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Is this a major conference call for the Irish?

Andrew Soukup | Thursday, September 25, 2003

The ACC and Big Ten are talking with Notre Dame to gauge the school’s interest in becoming the 12th member of each conference, according to a report published Wednesday in the Charlotte Observer.

The article, which attributed all information exclusively to unnamed sources, said ACC commissioner John Swofford has expressed a willingness to let the Irish join the league as a partial member within the next year or two.

Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White has remained silent on the issue of Notre Dame’s conference future since Miami and Virginia Tech announced it would join the Big East by June 2004, throwing the collegiate sports world into turmoil.

Notre Dame is currently a member of the Big East in most sports with the notable exception of football. Although the Irish are one of only four Division I-A independent football teams, they play a limited schedule against Big East teams each year.

But Notre Dame associate athletic director for media relations John Heisler said he had “no idea” if Notre Dame had been negotiating with the ACC.

“Every day there’s another speculative story written, and given our relationship with the Big East, I think [White] has felt it’s not appropriate or fair to guess or suggest or predict what’s going to happen with any of this until we get to the point where something does happen,” Heisler said.

According to the sources cited in the Charlotte Observer, two different options are under discussion, which involve Notre Dame becoming a member of the ACC in all sports except football. One plan under discussion, The Observer’s sources say, is that the league wants Notre Dame to schedule a limited number of games against ACC schools each year. The other option involves Notre Dame becoming a full-fledged football member.

The Observer cited sources that said Notre Dame has also held talks with the 11-team Big Ten, a conference whose invitation the Irish rejected in Feb. 1999. But those sources said the Big Ten has not been pushing the football angle as much as the ACC.

It is advantageous for conferences to have 12 football teams because then they become eligible under NCAA legislation to hold a conference championship game, which can generate over $10 million in revenue. Ten- or 11- team conferences cannot hold championship games, although the ACC has petitioned the NCAA to overturn the rule.

“This probably fuels a lot of the speculation, but Kevin spends a lot of time with all of these commissioners” because they are part of the BCS, Heisler said.

Heisler maintained that Notre Dame hadn’t de-valued the importance of football independence.

“I don’t sense there’s been any suggestion that we’re prepared to do an about-face,” he said.

Notre Dame’s television deal with NBC expires in 2005, the same year as the Bowl Championship Series contract. Notre Dame is the only school outside the six major BCS conferences to have a separate agreement with the BCS, enabling Notre Dame’s at-large selection.

A report in the Boston Globe Tuesday said the conference had assembled a four-team expansion package, where the league would invite Conference USA schools DePaul, Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville, giving the conference a 16-team basketball conference and an eight- or nine-team football conference.

“Our biggest interest right now is in seeing where the Big East is going to go with this,” said Heisler, who also called the Globe article a “speculative” one. “Our preference would have been that the status quo would have stayed the same.

“The league has been thrown into a little bit of turmoil with losing Virginia Tech and Miami. The question is where do you go from here.”