Big Ten holds talks with Notre Dame
By Steve Wieberg and Thomas O'Toole, USA TODAY
While Notre Dame explores a potentially historic move to full conference membership, football included, one potential destination could be crystallizing: the Big Ten.
A league athletics director familiar with the situation confirms that Big Ten officials recently had "some conversation" with Notre Dame, which also has approached the Atlantic Coast Conference. Talks are far from the serious stage, the official said, noting the Big Ten refuses to address the issue until the school formally decides and declares it will make a move.
The Big Ten was frustrated when Notre Dame rejected an opportunity to join 4½ years ago. Should Notre Dame now approach the league — without equivocation — the Big Ten AD said it probably would accept the Irish as a 12th member.
"Right now," said another athletics director, Penn State's Tim Curley, "we're not in a position where we're looking to expand or we're actually pursuing anything. It's a great conference as is." But "personally and also institutionally, (if it were) the right school adding the right value, we'd be open and receptive to it," he said. "I'm sure they (the Irish) fit into that category."
The ACC isn't as natural a geographic fit for the South Bend, Ind., school as the Big Ten. Notre Dame may be "shopping" full membership to the ACC, too, the first Big Ten AD suggested, to prod internal constituents into accepting conference membership and understanding how much more sense it makes to align with the Big Ten.
Outside football, in which it has steadfastly maintained independence for more than a century, Notre Dame competes in most sports in the Big East. It's weighing a move that would include football, in part, because of concerns about its future in the Bowl Championship Series, where the Irish are now a partner with the Big East and five other major conferences.
They're not expected to maintain that position when new BCS contracts take effect in 2006. Already, there is a movement to reduce Notre Dame's take from participating in a BCS bowl from a full $17 million to $4.5 million. That's the limited share awarded to a second team selected from a conference. The leagues object to the Irish, as an independent, retaining all bowl revenues while conference teams share theirs with fellow members.
While that independence resonates strongest with Notre Dame alumni, one prominent graduate said he'll defer to the school's president, the Rev. Edward Malloy, AD Kevin White and other leaders. "Times change," said Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, a former Irish baseball player. "You need to revisit decisions that were made before all the time. ... Whatever they decide is OK by me."