Wisch: What Would Save A Notre Dame Season? The Big Ten

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) It wasn’t really Armageddon this past Saturday at Notre Dame.

It just looked like it was.

Although, beneath all those bolts of lightning crackling above South Bend, it probably felt like Armageddon too for downcast Fighting Irish fans after they watched Notre Dame fall 23-20 to South Florida in an error-plagued season opener that actually managed to make head coach Brian Kelly’s face darker than the sky.

On Wednesday, David Mayo of The Grand Rapids Press wrote about the Irish’s hot-headed leader:

Brian Kelly said he needs to be more aware of the fishbowl in which he lives as Notre Dame football coach.

He didn’t say he was sorry for an expletive-filled tirade at a player that could peel the skin off a sailor’s tongue, all of it caught by NBC cameras. He didn’t promise never again to curse a Fighting Irish player for lax execution, after a game when that condition ran rampant.

He had a game slipping away, at the beginning of a promising season, and there’s every reason to suspect he knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to keep a season from slipping away, too.

They say that one game doesn’t make a season. But, as Mayo pointed out in his column, at Notre Dame it actually pretty much does.

That’s because, while the beauty of college football – even with all it flaws – is that there’s no other sport in America in which one game matters more, the continuing folly of Notre Dame is that there’s no other school in America where one game matters so much.

Too much, I’d say.

With the loss to South Florida, Notre Dame’s season has already lost most of its meaning. Because, if the Fighting Irish aren’t fighting for a national title then they aren’t fighting for anything at all.

Not really, at least. Not without the Big Ten.

Last year, the Fighting Irish again declined an opportunity to join the Big Ten – and then proceeded to open the season with three games against Big Ten teams (Purdue, Michigan, at Michigan State). This summer, with realignment roulette again holding a gun to the heads of school presidents throughout the Big 12, the stubborn folk at Notre Dame are again watching from afar, and again playing those same three Big Ten teams among their first five games.

The battle against Michigan this Saturday – the first-ever under the lights at the Big House – will be exciting, no doubt. But for the 0-1 Irish, it will now have little tangible meaning with a national title out of the picture. Same goes for the Michigan State game the following week, Purdue two weeks after that and the rest of the Irish’s “nonconference” schedule.

Now, sure, Notre Dame could rebound this season and still compete for a BCS berth. That does give the Irish more to play for than in years past (including the lure of big money). But at Notre Dame, even with its struggles during the past 20 years, you’re supposed to compete for championships, not just bowl victories.

And without a conference championship to play for, all Notre Dame has to strive for each season is the national championship – which it hasn’t won since 1988, or even truly contended for since ’93.

In other words, playing just for that isn’t easy.

And once you lose a game, it’s gone.

Last October, Notre Dame willingly dropped itself off college football’s radar by facing, in consecutive weeks, such heavyweight schools as Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa. This November, the Irish play middling opponents Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College during the first three weeks of the juiciest time of the year when the nation’s eyes are focused on conference races.

Scheduling games such as those during the heat of the college football season is not the way to maintain a national powerhouse – not when you could instead be playing the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin while competing for a Big Ten crown.

I suspect that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s would say the same. Although, when recently asked about the Big Ten expanding again, he told the New York Times that he’s happy where his league is and “it’s about quality, not quantity.”

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, however, translated that statement as: “There will always be a spot waiting for you, Notre Dame, but until then, we’re not going add teams for the heck of it.”

To which I’d say, Notre Dame shouldn’t just play seasons for the heck of it, either. The Big Ten still beckons. And some day, the school needs to wise up and finally answer the league’s call.

Because 0-1 doesn’t always have to be the loneliest number.

With the Big Ten, the Irish would still have something to fight for.

davewisch Wisch: What Would Save A Notre Dame Season? The Big Ten

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

  • Mike Murphy

    Just can’t imagine ND wanting to share all that TV and bowl money, even though the Big Ten Network would provide some nice coin. And don’t discount arrogance as a reason for remaining independent.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      The thing is, though, joining the Big ten would be so much more lucrative for Notre Dame.

      According to an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” last year, Big Ten school received $242 million in TV revenue from ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network, which breaks down to $22 million per university. Notre Dame’s famed NBC contract, meanwhile, reportedly was worth $9 million in 2010 when the last deal expired. NBC and ND re-upped for a deal through 2015, which surely is worth more, but almost certainly still far short of the Big Ten payouts.

      Beyond that, if ND did join the Big Ten, Jim Delany could then sell BTN as a national cable package, raising the payouts even higher. Money just isn’t a good excuse for Notre Dame staying independent, nor would I say is competitiveness considering the school hasn’t won a national title since 1988. Where ND can really cash in is by making a BCS bowl and keeping all the money to itself — but it still has to make a BCS bowl (and the Irish tend to get blown out in those games, which isn’t good for the program’s image).

      The only good reasons for ND remaining without a conference is haughtiness and stubbornness. All that said, I think one day Notre Dame will join the Big Ten. And it will be a great thing for the school. And a great thing for the conference, too.

    • Bronzo

      What Bowl money?? The last 2 bowls the Irish won were the Alamo bowl and the Hawaii bowl And before that they had’t won in 10 years.. I’m willing to bet the payout from those didn’t cover the expenses for the marching band.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    It goes beyond arrogance to genuine enmity.
    About 100 years ago, Notre Dame wanted to join the Big-10 but Michigan blackballed them on anti-Catholic bias.
    ND has always hated the Big 10’s guts since.

