Notre Dame knows what the Big Ten can offer: money, exposure, proximity and security.
And still, all that doesn't seem to be enough to convince the Fighting Irish to join the league.
So how does the Big Ten reel in Notre Dame before all of this expansion craziness is finished?
There's one way the Irish join a conference: if their BCS access changes. It's one thing not to play for a conference championship every year. Notre Dame and its fans don't seem to care about that.
But if their access to the national championship game became tougher after all of the expansion dominoes have dropped, Notre Dame will have no choice but to join a league, and the Big Ten is the only league that makes sense. Delusional or not, Notre Dame still believes it can compete for national championships every year, or at least BCS bowls. The current setup still allows for good but not great Notre Dame teams (i.e. the 2006 squad) to make the big bowls.
The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein writes:
If the Pac-10 does plump to 16 teams (by adding Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State), conference officials reportedly will push for two automatic bids to Bowl Championship Series games. That threat might help push Notre Dame into accepting a Big Ten bid. [ESPN analyst Kirk] Herbstreit believes Notre Dame "has to" go the conference route because of that BCS instability and the extra revenue derived from the Big Ten's lucrative combo TV deal (ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network).
The Tribune's Notre Dame beat writer Brian Hamilton gets right to the point:
In a word, it's about access for the Irish, probably more than money and tradition. It's about ensuring unobstructed views of the national title scene and relevant playing fields for sports other than football. If mega-conferences don't change that, Notre Dame won't change, either.
As for history, the hard-line traditionalists cling to football independence like someone clings to a cliff ledge while dangling above a deep ravine. But athletic director Jack Swarbrick is too realistic and forward-thinking to doom Notre Dame to irrelevance for the sake of sepia-toned memories.
So, again, the pivot point is access.
The Big Ten certainly can add Nebraska in Phase 1 of its expansion and go forward as a 12-team league. But Jim Delany can also sit back and watch what happens to the BCS when all of the shuffling is over. If Notre Dame's access changes, he can pick up the phone, call South Bend and perhaps get the answers he's been waiting more than a decade to hear.
Forget breaking up the Big East. The path to landing Notre Dame goes through the BCS.