Notre Dame, like it or not, will remain in the discussion when it comes to expansion in the Big Ten. Even though Notre Dame has stated their desire to remain independent in football, a move that appears to be bold, honorable and questionable all at once, it has not stopped Notre Dame alums from speaking out about why the Irish should fly a Big Ten conference flag in South Bend. Most notable among those Notre Dame alums is Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.
Recently Smith, who played and coached football for Notre Dame in the 1970’s, stated that he believes Notre Dame football players are missing out on an opportunity by not competing in a conference. At Notre Dame the only thing players can win is a national championship, which Smith says was fine at one point. But Smith believes that a chance to win a conference championship should not be undervalued.
“I’ve just got to believe that a Notre Dame football player winning a conference championship and having that conference ring, is a memorable experience,” Smith said in a post by ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg.
Smith believes that the landscape of college football is different than it was close to 40 years ago when he played. “You didn’t have the BCS, you didn’t have the bowl alliance. Notre Dame could dominate. When I coached there, we selected, we didn’t recruit. It’s a different time space.”
The question remains whether or not Smith made these remarks as a Notre Dame alumnus posturing for his university to join the Big Ten for the greater good of the school or as a Big Ten athletic director looking to find a logical and feasible university to his athletic conference. It could be a little from “Column A” and a little from “Column B.”
Meanwhile, another Big Ten school, Michigan, is coming off a little unconfident about the future of their series with the Irish. The two programs had recently agreed to a 20 year extension of the series, with a scheduled hiatus in 2018 and 2019, but according to current Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon the papers were never signed.
“We don’t really have a contract right now,” Brandon said. “We announced we had kind of reached a meeting of the minds for a 20-year extension with the potential for a two-year hiatus, but that was never codified into a contract. That was what I was handed when I came into this job. So what we’re going to need to do with Notre Dame is sit down and hammer out some specifics.”
While Brandon never actually said the plans were off, this will be something to watch moving forward. If the Big Ten really wants Notre Dame to join their conference, could they possibly pressure Michigan to end the storied series as a bargaining chip? I would not necessarily rule the possibility out until Michigan says anything more solid about moving forward with Notre Dame.
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