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Swarbrick pleased with conference realignment, athletic success

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

While the fall semester of 2011 was notable for the first home night football game in 21 years, the beginning of a potentially historic women’s basketball season and the opening of the brand-new Compton Family Ice Arena, many Notre Dame fans will remember it most for one reason: conference realignment. Most relevant to Notre Dame, the Big East seemed to be on the verge of collapsing before adding Houston, Central Florida and Southern Methodist University in all sports and two more schools in football to ensure stability.

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick told The Observer in a sitdown interview in December that not only was Notre Dame pleased with the moves, but that it appeared to be the last of major conference realignment.

“With the Big East having solidified itself through these recent moves, I think among the BCS conferences it’ll be pretty stable,” Swarbrick said. “We’re really happy that the Big East, which has been a great home to us, was able to make the moves it made and has announced. We think that’s good for the Big East and at this point we’re just focused on that issue — the Big East’s viability.”

After a football season rife with controversy over the format of the postseason, Swarbrick suggested change was afoot regarding the Bowl Championship Series — but maybe not the expanded system considered inevitable.

“I think there’s a likelihood that something about the format of postseason will change in the next year,” Swarbrick said. “Some people … [express] a view that a plus-one [is] inevitable. I don’t necessarily share that view. It may be, and that could be a result, but I think there are a host of things on a spectrum from sort of a return to a free-market approach where the bowls and schools and conferences do their own thing, to a plus-one.

“There’s a spectrum of possibilities from one end to the other.”

The ‘ND Network’ grows

In May, Swarbrick suggested to The Observer that Notre Dame had begun exploring a new form of digital network, distributed via the Internet instead of cable companies. Less than a year later, Swarbrick said significant progress had been made towards that goal.

“[We’ve added] significant staffing to help begin to deliver on that potential, we’ll be dedicating some space in the Joyce Center where the old varsity shop was … to that purpose, and we’re in discussions with Comcast-NBC about how to expand our capabilities,” Swarbrick said. “People have seen it manifested in the amount of digital programming that’s been produced in the past six months, especially in this football season with the behind-the-scenes elements and the exclusive content that we’ve been able to produce.”

As Notre Dame’s multimedia reach grows, it seems more and more clear that Notre Dame is not trying to build anything resembling a traditional 24-hour cable network — and that there may not even be an official launch date.

“You’ll never flip a switch and have a network,” Swarbrick said. “This is about producing a lot more digital content across the University — not just athletics — managing that digital content, and distributing it broadly.

“So it reflects a fundamental difference about Notre Dame. We don’t have a geographic area to serve. We have to serve a much broader area, so our approach has to be different than the Big Ten Network or the Longhorn Network. It’s fundamentally different in that it won’t be a network owned by us and distributed by third parties, it’ll be content owned by us and distributed by third parties.”

Widespread success

Though the football team finished the season with the same 8-5 record it produced in 2010, coach Brian Kelly received a two-year contract extension in January. A month before announcing that extension, Swarbrick said he was very pleased with the progress Kelly had made throughout two years on the job.

“I’m thrilled with where the program is, because what we were focused on when we made a transition were certain program elements: the foundational elements you have to have,” Swarbrick said. “We’ve been very good as the years have gone on in coach Kelly’s first two years in sort of building the season, and that reflects all of those things.”

Swarbrick said that Notre Dame’s athletic success goes far beyond the football program, however. From women’s basketball to hockey to cross country, the non-marquee sports have continued to succeed.

“Those programs continue to perform at such a high level,” Swarbrick said. “The quality of the student-athletes is great, so [I’m] very pleased with the fall … I could go on all day. I mean, we’ve really had a lot of good things going on.”