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‘Unstable’ landscape has Irish thinking Big Ten?

In the weeks and months since the Big Ten announced plans to explore expansion, it’s been held up as the gospel that Notre Dame would be an unattainable pipe dream for the conference.

There was a good reason for that line of thinking, too, as the Irish had previously turned down serious overtures from the league in 1999, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick said shortly after the Big Ten announced their intentions that the Irish’s “strong preference is to remain” a football independent.

Based on the uncertainty over just how college football will look conference-wise after the next couple of years shake out, there could be some thawing in Notre Dame’s previously rigid stance.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Big East basketball tournament, and as written by Andy Staples of, Swarbrick called the current situation “as unstable as I’ve seen it” in his 30 years. Not only is the Big Ten considering expansion, but the Pac-10 is doing so as well.

Of course, if either or both conferences expand, they’ll have to get the new schools from somewhere, which could result in major shakeups in both the Big East and Big 12 conferences.

There’s even been talk of so-called “super-conferences” emerging when all of the expansion dust settles.

Giving the murky nature of the situation, Swarbrick seemed to open the door to be wooed. Or, at the very least, give it stronger consideration than once was thought possible.

“I believe we are at a point right now where the changes could be relatively small, or they could be seismic,” said Swarbrick. “What I have to do along with [university president John] Jenkins is figure out where the pieces are falling. ...

“What if realignment impacted the shape of the BCS? Also, the Big East has been a great home for us [in other sports], but if there are fundamental changes to the Big East as a result of realignment, what does that do? What if a few conferences further distinguish themselves from the field? What are the competitive ramifications of that?

”... That’s why I’m spending 50 percent of my time right now talking to people [about this].”

Even after being jilted once outright in the past, and told -- basically -- to not even bother recently, there’s little doubt that Notre Dame would be the school the Big Ten would most want to add, if for nothing more than the economic and academic aspects the Irish would bring to the table.

While it still seems likely that the Irish will do just about anything to retain their independence, the economic realities of big-time college football -- “You have two conferences [the Big Ten and SEC] that have separated themselves economically,” Swarbrick said -- may make the Irish-to-the-Big Ten talk a reality that didn’t seem likely even three months ago.