(DETROIT, MI) - Keep an eye on what is happening with the Big East vs. ACC conference wars.
It could affect the Big Ten conference as much as either of those two. That's because if Miami, Syracuse and Boston College bolt to the ACC as expected, don't think Notre Dame is going to stand back and watch it all happen.
Notre Dame is about as big as it gets in college football. Packing their own national television contract and the biggest individual name in all of college sports, the Irish are the proverbial big fish in the small pond. Realistically, the main attraction of the Big East is playing in one of the nation's premiere basketball conference. Stocked with Georgetown, Pittsburgh, St. Johns and UConn, Notre Dame has held their own and raised their national profile in hoops.
Notre Dame is not a member of the conference for football; they remain an independent -- the only one of consequence -- in Division I-A.
But if the three schools bolt for the ACC, the conference is likely to be dissolved. That would leave the Irish on the outside looking in for basketball, a situation that is not palatable for the Irish who have clear designs on being "a top five school" for the Sears Cup Trophy, an award given to school that has the best all sports program in the nation, including Olympic sports such as swimming, tennis, soccer, track and field and baseball.
For the Big Ten, having 11 teams in their conference has been awkward at best. "A 12th team would help us do a little better job of scheduling," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "Eleven is not a real good number. A couple years from now, we're not playing Michigan, and that's not going to go down very well with our fans."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr agrees. "Our conference, in terms of football, has had too many ties for the championship, and that creates the perception that your league isn't very strong," says Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "I think we need a 12th team, and we need it badly."
Big Ten-commissioner Jim Delaney has wisely quieted talk of courting the Irish after Notre Dame very publicly snubbed them in 1999. But the Irish remain the best fit for the conference to move to 12 teams and have the coveted big money championship game.
The only person who seems to oppose a Notre Dame to the Big Ten is former Michigan gridiron boss Bo Schembechler. "We've (Michigan) got Ohio State and Penn State and Wisconsin, now Purdue ... we can't afford any more rivalries,'' said Schembechler. "It's not that I hate Notre Dame. It's that the Big Ten is so tough. Notre Dame knows that. That's why they didn't come into the league when they had a chance.''
Wisconsin and Purdue? C'mon Bo, who are you kidding?
While a marriage seems to make sense to all parties concerned, there are some obstacles that would have to be overcome.
Traditional rivalries: Michigan and Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana have non-negotiable rivalries with each other. To a lesser extent so does Michigan State. While 12 teams means a balanced schedule, it also means that some of those traditional rivalry games might go bye-bye. That is unacceptable to those teams. Still, one would think that a 12-team league would allow those games to stay put.
Independent status: Notre Dame would prefer to stay independent in football and keep all those greenbacks NBC pays them to be televised on their network. The Big Ten might allow that if Notre Dame didn't share in the conference's bank account but that might be a tough pill to swallow for the rest of the league's members.
All Catholic? There has been talk of an all-Catholic league if the Big East goes away with current Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese atop it. The league would be hoops-only, allowing ND to stay independent in football.
It would consists of Big East leftovers Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, and Villanova. Joining them would be DePaul, Marquette, St. Louis, bolting from Conference USA and then either two from among Dayton, Massachusetts and Xavier or all three with Creighton joining from the Missouri Valley conference to form a 12-team top notch basketball conference. An all-catholic affiliation would be a strong draw for the Irish and their fellow catholic league teams.
The short and long of this is Notre Dame belongs in the Big Ten conference. They should have accepted the invitation four years ago. The traditional rivalries can be written into the conference schedule, just put Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame in the same conference, perhaps adding Purdue and Indiana and Illinois to ensure those remain intact in a "South" division.
In the words of Nike, "Just Do it."