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Monday night news catch-up

It’s well past my bedtime and because of some intermittent internet at the lovely Varsity Club in Mishawaka I’m still plugging away at this, but there’s been some serious smoke coming out of the expansion chimneys the past day or two.

Start with colleague John Taylor’s excellent reporting at CFT, where he actually went to the source and debunked an Associated Press story that had Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in Park Ridge, Illinois meeting with Big Ten presidents and chancellors for 4.5 hours, discussion expansion.

Here’s Brian Hardin, Notre Dame’s director of media relations, report:

Hi John,

Thanks for the email. I think the 150 people that attended the graduation open house of Jack Swarbrick’s son today in Indianapolis would help me deny that Jack was in attendance at the Big Ten meetings today in Chicago. I hate to have to throw cold water on yet another “report” regarding Notre Dame and the Big Ten, but like many “reports” before this one, there isn’t any validity to it. Feel free to quote me on any of this.

Bam. That’s about as emphatic as you can get, though a conspiracy theorist would point out that Hardin didn’t say that Action Jack didn’t talk with Big Ten head-honchos, merely that he wasn’t there.

Meanwhile, a little newspaper called the New York Times has another report on Notre Dame’s role in all the expansion talk. Pete Thamel, the Times writer who also started this uprising with the “seismic shift” quotes back in March, had this to say about Notre Dame’s role.

In March, on an unseasonably warm morning in New York City, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick seemed to push the collegiate conference expansion discussion from theory to reality. He told a small group of reporters that the Irish would reconsider their football independence if it appeared that “seismic” change to the college football landscape was on the horizon.

Three months later, it appears that Swarbrick and Notre Dame have the ability to prevent that potential seismic shift. Who said that Notre Dame, even in times of football struggle, was irrelevant?

The Irish have become the unintentional linchpin of conference expansion because of their potential value to the Big Ten. It is clear that the Irish would prefer to stay as an independent, which Swarbrick has vehemently maintained, but he is potentially facing a conundrum: Does Notre Dame become the 12th team in the Big Ten or does it risk being forced to later join the conference as the 16th team?

The Big Ten has 11 teams, and if it adds Notre Dame, which it appears it wants to, the Irish would probably not want to be part of a 16-team superleague. The Irish, in theory, would have the power to cap the league at 12 teams.

“I think it’s impossible to say,” Swarbrick said Monday when asked about the theory that Notre Dame joining the Big Ten would stabilize the collegiate landscape. “I understand why people have that conjecture. I also think it’s equally plausible that enough things have been spun in motion that it may not be true.”

As it’s been since the beginning, I still feel like this is a gigantic game of chicken, with Notre Dame driving Optimus Prime and the Big Ten driving a fleet of smart cars. That’s not to say that Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State aren’t big-rig programs, but they’ve hinged their fate to Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana.

I’m still waiting for ESPN to start covering this like the important news story that it actually is. For some reason, the WWL just seems to ignore this one on SportsCenter, probably because it doesn’t fit into a convenient box for marketing.