Four 16-team superconferences. The Big East blown to bits. The SEC boasting the majority of superpower football programs. The Big 12 reeling. It all sounds so futuristic, so sexy, even a little Star Trekky. That’s why everyone near a computer is advancing the ball.
Not so fast. One school could and should put an end to the potential musical-chairs game: Notre Dame.
Full disclosure: My late father (1941) and late brother (1971) graduated from Notre Dame. I attended a few games there in my youth and covered several when working in Chicago in the early ’90s. I’m Catholic. So call me biased toward Notre Dame football, but hear me out. Despite the long stretch of mediocrity on the field, the Notre Dame name still turns heads. Touchdown Jesus still casts a huge shadow.
No other school interested in making the move to the Big Ten can bring the sort of value Notre Dame can, and no other scenario can revive the Fighting Irish quite like the Big Ten.
Commissioner Jim Delany is a visionary. Many athletic administrators and university presidents didn’t think a Big Ten Network was a good idea, didn’t think it could turn a profit. Delany found a way to make it happen. In its first two years, the network bled money. Delany preached patience. Now the network prints money.
Notre Dame blew off the Big Ten in 1999. Many of the conference’s power brokers, including Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, remain bitter. Those are emotional concerns. Delany’s job demands he think with his head, not his heart. His credibility, thanks to the success of the network, is at an all-time high. He’ll be able to convince members that Notre Dame enriches the conference.
The trick then becomes convincing ND football to join. Writes Stewart Mandel of SI.com, “The Catholic school’s decision to reject the Big Ten’s last invitation in 1999 had mostly to do with its reluctance to join the ‘secular’ Committee on Institutional Cooperation, an academic consortium of the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago.” Tough hurdle. Still, now that an equal share of the revenue from the Big Ten TV Network is greater than Notre Dame’s NBC deal, the timing feels right.
Perhaps all that’s needed to clear that hurdle is a blessing from Lawrence’s No. 1 Notre Dame fan.
“Yeah, that would just send them running, wouldn’t it?” said Father Mick Mulvany, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish. “I really think people are ready for something to get national attention. It would be a different eye to the program, and they really need that. I don’t know what everyone else thinks. I might get egged at church on Sunday, I don’t know.”
Notre Dame joins the Big Ten, and all the talk of superconferences fades to black. That doesn’t mean the Big 12 can’t team up with the Pac-10 on a TV deal, but it does mean Kansas University’s conference stays together.
The superpower conference realignment dreamed up by many has Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State joining the SEC. Why would the Longhorns put their chances of playing for a national title under such duress? Texas likes the idea of wearing the tallest hat in the room.