SOUTH BEND – This time the man in the white hat might not be willing to save the day.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who was sporting the aforementioned Notre Dame gear, met with a small group of media outside the Fighting Irish press room Saturday following his football coach's interview session.
The topic of discussion was the seismic news that Notre Dame was losing two of its more prominent – if not most prominent – partners in the Big East Conference. Both Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced today that they had applied to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Fighting Irish are members of the Big East Conference for all sports with the exception of hockey and football. The ramifications of this move will be massive and in my opinion (gulp, I can't believe that I'm writing this), should result in Notre Dame following Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC.
Swarbrick said Saturday what he has spoken of (and I have written) repeatedly since being named to lead the Notre Dame athletic department, that it is imperative that the Fighting Irish remain an independent when it comes to the football program. The national reach of the Fighting Irish football program is like none other. The program hasn't been relevant nationally – on the field – for nearly 15 seasons, yet still attracts a national television audience like few programs could dream of.
However, if the ACC is adamant that Notre Dame join the league in all sports, as its Big East membership stipulates, to remain independent at the expense of all of its other athletic programs is too high of a price to pay.
Reports are circulating that Big East member West Virginia is considering leaving for the Southeastern Conference, while other members Connecticut and Rutgers are possibilities to also join the ACC.
UConn president Susan Herbst issued a release stating that “… It is my responsibility as president that we stay in constant communication and be actively involved in discussions with our counterparts from around the country to ensure the successful long-term future of our university's athletic program."
In other words, we can't afford to be left behind and stuck in a league with Texas Christian, Seton Hall, Marquette and little else. That is precisely why Swarbrick needs to have ACC commissioner John Swofford on speed-dial.
Notre Dame has long been seen as a perfect potential fit for the Big Ten Conference, but only in the eyes of those outside of Notre Dame. The university is an East Coast-oriented school in every way. The only thing Midwestern about Notre Dame is its physical address.
Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey spoke at length with The News-Sentinel this summer about how valuable the Irish presence in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. has been to the success of his program.
“For the (Indiana) kids that come to Notre Dame, they want something different, something out of their natural region,” Brey said. “Those players (want) to play in New York City and Madison Square Garden.”
The recent addition of Syracuse and Pitt raises the possibility that the ACC basketball tournament, which has traditionally been held in Greensboro, N.C., but will be in Atlanta this season, could add to its rotation Madison Square Garden, the longtime site of the Big East's tournament.
"I don't think there's any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for Atlantic Coast Conference basketball fans - and even more so now with even more teams in closer proximity," Swofford said at a news conference Sunday. "With that being the media center of the world, so to speak, we'd probably be remiss if we didn't think of it in those terms."
Translation: It's going to be much cooler to play in “The Garden” than “The Greensboro.”
I have the utmost respect for the long-standing rivalries that the Notre Dame football program has developed, one of which was played Saturday against Michigan State. However, 2011 is a different era in sports. New rivalries with ACC members Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson, would develop, as well as the continuation of existing rivalries with programs such as Pitt, Miami and Boston College would occur.
The time has passed for Notre Dame to staunchly remain handcuffed by tradition. Swarbrick and others involved have to think progressively and act now before the Irish athletic programs get left behind. That way the man in the white hat truly can be a hero.