By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When it comes to college football, I’m generally not one to mess with tradition. I love the sport’s pomp. I revel in its circumstance. And the game’s historical rivalries are something that I adore.
But I’m willing to toss all those fuzzy football feelings by the wayside if Little Miss Independent (a.k.a. Notre Dame) does indeed decide to eventually spurn the Big Ten and elope with the ACC instead.
Because, if that East Coast-South Bend marriage one day comes to pass – as has been rumored in recent weeks to be the Irish’s preference if it’s forced to forsake its treasured football independence – then I’d encourage Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to return the disfavor and urge his league’s teams to take a pass on the Fighting Irish.
And just not play them anymore.
A petty reaction? Perhaps. But considering the tease that Notre Dame has been toward Big Ten over the years, I’d also call it an appropriate one. Because, if the Irish do ultimately deem themselves too good for the Big Ten but not too good for the ACC, then the Big Ten should just erase Notre Dame’s number from its Little Black Scheduling Book and put that tumultuous relationship to an end.
Last month, after Syracuse and Pitt made the Big East look like a less stable version of the Big 12 (ouch) by announcing their forthcoming departure to the ACC, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported that Notre Dame would prefer to stay independent in football and have all other sports in the Big East. But if the school decides it cannot maintain that status quo because of Big East instability, Katz reported that Notre Dame would pursue ACC membership before the Big Ten.
For well over a century, Notre Dame, nestled in the heart of Big Ten Country, has enjoyed rivalries against several of the conference’s members. The Irish and Michigan State have been knocking heads since 1897. Notre Dame first tangled with Purdue one year earlier, in 1896. And the school’s epic battles with the University of Michigan date all the way back to 1887.
Because of its rivalries, proximity and academics, Notre Dame for eons has looked like a natural fit for the Big Ten if it ever decided to join a football conference. But now, with the ACC puffing its chest and expanding its borders, a growing chorus is claiming that it’s, in fact, the league that would be Notre Dame’s best landing spot.
Last month, Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel wrote, “… if you’re going to tie your football program to a conference for the next 50 years, do you want to do it in a region of the country (the Midwest) which is growing at a far slower rate than the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic?”
Wetzel went on to explain how Michigan actually lost residents in the most recent census and that population trends are a major concern for all schools in the Big Ten, writing: “In football it’s even more pronounced. More and more of the best players are coming from the South.”
Now, I don’t want to completely dismiss Wetzel’s points, which do have some validity. But I’d argue that the South has already been boasting the bulk of the nation’s best players for quite some time. And the likes of Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan – as well as many lesser Midwestern programs, including Illinois – already fill their rosters with flocks of players from below the Mason-Dixon Line.
In fact, I actually think the region’s population trends should be more of a concern for future Big Ten fan attendance figures than they should be for the Big Ten’s football rosters.
After all, it’s not as if schools in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic will be allowed expanded rosters in the future so they can hoard more local players. There are still only so many college roster spots.
And if the South has more of the best players, well, that means the Big Ten teams with good recruiters will simply recruit more of them from those states. Notre Dame will, too. Besides, you don’t need a talent-rich state to be a championship-caliber program. Look at Wisconsin. Heck, look at Boise State.
Beyond that, Wetzel went on to write how Notre Dame, thanks to its grand tradition and vibrant game-day environment, would also stand out more in the ACC than it would in the Big Ten, already home to the legendary likes of OSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State.
And that’s probably true. But if that’s what Notre Dame really wants – to feel even more special – and opts some day to join the ACC because of such neediness (or for any other reason), then I don’t see why the Big Ten should help the school continue to also spread its brand in this neck of the woods.
Now, Notre Dame already has Michigan State on its 2019 schedule, Purdue slated for a game in 2021 and a contract with Michigan that carries that rivalry into the Year 2031. I don’t even know if those contracts could be broken, what the ramifications would be, or if those Big Ten schools would even want to sever them.
But Notre Dame rejected an invitation to join the Big Ten in 1999. It again turned down an opportunity to enter the league last summer. And while the Irish still would be a fabulous addition to Jim Delany’s conference, if they do end up heading to the ACC instead, that insult would be an unforgivable strike three.
And Notre Dame should be out.
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.