Notre Dame, Arkansas: Come on Down

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, former University of Arkansas football player and big-time power broker in the world of professional and now college athletics, is the driving force behind a potential move that would make the Big 12 the most compelling conference in the history of college football.

Jones, according to a source familiar with his thinking, wants his alma mater to play in a league with former Southwest Conference rivals Texas and Texas A&M. A visionary, Jones sees the Big 12 expanding with Arkansas and Notre Dame. Such a conference alignment turns on TV sets across America and sends cash gushing out of Big 12 faucets everywhere.

Since moving to the SEC, Arkansas football, once a loud national brand, has faded. Lack of SEC television exposure in Texas, at least until the past couple of years, has eroded what used to be the Razorbacks’ primary recruiting base. The decline of the status of Arkansas’ football program runs deeper than the talent that takes the field every Saturday. The Hogs haven’t developed rivalries as intense as they had in the SWC with their SEC brethren since the football team began participating in the league in 1992.

Not that SEC rivalries don’t exist for Arkansas, but they don’t match those the Hogs had with Texas and A&M. The Golden Boot, a 24-karat gold trophy in the shape of Arkansas and Louisiana, is awarded to the winner of the LSU game, but only since 1996. Arkansas first played Ole Miss in 1908 and the teams played seven overtimes in a 2001 meeting. Nice, but not quite Texas.

When Jones throws money and influence behind an idea, it tends to work for all parties, especially himself. He purchased the Cowboys for $150 million in 1989. estimates the franchise’s value at $1.65 billion and puts Jones’ net worth at $1.2 billion. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, would make a nice permanent home for the Big 12 football championship game, just as the Sprint Center would for the Big 12 basketball tourney.

It’s more difficult to read Notre Dame’s feelings because the school’s officials don’t get involved in doing business publicly. For all the hits Notre Dame takes as a so-called “hype machine,” the school deserves credit for conducting itself with class.

Conspiracy theorists wonder whether the Big Ten, long lusting after Notre Dame, will try to lure the Fighting Irish by recruiting a few Big East schools, blowing up that conference and leaving ND with nowhere else to turn. Ole Notre Dame would not reinforce such evil tactics and could find a more profitable home by joining hands with Texas and the other 10 institutions, including Arkansas, to form a Big 12 TV network that would blow away the hugely successful Big Ten Network.

Asked Tuesday about expansion plans, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said, “We’re not looking to expand at all and certainly we wouldn’t look to expand with any institutions that are in our geographic, five-state area.”

Those five states are Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Notre Dame is in Indiana. Arkansas is in Arkansas. Oh Danny Boy, make it happen. Bring the Irish and Hogs to the Big 12.