Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.
Another day, another Notre Dame joining the Big Ten rumor. Where there is smoke there is fire. Many are speculating that Notre Dame will join the Big Ten when the conference announces anticipated expansion plans this November. There are three main reasons why joining the Big Ten makes the most sense, and major reasons why joining the Big East, or remaining Independent, would be a big mistake.
Reason #1: Money Talks
It is no secret that a substantial influence on Notre Dame’s decision making process throughout the years has been financial gain. The Big Ten offers a very attractive package right now – more attractive than any other conference – given it currently pays each of its programs $22M per season. Even Indiana, the league patsy, gets its price.
Plus, the Big Ten Network is a huge success, especially financially, and any other schools that would join the Big Ten would only make its content more attractive, they would also inflate its dollar value. While the Big Ten may not have all of the hottest TV markets, each of its schools have massive amounts of loyal fans and some of the largest stadiums in the country. Sure, the conference is largely centered in the Midwest, but that does not make its draw too small or make the conference financially unviable. Perhaps in college football’s yesteryear, but no longer.
Reason #2: Great, Historical Rivalries
Joining the Big Ten would not force Notre Dame to give up on its greatest historical rivalries that draw millions of eyeballs every season. In other words, Notre Dame’s regular non-conference matchup with Southern Cal would be safely preserved and become a showcase Big Ten game. Ohio State and Michigan have their long distance, historically relevant games, and so does Notre Dame. Those rivalries are important for each school to draw crowds at home and on television and the Big Ten will preserve, endorse, and grow each important rivalry game.
Also, bear in mind that many of Notre Dame’s most storied and consistent rivalries take place against Big Ten teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern. I am referencing some GREAT rivalries. Take just one, for example, like Michigan State and Notre Dame. Besides just a few hours separating the two schools, 1966 wrote a memorable chapter in the rivalry. Both teams were undefeated and of course met in a game that would decide the national championship. Michigan State jumped out to an early lead only for the Fighting Irish to come fighting back to tie the game and controversially take the national title despite the teams’ identical 9-0-1 records to end the season.
Reason #3: Football Brand Matters
When Notre Dame dominated, its teams were nasty on defense and often featured a steady running attack that wore on opposing teams, allowing an efficient passing game to blow a game open. While speed is a bigger factor now in college football than, say, 20 years ago when Notre Dame’s name still carried an heir of dominance with it, the formula for winning in college football can still be: Dominant Defense + Strong Running Attack + Efficient Passing = Wins. That is the Big Ten’s pedigree, and that is the league where Notre Dame has the best opportunity to win a legitimately respected national power conference in football without comprising its identity.
Why the Big East Makes No Sense
Football is the college athletics cash cow. Period. All of the Big East’s great TV markets – like Philadelphia, New York, and others – do not matter much to Notre Dame’s football program. While the markets may be big, the audiences will not be since the quality of football is so poor. More, Notre Dame does not – ney, CANnot – associate itself with a poor brand of football that doesn’t suit its image. The disaster that is Big East football does not have an appealing brand that Notre Dame would care to be associated with… besides, are tickets really going to sell out for the big Notre Dame-Connecticut battle? Or Notre Dame-West Virginia? Without its history and storied rivalries, Notre Dame is just another football program struggling for notoriety. The Big East kills Notre Dame’s aura.
Why Remaining Independent Makes No Sense
When Notre Dame initially made the choice to become unaffiliated with any football conference it had massive financial incentives spurring the decision. Independence meant a multi-million dollar, exclusive TV contract Notre Dame did not have to share with any other school or conference. All of the money belonged to Notre Dame. It also allowed Notre Dame to have a free schedule where they could maintain a national recruiting presence by playing all over the country. The problem with the decision now is that as college football has evolved, it turns out conferences have plenty of money to go around. The Big Ten pays programs $22M per season, thanks in large part to the success of its own dedicated cable network. Exclusivity does not offer the same advantages it once did, and the need to maintain a national presence with games to fuel recruiting is null. Large institutions like Notre Dame have massive recruiting budgets – and the program would have that budget regardless of conference affiliation. In short, the reasons for becoming an independent have been rendered useless as college football has evolved.
Consider that travel expenses for the football team in the Big Ten may be dramatically reduced if Notre Dame were to join the Big Ten. Obviously that doesn’t matter much to a huge program with a huge budget, but it sure does matter for the school’s smaller sports that spend more time losing money than making it. While football is a major piece of this puzzle, the impact of a conference move will be felt through the athletics department and the entire department will participate in the decision.
It is time for Notre Dame to evolve and join the conference that best fits Notre Dame’s brand of football, its history, and financial needs. The Big Ten allows Notre Dame to adapt without changing its tradition.