Notre Dame unlikely Big Ten candidate

The Big Ten's decision to study expansion brings back an oft-asked question -- would Notre Dame consider joining the conference, which includes a number of its regional football rivals?

The answer is no, athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Chicago Tribune.

"Our strong preference is to remain the way we are," Swarbrick said, according to the report. "Independence is a big part of the tradition of the program and our identity. We'd sure like to try to maintain it."

Notre Dame, which declined Big Ten membership in 1999, is one of three remaining major college football independents, along with Navy and Army. The Fighting Irish play in the Big East in other sports, including men's and women's basketball, and in the CCHA in ice hockey.

Swarbrick acknowledged that the major football conferences make even more money from their own media contracts than the $9 million Notre Dame is paid annually by NBC for the football rights. In the Big Ten, TV and radio rights fees generate $20 million a year for the schools.

But Swarbrick said the football program considers factors other than revenue, according to the Tribune.

"All of this has a lot more to do with our priorities than it does with business issues," Swarbrick said, according to the Tribune. "Our independence is tied up in a lot of the rivalries we have. We play Navy every year and have the tradition of USC weekends. Frankly, it works pretty well to play USC in October at home and in November at their place."

Notre Dame is not the only school that could be courted by the Big Ten. Missouri also previously has been mentioned as a potential expansion choice for the conference, due to geographic and academic factors.

In a statement released Tuesday, Missouri, a Big 12 member, said it had not yet been approached about Big Ten membership -- and didn't rule out the possibility.

"Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based upon what would be in the best interest of MU athletically and academically," the university said.

Other schools cited as potential candidates for Big Ten expansion have included Pittsburgh and Rutgers, both members of the Big East.

If a team other than Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, it could set off a chain reaction across other conferences, similar to what took place when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College bolted the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. With that in mind, Notre Dame will keep an eye on the situation, Swarbrick said, according to the Tribune.

"The question that any school faces, not just Notre Dame, is: Does this start the dominoes falling again, like the last round of reconfiguration?" Swarbrick said, according to the report. "It's less about our willingness to enter into discussions than what happens to the industry. What are the implications?"