As we enjoy a glorious first round of the NCAA Tournament, which included Notre Dame losing to my long-time bracket busting favorite Ol’ Dirty University, there have been rumblings that that the real plan for the Big Ten is a permutation of JoePa’s Dream Conference, with an expansion threesome of Notre Dame, Rutgers… and Boston College. Hawkeye State of the ever esteemed Black Heart Gold Pants (whose love for freedom fighter J Leman knows no limitations) had heard these rumors and then commenter Justin noted the same thing in this posting last night. Now, I’m just an unfrozen caveman lawyer/blogger, so I’m certainly not reporting this as news or fact. However, this doesn’t seem to be a far-fetched scenario considering that I believe that the Big Ten has a two-pronged plan to both add large markets for the Big Ten Network and grab at least one national marquee football name.
I’ve seen a number of people bring up BC as a Big Ten expansion candidate before and, frankly, I never took it seriously. As I’ve noted before, the ACC is a fairly tight-knit group, while BC isn’t exactly high on the Boston sports agenda. That being said, if the Big Ten inviting BC is ultimately the final hook for the conference to grab Notre Dame, then I believe that it would move forward. While Boston is definitely a pro sports town, BC at least has the advantage of being the clearly designated major college football home team in that area, while the New York City area really doesn’t have any single school of that nature. Thus, there’s a reasonable argument that BC, for all of its issues of supposedly not delivering its home market very well for the ACC, still would have enough pull (in conjunction with Notre Dame and Penn State) to get the Big Ten Network onto basic cable in Boston (whereas a school like Syracuse, by comparison, would be speculative in terms of its ability to deliver homes in the NYC market). That turns BC into a pretty powerful asset for the Big Ten in and of itself. Let’s also not forget that this could create a kick-ass Big Ten hockey league. (Illinois doesn’t even play Division 1 hockey and I’d be excited to see that type of league formed.) At the same time, the ACC may not really care if BC stays or not – it may just as soon grab Pitt and/or Syracuse instead and say goodbye to BC in a mutually agreed upon separation.
Now, the Notre Dame fan readers out there will likely point out something that a lot of non-ND fans don’t seem to realize: the Irish and Boston College really aren’t that close emotionally. There’s a perception that they’re tied together as the only two Catholic universities that play FBS football, yet they really didn’t play on a regular basis until the 1990s. Notre Dame arguably cares about 3 schools: Navy from a historical and emotional standpoint and USC and Michigan from a marquee competitive standpoint. Everyone else would be expendable, including BC (who is rolling off of Notre Dame’s schedule in the coming years).
Still, the Big Ten inviting BC would effectively remove the last two “non-emotional” arguments that Domers have against Big Ten membership: the inability to play a “national” schedule and having no peer institutions in a conference that’s dominated by large public flagship universities. If the Notre Dame/Rutgers/BC additions were to occur, I fail to see how Notre Dame’s schedule would be materially different from what it is today. Assuming that Notre Dame continues to play Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and BC annually within conference play plus USC and Navy in non-conference play, the Irish would be retaining 6 of its 8 main re-occuring rivals. Pitt would fall off of the schedule, but it would be replaced by Penn State in the Big Ten, which delivers the same market as Pitt and is a much larger national name. The one true loss would be not playing Stanford anymore, but Notre Dame would still be heading to California with its USC rivalry and the Irish would in turn be playing the likes of Ohio State (which, even with its Midwestern location, provides much more of a “national game”) and get some direct access to prime recruiting territory in the state directly east of Indiana. Add in a regular trip to the ND-fan heavy New York area at Rutgers and it’s very hard to argue that the Domers would lose much of its “national” schedule at all while concurrently adding some much better teams.
Meanwhile, the other major Notre Dame complaint is that it would be a member of a conference without any of its institutional peers, thereby putting itself at risk of being on the losing end of a lot of “11-1″ or “13-1″ votes in the Big Ten. I’m not exactly sure what issues with respect to athletics would be so different between Notre Dame and the rest of the Big Ten that there would be that wide of a gulf – as some commenters pointed out, no one has ever pointed out anything specific that ND has an objection to other than joining a conference in the first place. Certainly, Northwestern is a higher-rated private university with tougher admissions standards than Notre Dame and we haven’t seen any type of acrimony between NU and the supposedly “big bad public schools”. If there’s any major conference in the country that actually has upheld high academic standards, it’s the Big Ten from top-to-bottom. The discussion occurring in the comments section in the “Notre Dame to the Big Ten: Thy Will Be Done?” post has been fascinating. I agree with alot of commenters that it’s incredulous that some Domers think that there’s some type of academic downgrade by moving to the Big Ten (once again, it doesn’t seem to bother the people in the tougher academic environment at Northwestern) or that improving graduate research will somehow be toxic to the Notre Dame undergraduate experience (as several commenters have noted, ND actually has been ramping up its graduate research capabilities on its own and that the school has been doing itself a disservice by downplaying this fact to its alums, who mistakenly still think that the undergrad focus continues to prevail and use it as another excuse to not join the Big Ten).
Look – I have a lot of friends that went to Notre Dame and Domer commenters such as Rich have been presenting viewpoints in a very civil manner on this blog knowing that he’s going to be critiqued. I completely understand and respect the emotional foundation that ND alums have towards independence. I’m not going to argue with that and it’s pointless for anyone else to do that, either.
It’s just that the Notre Dame supporters need to understand that the stand that they are taking is simply that: completely emotional. The financial advantage of independence is now gone since the Big Ten’s TV revenue completely trumps Notre Dame’s NBC contract. Now that Notre Dame doesn’t schedule the likes of Miami, Florida State, UCLA and Tennessee anymore, the “national” schedule of yesteryear is dead and its hypothetical conference schedule in the Big Ten would actually draw more national interest than a game against Washington State in the Alamodome. The academics in the Big Ten supercede all of the other BCS conferences, so it’s not as if though there is some type of greener pasture for Notre Dame elsewhere on that front. Finally, if Boston College were to join the Big Ten, then Notre Dame wouldn’t even have the argument that it doesn’t have any peer institutions within the conference.
There’s no problem with those emotional ties per se. The fact that any of us watch and care about spectator sports at all is a fairly irrational practice. However, I do have a problem when those pure emotions are attempted to be supported by substantive arguments that don’t hold water anymore (if they ever did in the first place). At the end of the day, do you want the leadership of any organization that you care about, whether it’s a charity, company or university, making long-term decisions based on pure emotion? Good intentions based on tradition aren’t necessarily enough to make sound decisions for the future.
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(Image from Sports Illustrated)