The Big East Can Get Off Its Knees for Notre Dame in Ten Years

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Paul Zeise kindly took reader questions about the Pitt football program in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The first question focuses Notre Dame's affiliation with the Big East Conference:

Q: Do you think it's time for the Big East to give Notre Dame an ultimatum to either join the conference in football or get out completely?
G. Simon, Houston, Texas

ZEISE: No, there are far more benefits to being aligned with Notre Dame than the other way around and frankly the Big East doesn't have enough brand name teams to stand on its own and start making demands. Maybe ten years from now, but not quite yet. And don't forget Notre Dame is playing against Pitt, against Connecticut, against Syracuse (and they wanted to play Rutgers but of course, Rutgers being Rutgers declined an eight-year deal to play four at Notre Dame and four at the new Giants Stadium because Rutgers wanted the games on campus, which is ridiculous. The amount of money and exposure and the guaranteed national television appearance which would have come from playing at Giants Stadium against Notre Dame would have been far more than any home game against Army or Morgan State or whatever rent-a-win opponent Rutgers wants to bring to its campus) -- so those teams are benefiting from being aligned with Notre Dame (you don't think Pitt's entire strategy for selling season ticket packages next year is going to be built around the Notre Dame ticket? And you don't think there is at least one guaranteed national television appearance on the schedule because it is Pitt-Notre Dame). The one or two bowl games every so often the Big East might lose to Notre Dame is well worth the negotiating power being aligned with Notre Dame has given them. Again, at some point, perhaps the Big East can stand on its own, but that time is not right now.

All in all, I tend to agree with Zeise's assessment, although I think it's a little harsh. I do think the Big East is well within its rights to "make demands" regardless of the brand name quality of the schools that make up the conference.

Notre Dame is 2-3 against the reconstituted Big East since 2004. Granted, all five of those games are against Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but it serves to prove the point that Notre Dame doesn't light up the Big East on a consistent basis, and is in fact comparable to the conference teams.

Regarding the Rutgers scheduling situation, I think the right call was made. Rutgers has poured a significant amount of money into their athletic facilities and they should be utilized accordingly, especially for "big game" events such as a match-up with the Fighting Irish. It's understandable that Notre Dame would want to to face off at the meadowlands, and out of four trips to New Jersey, I could see possibly two games being played there. But for Notre Dame to walk away from the agreement unless all the games were played at the home of the New York Giants/Jets is arrogant at best.

UCONN took a different tact with Notre Dame by scheduling a 10 game home and "sort of home" series between the two institutions. The Huskies, with the support of the Connecticut state legislature, ultimately decided to play their "home" games against the Irish at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA and the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The concern for the state legislature was that UCONN's home stadium, Rentschler Field, is a tax payer funded facility that should be utilized to draw fans to the state and surrounding areas in an effort to spur economic activity. The upshot though, still has UCONN playing six homes games at Rentschler under the agreement with the state legislature, paving the way for the Notre Dame agreement.

I can't disagree with either school's approach to negotiating with Notre Dame. Rutgers did not feel it was appropriate to play Notre Dame anywhere else beside their home field, and UCONN felt otherwise.

There is no question that Notre Dame is on excellent footing by being an unaffiliated football program. It stings to know that they call the Big East Conference home for all sports besides football, but one can't fault the Irish program for capitalizing independently off of their brand name. The recent quality of Fighting Irish football has called into question the validity of not being affiliated with a conference, and the Big East's resilience in the face of teams departing for the ACC, has opened up the idea of Notre Dame potentially joining the likes of traditional programs such as Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, and others. It will be interesting to see what transpires at the conclusion of next season, when Notre Dame's television contract with NBC expires. Will the Big East make the potential ultimatum that the reader (above) makes reference to?