Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Storm Clouds?

Out of all the Big Ten smoke that's emerged this is perhaps the juiciest nugget to date. It comes--from of all places--a Northwestern message board. At first I had reservations about posting it on WNG since it came from Rivals.com and usually re-posting Premium Board info is off-limits; but then I realized none of the Northwestern boards are Premium (which makes sense because there may be only 14 people in the United States who care an iota about Northwestern football and zero of them care enough to pay for a Rivals subscription). This makes everything on their boards available for public consumption.

So without further ado, here it is from poster "PURPLE Book Cat":

"I just had a few beers tonight with a friend who works for the Big Ten here in Chicago. According to him, the Big Ten has focused their efforts on and is getting hot with three schools: Notre Dame, Texas, and Nebraska.

A few things stood out about what he told me. First, contrary to my understanding of the benefits of expansion, the Big Ten is NOT pursuing a playoff system in football. Instead of a playoff, the football teams would all be required to add an additional one or two out of conference game, which would push the regular season back one week or two. The Big Ten wants to maintain the end of season rivalry games at the end of the football season as opposed to adding a playoff.

Second, the Big Ten, Texas and Notre Dame are discussing a special rule to accommodate both of those schools. Instead of playing 8 games, both Texas and ND would play 7 to enable each school to play 6 out of conference games. That's apparently the caveat that brought both to the table, and Texas and ND also want to play each other every year. The tradeoff is that an 8-0 Big Ten team would always trump a 7-0 ND/Texas as conference champion, which is a potential logistical sticking point for the Big Ten and these teams.

But apparently ND and Texas value the extra OOC game more than the conference championship potential, and ND and Texas want to play each other every year making the tie between two 7-0 teams impossible. They're also looking at potentially giving a automatic BCS slot for a 7-0 ND/Texas Big Ten team that loses the conference championship to an 8-0 team as a carrot, where the 8-0 team could still get the at-large but isn't guaranteed.

Finally, the Big East is essentially pushing ND to discussions with the Big Ten. The Big East has presented an ultimatum to ND to play football or get out of the conference for the other sports in order to protect the integrity of the remainder of the conference. Apparently discussions have taken place between the Big Ten and the Big East, and the current understanding is that the Big Ten will not accept any other Big East schools if ND joins the Big Ten. ND also will retain a national schedule, particularly with Texas joining, where it would have the ability to schedule 6 OOC games plus one game with Texas. This means they're picking up only three additional games with Big Ten schools while playing in the conference."

This is really interesting information and I'm sure there's at least some truth to it, but there are a few things that don't make sense to me. Let's break them down:

1. The Big Ten is not pursuing a conference championship game

This cannot be true. This entire expansion is about money, money, and more money and choosing not to host a conference championship game when you clearly are set up for one leaves a boatload of cash on the table.

What to take from this: The powers that be in the Big Ten are somewhat torn about leaving behind tradition (read: end of year rivalry games) and moving into the new age of college football (read: conference championship game and money, money, money). The reality is that money will speak far louder than the Indiana-Purdue and Iowa-Minnesota games.

2. Notre Dame and Texas will have a special rule to accommodate both schools

I have a hard time fathoming that programs as proud as Michigan and Ohio State will sign off on Notre Dame and Texas joining their conference and getting to play by a totally different set of rules. The entire scenario painted about an 8-0 Big Ten team trumping a 7-0 ND/Texas is so convoluted and requires accounting for so many caveats that it doesn't make any sense. The whole BCS automatic bid to the ND/Texas team would require the entire BCS to make a weird exception within a conference. Conceivably, there's a scenario where a 7-0 (12-0) Notre Dame team would go to the national championship but not win the conference championship because Ohio State went 8-0 (11-1). It just sounds too bizarre.

What to take from this: The powers that be are bending over backwards trying to make the two sides (ND/Texas and the Big Ten as we know it) happy, even if it means stepping on some big toes and appealing to the NCAA/BCS to make unprecedented exceptions. Texas and especially ND couldn't care less about winning conference championships in football while teams like Michigan cares about it more than national championships.

(What, you say that Michigan DOES care about national championships more than conference championships? Then explain why they talk about Bo Schembechler being one of the greatest coaches ever when he had zero national championships and lost eight of the ten Rose Bowls his teams played in. They LOVE those conference championship banners up in Ann Arbor because they mask the fact that Bo was the most overrated coach in history. But I digress...)

3. The Big East and Big Ten have had discussions about pushing Notre Dame toward the Big Ten

Now this is somewhat troubling and unfortunately believable. If the Big East feels that threatened--and they have ample reason to be skittish--then it may feel the only way to stay viable is to use Notre Dame as a sacrificial lamb to save itself.

What to take from this:
This collusion between the Big Ten and Big East is the only true threat to Notre Dame's football independence. Should this scenario become real it'll be up to Swarbrick to sell the value of the other Irish athletic programs to the Big East or come up with a creative way in which to keep the football team out of both conference without hindering the other sports.

