been listening to arguments on this topic I have yet to hear a logically compelling reason to join the Big Ten conference. Faithful readers, if you have one fire away. I've been waiting so long and since I haven't found a legitimate one yet I tend to believe one does not exist.
Perhaps you'll prove me wrong...but I doubt it.