Irish AD: Catholic 7 'a viable option'

Notre Dame's athletic department sits in a more challenging position Friday than it did Thursday. As athletic director Jack Swarbrick sees it, things probably will not be getting easier any time soon.

As the Big East's departing Catholic schools begin to break off with the intent of starting their own league next season, the Fighting Irish are left wondering which conference their non-football sports will be playing in this fall.

Another year in the existing Big East, which they announced in September that they would be leaving for the ACC? An early summer exit to the ACC, meaning negotiating a buyout similar to other schools that have forged early exits?

What about spending one season with the Catholic 7 -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova and expected additions Butler and Xavier -- in the "new" Big East this fall? Swarbrick is open to the idea.

"If the Catholic 7 is leaving and forming its own conference for next year, they could certainly call us to want to explore our options," Swarbrick said Friday. "And if they were interested in accommodating us, it would certainly be a viable option. We have a lot of respect for those schools and know them well."

In early February, Notre Dame seemingly had made the decision that it would stay in the Big East for the 2013-14 academic year, with men's basketball coach Mike Brey saying as much on a teleconference. But the early departure of the Catholic 7 has shifted everything into uncertainty once more.

Fall sports are seemingly most affected by the state of limbo. Notre Dame's volleyball, soccer and cross country teams all released last season's schedules by May or June, though the process began much sooner than that.

"For some of the fall sports, there may be some impact on the preconference scheduling, so if you scheduled in anticipation of the Big East being as it currently is, you wouldn't have scheduled any of the Catholic 7, right? They're going to be conference opponents," Swarbrick said. "Now, if they're in their own conference, maybe you'd like to have them as a preseason or preconference season opponent. You've got to try to figure out how to do that. So you just deal with it.

"It's not perfect, and that's why it's really not productive, as I told our people, to sort of engage in any of this hypothetically. Just wait. Got to sit by, wait and see what happens."

The Big East did not take a formal vote on the departure of the seven Catholic schools during a meeting Friday in Atlanta, but negotiations are ongoing about the exit, fees, the name and the tournament site, according to one of the athletic directors in the meeting who preferred to remain anonymous.

"We had some good discussions on a variety of topics," commissioner Mike Arseco said in a statement. "We did not come to any conclusions regarding our negotiations with the other group."

Swarbrick said he was not sure if there was a hard deadline for joining the ACC for the 2013-14 academic year.

"While schedules may be released in July, the reality is they're developed over an extended period of time relating to venue availability, the academic challenges of the schools and a whole bunch of things," he said. "So the point is I have no idea whether there's a specific hard deadline, but it's more challenging today than it was yesterday, and it'll be more challenging tomorrow than it is today."

With much of the Notre Dame athletic department waiting for the other shoe to drop, Swarbrick's message to his coaching staffs has been simple.

"Stay tuned," he said. "Not much else to tell them, because this is clearly a situation that an event of great significance will either happen or won't happen. In terms of this separation, two halves of the Big East, it certainly feels like it's going to happen, but I've just told them all to sit by and wait until we know whether it does."

ESPN.com senior reporter Andy Katz contributed to this report.