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Notre Dame nervously eyeing expansion talk

If Notre Dame had its way, it would probably never join a conference in football.

But the Irish may have no choice, if radical conference realignment becomes a reality in the near future.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, speaking to reporters at the Big East basketball tournament in New York, said such a scenario could force the school's hand and make it join forces with a league.

Swarbrick isn't talking about whether the Big Ten or Pac-10 add a school or two. He's talking about the possibility of superconferences, and mentioned a scenario where the Big Ten could grow to 16 teams. In such an event, other leagues would probably react and grow, and the power in college football could be concentrated in three or four mega-leagues. All of them could have their own TV networks and receive huge annual payouts that would dwarf Notre Dame's profits from its exclusive deal with NBC.

Swarbrick said that he and school officials are paying close attention to the whole process and said, probably tongue-in-cheek, that he spends nearly half his time on that topic.

Swarbrick is a smart guy who doesn't need advice. But maybe Notre Dame would be wise to be proactive in this case instead of waiting to see what would happen. If the Big Ten does decide to grow substantially, the Irish should jump on that train. They've got too much in common with the Big Ten for it not to work, and if they can increase their financial haul, there's no downside except for less control over the schedule. The Big Ten would jump at the chance to add the Irish and would likely offer it more of a sweetheart deal than an expansion candidate like, say, Rutgers or Missouri.

The one thing Notre Dame doesn't want to do is be left on the sideline if and when this whole process shakes out.