The dominoes have begun to fall in the seismic shift in the conference landscape of college football many have been predicting for months, but so far none of the moves will impact Notre Dame’s football independence. That could change, however, depending on how the rest of the dominoes fall.
So far the only conference to be hit hard by realignment is the Big XII. Colorado left the conference for the PAC 10 on Thursday and on Friday Nebraska followed suit and bolted for the Big 10 – a conference that now has 12 teams.
Texas, another Big XII elite program, is reported to be headed to the PAC 10 as well as early as Tuesday. Texas officials, however have been quick to comment that it is premature to make any definitive reports about what their intentions are.
Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M have all been rumored to be following Texas and Colorado as well. Boise State also made a little bit of noise as well on Friday by moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference.
Get all of that?
For now it just appears as though the Big XII will end up disbanding while the PAC 10 appears to possibly be headed towards becoming the PAC 16 with the addition of some elite programs. Should the chips fall as they appear to be headed, the PAC 10 would become one of the most dominant conferences in the country with USC (sanctions and all), Oregon, Oklahoma, and Texas headlining their conference. Throw in the other solid PAC 10 programs and up and coming programs like Stanford and things look pretty solid for them.
With the high power offenses allegedly about to join the conference though, don’t expect to see the PAC 10’s reputation for poor defense to improve at all.
The Big 10 meanwhile has added one of college football’s most storied programs in Nebraska. While the Cornhuskers have been down since Tom Osborne’s retirement, they appear to be headed in the right direction under the guidance of Bo Pellini. If Nebraska rejoins the nation’s elite, the Big 10 will have four headline programs as well with Nebraska joining Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan. Michigan of course will have to rejoin the nation’s elite to really make that group formidable though.
The real question for Notre Dame fans though is how does all of this affect Notre Dame’s long standing football independence. The short answer for now anyway is it doesn’t.
Jack Swarbrick was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying, “There’s been nothing at all that’s happened that directly impacts us or our evaluation of what’s going on,” on Friday afternoon.
The bottom line remains, unless Notre Dame is somehow forced into joining a conference, it doesn’t appear they will remain independant. If next week brings more radical changes to the conference landscape and teams from the Big East start to get cherry picked by other conferences, then things could change.
In the same report, Swarbrick noted, “We continue to be focused on trying to do what we can to maintain our football independence and ensure the long-term viability of the Big East.”
The reason the Big East is vital to Notre Dame’s independence is because the conference allows Notre Dame to remain affiliated with its conference for all sports other than football – something none of the other BCS conferences would likely accommodate. Should something change to affect the Big East, the conference could change its mind.
For instance, say the ACC decides it wants to form its own super conference similar to the PAC 10 and picks off a couple of Big East teams. The Big East could be forced into a position where they make Notre Dame join the conference for all sports of none or face a fate similar to that of the Big XII. Some Big East coaches such as UConn’s randy Edsall have already been quoted as saying Notre Dame should join the conference for all sports or leave.
It’s also possible that these super conferences could expand their conference schedules limiting their members’ out of conference schedules. Such a scenario could force Notre Dame towards a conference by making it extremely difficult to schedule marquee opponents.
A key here for Notre Dame is where Texas ends up. Should the Longhorns indeed join the PAC 10 and not the Big 10, as some had speculated throughout the week, Notre Dame’s chances of being lured to the conference will decrease drastically. A conference with Texas, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan might be an attractive option for Notre Dame if it’s pushed towards a conference.
Without Texas, however, there doesn’t appear to be any more attractive dance partners for the Irish in a Big 10 move.
For now though, the important thing is that nothing has happened to force Notre Dame’s hand and all indications are that Notre Dame will remain independent until forced otherwise.