The Big East Conference, in terms of football, is dead, though it might take two more years for it to flatline. With Saturday’s announcement that the seven basketball-only Catholic institutions are breaking away to form their own hoops-centric league, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick is even more comfortable with his September decision to take Fighting Irish sports (other than football and hockey) to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
Irish A.D. Jack Swarbrick is pondering an accelerated exit from the Big East
Now it's a matter of whether or not Notre Dame can wait that long.
The question all along has been whether or not Swarbrick would comply with Big East bylaws, which requires 27 months notice in order to leave the Big East without penalty, or go ahead and join the ACC next fall. However, Swarbrick revealed Monday that Notre Dame is not subject to early-exit penalties like the ones recently negotiated for Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia.
Big East rules allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees, which is exactly what Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s, DePaul and Providence are doing.
“We withdrew under the same agreement that the seven basketball schools withdrew under,” Swarbrick said. “We don’t owe any withdrawal fee — never have. It’s not in dispute; never has been. The nature of that separate agreement provides that we don’t. It’s a different dynamic with us. We’re not trying to negotiate a withdrawal fee; there isn’t one.”
What Swarbrick won’t know until numerous details concerning the Catholic schools' split are resolved is from whom Notre Dame is actually withdrawing.
“We’re trying to assess it,” he said. “We’re a little like you are right now; we’re trying to get information and figure it out. One of the challenges right now is I’m not even sure who I talk to.
“If this splits into two conferences, and one of the things they negotiate over is the Big East name, who has the Big East name? Who has the Notre Dame affiliation? Those are the very fundamental things that somebody has to figure out. The challenge for us is how long can we wait for people to figure that out? That’s the issue we’re wrestling with.”
The other issues include perceived-versus-actual stability of the ACC and how all these conference shifts will ultimately affect the college athletics landscape.
Maryland recently announced it was leaving for the Big Ten, where it will begin play in 2014. The ACC’s council of presidents unanimously decided to file legal action against the Terrapins, suing for full payment of a $53 million exit fee.
“I was surprised by the timing of it, not the fact of it,” Swarbrick said of Maryland’s decision. “The timing surprised me a lot. Well, since I predicted stability at that time, I should probably stay out of the prediction business. I think clearly the Big East thing has to resolve itself because that will have some ramifications. Beyond that there may be some moves.
“There will be television-driven moves that may happen in the future. I am not one who subscribes to the four-conference model. I can’t get there; I can’t do the math and figure out how you’d ever get there. I don’t see that happening.”
For now, Swarbrick is busy figuring out what entity to which Notre Dame is waving goodbye, and the timeline of that departure.
“Those two parties [involved in the Big East split] have to divide assets,” Swarbrick explained. “It poses a question about who you’re even talking to. Who is the Big East? Which of the two sides of that has the Big East name and rights, and who might lay claim to the Notre Dame affiliation going forward? It’s an interesting dynamic to try and figure out where all that’s headed. One of the real challenges we have right now is trying to assess when that might settle out.
“I’ve got to make sure our student-athletes are taken care of. You could imagine a situation where that division happens and we’re on an island — we’re by ourselves. We haven’t figured it out yet. I’m also very conscious of the fact that at some point we’ve got to know what next year looks like and whom we’re playing. If we don’t, we’ve got to figure something out.”
Legal action isn’t in the cards, Swarbrick said. Irish men’s head basketball coach Mike Brey is hopeful he’ll know when the school will take up residence in the ACC within the next month. Swarbrick said that’s a reasonable expectation.
“Maybe even sooner, frankly,” Swarbrick said. “You’ve got to push this thing along. I’m doing exactly what you guys are doing, trying to get information, talking to people and trying to understand what they think is going to happen her.
“… I don’t see us filing lawsuits. I think you’ve got to try and push people. The challenge in this environment is we’re not the focus now; we’re the tail. How do you accelerate the discussion? How do you get some clarity? I don’t know where the point is, but there is a point where I can’t have our teams at risk and not knowing what they’re doing. That’s probably sooner rather than later.”