    The old joke is true. Irish Altzheimer’s is when you forget everything except the resentments.

  • Ed B

    This article is not clear on what exactly joining the Big Ten gives Notre Dame to “fight for”. Until ND is forced to join a conference due to being shut out of the BCS I do not see them doing so. Money is not a driving factor. There is more than enough of that to go around in South Bend. Arrogance is indeed a factor to stay independent. Just as it is arrogance that makes Big Ten followers think that ND joining their conference is instantly better for ND. Tell me, if a string of games against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College is so bad, how would playing Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota make it any better? The Big Ten is not all it is cracked up to be.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      By playing Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota, you’re playing for a conference championship, Ed. By playing Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College without a national title on the line, you’re just playing Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. That’s it. And that’s pretty dull.

      Both the Big Ten and Notre Dame would benefit greatly from Notre Dame joining the Big Ten. Both would be given even more meaning.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        I don’t at all think ND should lower its expectations. The Irish indeed should set playing for a national championship as their goal every year. But giving yourself nothing else to play for when the national championship hopes don’t pan out — which happens to all but two teams each season — isn’t a wise one in my book. Give yourself more goals and more ways to enjoy a successful season. Don’t put such an extreme burden on your program. Aim high, but also provide somewhere to adjust sights when they have to be adjusted. Beyond that, I do think the structure of a conference could help ND entertain more consistent national title contention.

      • Ed B

        That is where we will have to agree to disagree. I couldn’t care any less about a conference championship, I only care about a National Championship. This has always been my hang up with the Big Ten and part of my reasoning for not wanting ND to join. They place importance on different things. Besides, prior to OSU in 2002 and Mich’s shared title in ’97, which was the last Big Ten team to win a national title? OSU in ’68! That’s nearly thrity years between titles. If ND wants to compete for national titles, they currently do not need the Big Ten’s help to do so. If conference titles are what they decide to aspire to, then it will be a good fit. Lastly, I feel every team on ND’s schedule DOES in fact allow them to win national titles based on the current BCS system which ND is part of. The difficulty is that they need to win all of their games to do so. But this holds true for every team regardless of conference. It’s almost as if you’re saying they should go ahead and lower their expectations and join the Big Ten.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Now, Ed, I’d tend to agree with you more if it hadn’t been since 1993 that Notre Dame came within even sniffing distance of a national championship. And, sure, as a Notre Dame fan the only thing you care about is national titles – but I’d argue that’s also because you’ve never been part of a conference, and you don’t know how much fun – and meaningful – winning a conference championship can be.
        My guess is that you, along with all other Notre Dame fans, would come to realize pretty quickly that being part of a BCS Conference is a great thing if the Irish were to join the Big Ten. And while Notre Dame certainly could win a national title with its current schedule, it doesn’t ever seem to be coming close to doing so. And, honestly, it’s time to try something else. For one thing, it’s not ND’s overall schedule that’s so bad, but what really hurts is the way it’s set up. The Irish play too many difficult games too early in the season. They’d be better off easing into the season with some softer teams, work the kinks out and then be ready for their tougher competition.
        Just like most of the past national champions have done.  

      • Ed B

        Dave, I agree with you on some of those points. Like how they plan their schedule. And it being nearly 20 years since coming close to a national championship. My point is that they do not need the Big Ten right now to realize that goal. They control their own destiny. They just have not done a good job of that over the last 20 years. You may be missing miy point while at the same time contradicting yours. You intitally inferred that playing the teams currently on their schedule hurts them but now you agree that beating those teams is enough to get them into the national championship picture. By suggesting they try “something new” it again feels as if you are suggesting they lower their expectations and settle for something less. What’s the point of that?

  • Ed B

    It is obvious we are not going to agree on this, Dave. I believe ND could entertain more consistent national title contention by winning more. Joining a conference doesn’t have to have anything to do with it. If a national championship doesn’t pan out the consolation should be still playing in a BCS bowl. Again, something they can still do under the current structure. What you call an “extreme burden” I call a tradition of excellence. And, before you even have a chance to say it, I will agree that tradition is currently sullied. But, while I may be in the minority, I believe it can be achieved again even as an independent.

  • George T


    I have to agree with Ed, joining the Big 10 does not help the Irish win the National Championship. In order to win the National Championship, the Irish will have to have the best or second best record in football to be ranked at either #1 or #2. If your assumption is that beating IU, NU, Illinois and Minnesota carries more weight than beating BC, Navy, USF and other FBS schools then we can have an argument over which teams provide better strength of schedule.

    But please tell me, since 1993 how National Championships has Michigan won out of the Big 10, or Penn State , or OSU or MSU, or IU, or Illinois, or NU or any of the other ten (11).

    An undefeated season is what is needed. If they were a Big 10 member this year, there would be no National Championship in their future for exactly the same reason, they LOST a game.

    Conference affiliation means nothing. Notre Dame has a BCS tie in just like all of the BCS Conferences.

    Please instead of telling Notre Dame what they need to do to succeed, let Notre Dame play the schedule they want to play and let the chips land where they will. If Notre Dame is so haughty and arrogant, why is it that the Big 10 wants them anyway?

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