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Column: Big Ten needs to stop letting Notre Dame have its cake and eat it too

The Irish need to join up or get lost for good.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame is the F-Boi of college football.

Hear me out.

Thanks to their lucrative media rights deal, the Fighting Irish have no incentive to join a conference. And yet, they get all the perks of high-profile matchups with Big Ten and ACC teams while avoiding any of the real commitments required for membership. Yes, they have a unique arrangement with the ACC, but it still doesn’t require them to actually join a conference.

If one of my friends were dating Notre Dame in real life, I’d lovingly pat her hand and say, “He’s just not that into you.” So this is me metaphorically patting the Big Ten’s hand.

The Big Ten is basically a Notre Dame booty call, and it’s time that we as a conference stop answering. Notre Dame needs to make the relationship Facebook official or hit the road for good.

I recognize that there are perks to playing Notre Dame — they have a huge and very loyal fan following (which, as we all know, equals big dollar signs), and there are historic rivalries against some Big Ten teams. In all reality, NBC — who owns both the Notre Dame media rights deal and has a partnership with the Big Ten — probably wouldn’t be too keen on the conference putting a complete kibosh on matchups with the Irish, but the B1G should do it anyway.

With the shift to NCAA superconferences seeming more and more likely, Notre Dame needs to make some decisions about where they’re going to fall; and the major conferences need to force their hand a bit — why are we letting them have their cake and eat it too?

With the recent addition of USC (a long-time Notre Dame rival) and UCLA to the Big Ten conference, who will join us from the Pac-12 in 2024, talks have turned to Notre Dame following suit. The Big Ten, for its part, claims to be in a “pause period,” but I don’t believe for a second that if Notre Dame wanted to join, they wouldn’t make it work, especially since there are two years to work out any kinks.

The push to get Notre Dame to join the conference is nothing new. Talks of them joining the Big Ten have circulated for decades, and the school considered an offer to join the conference in 1999 before backing out at the 11th hour.

This time, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren needs to draw a line in the sand with the Fighting Irish — get on board now or say goodbye to Big Ten opponents during the regular season.

As the realignment of college football continues to take shape, Notre Dame can either play the long game and make some major decisions about its future with the Big Ten now, or they can call the ACC or SEC later.

ND already plays the majority of its games against the ACC, but they rely on the high-profile matchups against Big Ten schools (and soon-to-be Big Ten schools) to boost their strength of schedule and financial bottom line. On the other hand, the difficulty of an SEC schedule would likely leave them lying on the field needing CPR. So the time is now for the Big Ten to play its cards right and show ND who has the upper hand.

There would be a lot for the Fighting Irish to celebrate by way of tradition, rivalries, geographic perks, strength of schedule, and a much bigger media rights deal by joining the Big Ten. And perhaps, they have more to lose if the conference issued an ultimatum: Sign a deal with the conference or no more Big Ten matchups.

Here’s what’s at stake for the Fighting Irish if the Big Ten took the hard line:

  • Historic rivalries: Goodbye, Notre Dame-Michigan. See ya later, Notre Dame-USC. No more Buckeye matchups. Even lesser rivalries with Michigan State or Purdue would be a loss for ND. And Stanford, another regular opponent of theirs, could also potentially end up shifting to the Big Ten, so that could be an added cost.
  • Brand power: There’s no question that Notre Dame is a historic program with a rabid fan base. The Big Ten offers the history and tradition that ND fans have come to expect from their school, and it would be a good fit for their brand and image, certainly more than the ACC would be, especially where football is concerned (though considerations would need to be made around Olympic sports). The brand power of the Big Ten could be especially beneficial come playoff time as final decisions are made around seeding, especially if the playoff is expanded from its current four-team format.
  • A national stage to boost recruiting: Look at the hype around this Saturday’s game. If Notre Dame hangs in there even a little bit, that’s a major showcase for them that will benefit their ability to recruit on a national level. If we take that away by refusing to play them, it could be costly.

Notre Dame stands to lose in the long run if the Big Ten starts courting other schools for expansion instead. While NBC is encouraging the conference to play nice with the Irish, we need to stop giving away our power and tell the Fighting Irish once and for all — join us now or your luck may just run out.