Personally, if the Big Ten really was hoping to force the Big East into delivering Notre Dame an ultimatum I think they screwed themselves by inviting Missouri and Nebraska. With the trio of Rutgers, Missouri, and Nebraska that bumps the league up to 14 teams. One can assume that 16 teams is the ceiling for expansion. The reality is the Big Ten will never completely close the door on Notre Dame--no matter how many times we shoot them down--because they'll hold out hope that one day the NCAA will somehow mandate that the Irish to join a conference (or that the second coming of Kevin White becomes ND's Athletic Director). If that day arrives they'll need to have the flexibility to add Notre Dame because of what ND would mean in terms of added revenue (boatloads), elevated prestige (adding the premier brand in college football), and national footprint (truly national fanbase, ultimate Big 10 Network expansion).

If this is the case--and I believe that's reality whether Big Ten higher-ups and fans want to admit it or not--then the conference will stop expansion at 14 teams. Does it make any sense to add two lower tier football schools like UConn, Pitt, or Syracuse to the conference at the expense of losing out on Notre Dame forever? I don't think so.

By adding Missouri and Nebraska the Big Ten gave away all their true leverage with the Big East. There's no way the Big Ten can crush the Big East by pillaging it further because they'll lose out on Notre Dame forever. As much as it bruises the Big Ten's pride and ego, they will always have to patiently wait and hope for that day to arrive without totally closing the door. If the Big East realizes this they should breathe a huge sigh of relief because their football conference will remain viable and their pride and joy--the best basketball conference in America--will remain intact.

This is all speculation but playing out these scenarios, debunking myths, and trying to get inside the heads of all the different decision-makers is kind of a fun exercise--albeit a stressful one if you're a Notre Dame fan hoping the program stays independent. If the Big Ten does in fact choose to add Mizzou, Nebraska, and Rutgers then it's probably the best case scenario Notre Dame could have asked for in its crusade to stay independent.

The addition of the two Big 12 teams is a strategic blunder by Jim Delany if he was hoping to force the Big East's hand. I think when the dust settles the Big East will survive, Notre Dame will have maintained its football independence, and the Big Ten will act like a jilted 8th grader who was just shot down when he asked a girl out and claim it never wanted us any way.

We'll know the truth about how bad they wanted us though. And it makes the "thanks...but no thanks" that much sweeter.


  1. 1. The big ten doesn't care about a conference championship game because they get more revenue by going to a full 13 game sched and televising on the BTN. The upside revenue from adding games to the BTN is orders of magnitude more money than one championship game.

    2.The ND/Texas special rule doesn't make sense, and, I suspect, is just a bargaining position, not where it'll end up.

    3. The big east would give up ND to save itself...who needs ND if football isn't big east anyway.

    4. ND is not in the power position. Texas is a much bigger prize. And every big ten school makes more money off the BTN than ND gets from NBC! Amazing, but apparently true. And the BTN is only at a fraction of its potential. ND has been mediocre for over 2 decades. If it starts losing the revenue battle to the big ten schools, it will sink deeper. Right now Northwestern gets $22 mil/yr from TV. The BTN is mostly filler and still brings in huge revenues. Once that time is loaded with more games and original programming, the revenues will be exponential. ND won't be able to compete with $50 mil/yr in TV revenues indefinitely.

  2. Northwestern does have a premium board with paid memberships. I realize you are just playing off the attendance problem at Ryan Field, but you really should get your facts straight. You were reading the free board.

  3. Also, just to set the facts straight, Northwestern has had a better football team than Notre Dame as of late, and beat Notre Dame the last time the two met.

  4. A quick response to the three anonymous Northwestern responses:

    Anonymous #1 - For whatever reason Big 10 fans (and more specifically Northwestern fans) think that suddenly the NCAA will make an exception and allow the Big 10 to play 13 regular season games. The NCAA has mandated that 12 games is the maximum. Would an extra game for everyone generate more money than a conference championship? Probably. Is it a given that the NCAA would allow it? Absolutely not. If you don't think other conferences have thought about the same thing then you're all a few steps behind.

    And yes, Notre Dame is in a position of power when it comes to determining independence. Whether or not Texas is the bigger prize is debatable, but under current conditions we still have the ability to choose our own path. Having control of one's destiny is a position of power.

    Lastly, Notre Dame will be able to compete with schools making $50mil in TV revenue because TV revenue gets you zero points in a football game. It all comes down to the players on the field and the coach on the sidelines. If it was about TV revenue then ND would've won every national championship in the 90's.

    Anonymous #2 - My mistake, it was my understanding that people who care about Northwestern football fell into the same category as leprechauns and unicorns.

    Anonymous #3 - Look, I like Pat Fitzgerald. He's been doing a great job in a tough situation that he was thrust into before his time should have come. And yes, Northwestern beat us the last time we played in '95...but if you think this is anything other than a situation where the two teams are close because ND is at their floor and NW is at their ceiling then you're nuts.

  5. I'm Anonymous #3, responding to:

    "Anonymous #3 - Look, I like Pat Fitzgerald. He's been doing a great job in a tough situation that he was thrust into before his time should have come. And yes, Northwestern beat us the last time we played in '95...but if you think this is anything other than a situation where the two teams are close because ND is at their floor and NW is at their ceiling then you're nuts."