Notre Dame weighing options after Big East fallout
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With the impending departure of the seven Catholic basketball schools from the Big East, Notre Dame finds itself in the precarious position of potentially not knowing in which conference it might play basketball and other sports next season.
Notre Dame announced in September that it's leaving the Big East, and it's contractually obligated to play in the league for two more years. But the uncertainty of the current environment and the possibility that Notre Dame could find itself without a league next season has athletic director Jack Swarbrick concerned.
"It is an untenable situation and we have to actively consider how we can get to resolution," Swarbrick told SI.com on Monday. "You have two halves of a conference splitting and that creates real uncertainty for Notre Dame given the things that have to be negotiated among those parties."
The biggest issue hovering over the future of both leagues is their lack of a television agreement. The Big East's basketball television deal ends at the end of this season. The new league, which is just days old, has been shopping itself for a deal.
What makes the situation with the broken up Big East so tenuous is that the lack of a television deal means that it is highly unlikely that any network would offer a significant one- or two-year deal that would allow schools like Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville to fulfill their contract. The chances of any network offering a reasonable deal for a stopgap league are slim. And with interest high in the Catholic 7's unnamed conference television rights, there's likely little desire for those schools to stay for the next two seasons as well.
"I just think that, not withstanding what the parties' intentions may be, that the challenges of entering into new media agreements may play a big role in what the timing really is," Swarbrick said. "Neither party to this dispute has a media agreement at the end of this basketball season."
Swarbrick said that there is significant pressure considering that Notre Dame's fall sports begin in just seven months. If Notre Dame waits too long to make a move, it could be left out.
"In the worse case scenario, the divorce gets worked out and no one has custody of the kid," he said. "I'm not looking to be independent in 26 sports."
So what's next?
Swarbrick said that the ACC is open to taking Notre Dame in basketball and other sports next season without having to fulfill football-scheduling obligations.
"I really don't know," he said regarding Notre Dame's next move. "I'm not trying to dodge the question. There's a lot of moving parts. There's a time pressure on that side, too. They have to know what their season is going to look like."
One of Swarbrick's biggest frustrations has been being boxed out of the Big East discussions. Notre Dame announced it was leaving the league in September. Under its Mutual Commitment Agreement with the league, Notre Dame does not owe an exit fee.
Swarbrick said that Notre Dame paying a big buyout to leave the league is "frankly not something that we ever contemplated."
One of Swarbrick's other issues has been being left out of deliberations, which means Notre Dame essentially doesn't even know what its potential options are.
"You have to be able to articulate what those options are," he said. "A big part of the timetable that's now playing out and our lack of involvement in the process is that we can't get a handle on that."
Big East commissioner Mike Aresco responded by offering, "We had engaged in preliminary discussions with Notre Dame. Those discussions would likely be resumed. The basketball schools' announcement was just made on Saturday. By terms of our bylaws, Notre Dame could be playing in our conference through 2014-15 as would the basketball schools, Louisville and Rutgers."
Swarbrick said he's not sure what the next move is, but he promised not to sit idly.
"The bottom line is that I don't know what's next," Swarbrick said. "We can't just sit by and hope that this works out."