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Time for Big Ten to Curtail Its Dalliance With Notre Dame

Nov 26, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver Tahj Washington (16) catches a pass against Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) in the second half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come for the Big Ten Conference to stop playing footsie with Notre Dame. Either the Irish join the conference or they do not. The Big Ten will be fine with or without them. By contrast, Notre Dame's future prominence might depend on joining the Big Ten.

The History that is Notre Dame football has been carrying the program for years, and for that reason, Notre Dame has been able to maintain its independence. Irish Football is a brand pushed by one of the biggest fanbases in the country. The fan base takes immense pride in the rich history, and that long, deep history has yielded a sense of entitlement and haughty independence.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

William Pollard, 19th-Century Quaker Author

The stubborn impulse of the Fighting Irish to remain independent has already cost Notre Dame the opportunity to earn a bye in the new college football playoff. That mindset might also result in some of their biggest rivals declining to schedule further matchups with them.

There is no time like the present for new Big Ten Commissioner Tony Pettiti to establish an early legacy by convincing Big Ten teams to drop the Irish from their schedules unless and until Notre Dame enters the conference. Such a move would force the hand of the Fighting Irish.

Want vs. Need

Many Fighting Irish fans believe the B1G needs Notre Dame more than Notre Dame needs the B1G. That might have been true a few years ago when the conference was effectively comprised of the B1G two (Ohio State and Michigan) and everyone else. However, things have changed.

Thanks to realignment, the B1G has a sufficient number of trademark brands in its fold, such that it no longer needs Notre Dame to join the conference. The B1G reached this point by poaching the top teams from the Pac-12 Conference—USC, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

Furthermore, after signing a seven-year television rights deal worth more than $7 billion, bringing Notre Dame into the conference is no longer financially necessary for the B1G.  

Nevertheless, because membership of Notre Dame in the B1G would generate even more revenue, bringing in the Irish makes financial sense.

“Today, the concept of business is to make money. Making money is the name of the business.”

Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize

Notre Dame's diehard fanbase is a principal driver of the value the Irish could bring to the B1G, even more so than the product the team offers on the field. Indeed, Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988.

B1G Holds the Cards Now

The dalliance between the conference and Notre Dame, about whether and under what circumstances the Irish might join, has been going on for many years. In the flirtation/power struggle, the Irish previously wielded considerable financial clout which they leveraged to stay independent. But the B1G's recent maneuvers, including expansion and lucrative media deals, have stripped away the leverage of the Irish.

Significantly, the B1G brought the USC Trojans into the conference. As an 11-time national champion, USC is a prominent player on the college football stage. Furthermore, the long-standing rivalry between Notre Dame and the Trojans is the preeminent intersectional rivalry in the game.

USC and Notre Dame have played every year since 1926, except for three years during World War II and 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an Independent, Notre Dame would dread losing the opportunity to play the annual marquee matchup with the Trojans.

In the summer of 2022, the Los Angeles Times reported:

"[T]he Big Ten has more to offer the Irish than ever before—a chance to share a conference with historic rival USC along with other rivals Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State; a chance to shoot its take from media rights into a new stratosphere; and a chance to assure itself of a rightful place at the power brokers’ table going forward."

Big Ten Playing Chess, ND Checkers

If Notre Dame's eventual membership in a conference is inevitable, which conference will it be? The Atlantic Coast Conference might make sense since the Irish already play five games per season against ACC teams. However, the B1G and the Southeastern Conference are, by far, the leading revenue-generating conferences, with the ACC a distant third. Thus, the ACC seems an unlikely destination for the Irish, particularly with the recent legal efforts of Clemson and Florida State to break free of the conference. Furthermore, the B1G might intercede to provide financial assistance to Clemson and Florida State in their pending litigation if those two prominent programs agree to join the conference. Such a development would likely be the death knell of the ACC.

A principal motivation for the B1G to bring Notre Dame into the fold is the presence of escalator clauses in the conference's media rights deal. Pursuant to those clauses, if Notre Dame joins the B1G, the value of the media deal would rise from $7.7 billion up to approximately $10 billion overall. That type of increase in revenue for the conference, which would be shared among member universities, also provides ample incentive for Notre Dame. Money talks.


Jun 17

I hate Notre Dame, and I'd love to see the B1G tell them to get lost, but, as you say, money talks.


Jun 17

Phenomenal article!

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