By now we've all read the articles concerning Big 10 expansion that resulted from Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney acknowledging that the league will explore expansion over the next year and a half. There have been pro expansion articles, there have been anti expansion articles penned and then there are my favorites, the "who" articles. Every school in the mix has been mentioned, from Syracuse and Rutgers to TCU and Texas. Our pal Sean Keeley of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician fame has his take on Syracuse moving and there are plenty of others out there.
Jeff Jacobs from the Hartford Courant has a great read out for the UConn populus and why moving to the Big 10 would be a positive for the contingent.
With all the chips on the table and expansion seeming to be inevitable it looks like the Big East is set to be raided yet again for the second time this decade. They're currently the smallest BCS league in terms of football members. While they have a 16 team mega conference in basketball on the gridiron they're an 8 team league when everyone else is at 10 or more. They've got the lowest TV revenue of the six BCS conferences. They play football games on Friday nights to get exposure, something that all five other leagues don't have to do and wouldn't dare do.
How can they avoid losing Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse or anyone else?
The answer lies in South Bend, Indiana and in the back bone of Big East commissioner John Marinatto.
That's right, Notre Dame is the Big East's answer. It will take some legitimate balls on the part of Marinatto but if he manned up he, in theory, could force the hand of the Irish.
Read more for what the Big East must do to remain intact.
First let's look at the facts:
Notre Dame is top ten in football revenue
The Big East has the smallest television contract for football of any BCS conference
That is reason enough for the Big East to look to South Bend as a means of increasing their revenue stream. They would instantly elevate their teams above the ACC with an influx of Notre Dame money. However, as we all know, Notre Dame is in absolutely no rush and has zero desire to share their money with eight other teams. They've got no desire and no reason to want to sacrifice their gold empire for a league affiliation.
So how can Marinatto "coerce" the Irish into the Big East? Well for that we need to look at more facts than just football.
Notre Dame fields 24 varsity level intercollegiate sports
23 of those teams have a Big East affiliation
In pulling four men's sports; baseball, basketball, soccer and lacrosse as well as four women's sports; basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball you can see the Big East running through the Notre Dame schedule. The current schedules combined have 242 scheduled regular season games and of that total there are 122 Big East contests or 50.4% league games. Basically half of the Irish schedules are set in stone yearly because of the Big East affiliation.
As Big East football playing members understand from the pain of trying to schedule 5 non-conference games, scrambling to find one extra game for a football program is not an easy task.
Imagine Notre Dame scrambling to fill 122 games between their men's and women's basketball, soccer, baseball, soccer and volleyball teams. That is an athletic directors nightmare. Sure, Swarbrick can talk tough about the Irish not moving to a conference, not being interested in sharing revenue but the fact is with a Big East ultimatum in hand there would be a lot more to think about.
Losing the Big East basketball tv money would hurt, it wouldn't be crippling but it would be felt. The truly frustrating, powerful blow wouldn't be struck in the pocketbook, rather it would be in the season's of the non-revenue teams.
Swarbrick explaining to programs that their schedules are cut because the football team wanted to remain independent. Mike Brey trying to get games with teams that are in the thick of a conference season from January through March. The loss of the automatic NCAA tournament bids that are up for grabs by the soccer, volleyball and basketball teams. Exclusion from the new Big East lacrosse conference.
Is it bad? Absolutely. It hurts the kids and it would crush a lot of post season hopes for the Irish but that is the beauty and simplicity, Swarbrick can utter one phrase to put the 122 games back on the schedule, "We're joining the Big East as a full member."
It is a shrewd move on the part of the Big East. It is a move that could save the conference from being pillaged by the Big Ten's impending move. Marinatto would have to have a set of cajones on him to pull it off. The league needs Notre Dame to breathe life into their football revenue, they need a major player to galvanize the conference and shut down the Big 10 expansion raiding before it begins.
Do I think it will happen? No. I don't think Marinatto will make the move to shore up his conference, rather he'll sit and watch as some lucky dance partner gets wooed away and makes the Big East a seven team football conference that plays half of their games in the non-conference. Maybe they can pick up UCF, ECU or Memphis to replace Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse of UConn. If the Big East allows another league to raid them; again, then they deserve it because they're allowing Notre Dame to have their cake and eat it too.