It’s been the contention of many over the past few years — and especially of late — that perhaps the most critical need the Big East has in order for the conference to survive and thrive is for Notre Dame to join in all sports.
The Irish, of course, are football independents, and cherish that independence with a fervor many can’t quite understand or wrap their heads around. At least twice in the last decade or so, including during the expansion tumult of 2010, Notre Dame has declined overtures from the Big Ten.
In addition to the interest from the Big Ten, the Irish football program has long been lusted after by the Big East, the conference in which the rest of the South Bend school’s sports* compete. The fact that the Irish’s other sports squat in the Big East while keeping football independent, however, has been a sore subject for some from almost the moment they joined back in 1995. Just how raw the emotions can be when it comes to this subject were once again brought to the public’s attention Thursday morning.
(*with the exception of men’s hockey and men’s and women’s fencing, which are not sponsored by the Big East.)
Speaking at the Big East’s basketball media days, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, never one to shy away from either a microphone or a controversial stance, blasted Notre Dame for keeping their football program out of a conference some believe is on the verge of extinction. In fact, a “pissed” Auriemma goes so far as to very plainly state that the Big East would not be in the shape it’s in if only the Irish would sign on in football and that they “hold the future of our league in the palm of their hand”, which is quite the compliment considering the Irish haven’t really been relevant on the national stage for more than a decade.
Courtesy of the Home News Tribune, here’s the text of Auriemma’s diatribe against the Irish.
“In this whole thing, there is only one sure thing: Notre Dame doesn’t play football in our league – and that’s a bone of contention with a lot of us. That’s the only thing you’re sure of: They don’t play in our league and they never want to play in our league and for a lot of us that’s a huge problem.
“They’ve been in our league 18 years, so how long are we going to date before we just decide this ain’t working. And I’m not happy about it. That’s not the opinion of the University of Connecticut, the Big East Conference, (UConn’s) president, (UConn’s) AD. That’s just Geno Auriemma’s opinion: I’m pissed about it.
“If Notre Dame had come in as a football and basketball school when they came in, we wouldn’t have a problem. Miami wouldn’t have left, Virginia Tech wouldn’t have left, Boston College wouldn’t have left. We probably wouldn’t have any of this issues, would we? We’ve got one school that holds the future of our league in the palm of their hand and they’re not really that concerned about it.
“They’re looking out for their best interest and I don’t blame them. But join us in football and then look out for your best interest.”
There are a couple of things in play here. First, and agree with him or not, Auriemma’s blast is a breath of fresh air when it comes to the subject of the Big East and Irish football. The coach’s stance is understandable: Notre Dame gets the best of both worlds, a conference home for their middling basketball program and other non-revenue sports while the football program does its independent money grab in football. The fact that, some believe, the Big East is teetering on the edge of oblivion heightens long-held emotions when it comes to Notre Dame football.
Secondly, Auriemma’s dead wrong when he states the future of the Big East rests in the palm of Notre Dame’s hands; rather, that fate rests solely with other conferences — specifically the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten — and their desire to expand in the future. Sure, the addition of the Irish would at least temporarily prop up the football side of the Big East, but the Irish are not the be-all, end-all for the conference’s survival, especially if the league is raided yet again.
Finally, what’s been stated ad nauseam in the past still holds true: it will take a seismic shift in the football landscape in order for the Irish to shed their independence. And, no offense to any of the schools involved, Pittsburgh and Syracuse moving from the Big East to the ACC and Texas A&M and possibly Missouri bolting the Big 12 for the SEC simply doesn’t move the needle enough for the Irish reconsider their very staunch football stance. Besides, if the needle ultimately moves enough to get the Irish off football independence, the Big Ten will be their destination. Not the Big East, not the ACC, not the Big 12, not any other conference.
Auriemma’s right on a lot of things, but, simply put, landing the storied Notre Dame football program would serve as nothing more than a band-aid on the shotgun wound that is the football side of the Big East.