The Boston College-Notre Dame football rivalry has life past 2010. With the series scheduled to end this fall, the two programs reached a preliminary agreement to extend the rivalry by six more games through the 2019 season. Reading through the tea leaves, what does this mean for Notre Dame and their continued football independence?
Notre Dame, you'll recall, is officially on the clock. The Irish seem to be one of the linchpins that can decide the fate of college football in this expansion arm's race. If the Irish decide to join the Big Ten, becoming the conference's twelfth member, this will likely temporarily satiate Jim Delany's desire for world domination and the Big Ten will stop at 12 teams. This would also help stave off possible extinction of the Big 12.
According to Terrence Harris of Fanhouse, Notre Dame and Big Ten officials have again entered into talks about the Irish joining the conference as their twelfth member. It will be interesting to see if anything comes from these talks, and if a decision is reached in in time for the June 17 ultimatum that the Big 12 has set for Missouri and Nebraska. If a decision is made, and Notre Dame joins the Big Ten, this could limit the amount of conference shuffling that takes place this summer.
ATL Eagle writes today that the renewed BC-Notre Dame series is another indicator that the Irish will continue to remain independent. It is true that breaking these contracts come with steep penalties. But if you break down the Irish's future football schedules, a move to the Big Ten might be just the move that eventually frees up the scheduling space that allowed the Irish to renew their Holy War hostilities with BC.
A Irish move to the Big Ten does two things. One is that it limits the total number of non-conference games from 12 to 4 (or 5, depending on whether Notre Dame can get special considerations from the Big Ten to play an abbreviated conference schedule). At the same time, the Irish joining the Big Ten frees up to 6 scheduled games a year. Notre Dame's annual games with Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State now become conference games and I'd imagine the Irish would also walk away from their contractual obligation to play up to 3 Big East teams a year.
Take the 2011 schedule for example. If the Irish move to the Big Ten, their scheduled games with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue become conference games, and they would also likely walk away from games with South Florida, Pittsburgh and UConn. That leaves the Irish playing 6 non-conference games (BC, Army, USC, Navy, Maryland and Stanford). Depending on whether they could get the Big Ten to set their total conference game schedule at 7 games (as opposed to 8), that means the Irish would only have to break their contract with one of these teams in 2011.
Or take a closer look at the 2012 schedule. Again, removing games with Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Pittsburgh from the equation, the Irish are left with 8 games scheduled with non-conference opponents (Navy, Baylor, Oklahoma, Army, Wake Forest, Miami and USC). Two or three programs would have to be jettisoned from this year's Irish schedule, but it's certainly manageable.
The further out you go, the more easy it becomes to juggle around Notre Dame's future opponents without serious repercussions. In 2013, the non-Big Ten, non-Big East Notre Dame schedule consists of Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC and Navy.
2014 ... Navy, Army, Arizona State, Miami, USC
2015 ... Boston College, Navy, USC
2016 ... Boston College, Navy, Army, Stanford, Miami, USC
2017 ... Arizona State
2018 ... Boston College
2019 ... Boston College
You get the idea. Having broken their scheduling arrangement with the Big East, within four years the Irish non-conference schedule doesn't have any conflicts even with a 7 game slate of Big Ten opponents. This could very well be the future formula for Notre Dame scheduling - 7-8 Big Ten games plus BC, USC, Army and Navy. This schedule preserves most, if not all, of Notre Dame's long-standing rivalries.
Do I know how this is going to play out? Of course not. The Irish renewing their series with the Eagles might be nothing more than a good-faith effort by DeFilippo and Swarbrick to keep Division I-As two Catholic universities playing college football going forward.
But I don't necessarily think that the BC-ND series is a bellwether for continued Irish independence. In fact, if the Irish break their contract with the Big East and drop a few of their future opponents, the Irish could easily accommodate a Big Ten schedule and an annual non-conference slate of Army, Navy, BC and USC.
I'm sure Jim Delany would be more than happy to foot the Irish's broken contract bill.