On Friday, the South Bend Tribune sat down with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick to discuss the scandals at USC and Ohio State, the DOJ probe into the BCS, pay-for-play and -- most importantly to us -- Notre Dame's future hockey conference affiliation.
Here's Swarbrick on the most important factors that will be looked at by the Irish when making this decision:
"One is that we have to care about the broader industry. A solution that causes us to net out future hockey programs in the United States would not be a good solution. And so all of us - the Big Ten, and those of us who are thinking about this issue outside the Big Ten - we have to be mindful of the impact on all of the hockey programs."
Like I said before, sounds great in theory and makes for really nice boilerplate, but when it comes down to it, these programs will first and foremost be looking out for their own best interests. Notre Dame has made a huge investment in a brand new arena and needs to make the right decision here to protect its investment in the sport. After all, we are in this situation in the first place because of Big Ten Hockey. I don't think you can honestly say that the BTHC was necessarily thinking about the greater good of the sport when it voted to recommend ice hockey as an official Big Ten sport.
After Swarbrick went through his "greater good" opening, he got down to actual factors that the Irish will have to weigh when choosing what to do here.
"One is we want to maximize the exposure of our team from a broadcast perspective. We have a great new building, a great product, and we want to try and be on television more. We think it's a pretty compelling hockey team that people will want to see. So we're mindful of those issues."
If Notre Dame solely wanted to maximize the exposure of its men's ice hockey program from a broadcast perspective, then the choice here is easy: Notre Dame would sign on as an Associate Member of the Big Ten and have its games televised on BTN. But, of course, it's never that simple. The Irish joining the BTHC is complicated for all the reasons that have complicated the conference's courtship of Notre Dame over the last 20+ years.
The future does not look good for the CCHA and a future TV media rights deal. Other than Notre Dame, the CCHA is left with three MAC programs and four schools that play Division II in all other sports. Right now, the WCHA's TV deal may be a bit stronger than Hockey East's, but with Bertagna renegotiating with NESN, bringing on Notre Dame might be the addition Hockey East needs to land a better TV rights package.
"Secondly, we want a good cultural fit. Athletic conferences work best when you're with schools that are like you, that share your values. And so we talk a lot about that. And the there are a lot of sort of mechanical issues, like travel and scheduling, that you also have to factor into this."
This factor leans heavily towards an Irish move to Hockey East. Notre Dame would be joining three other Catholic schools -- Boston College, Merrimack and Providence -- as well as a fellow Big East member. Is there a better "cultural fit" than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish playing 10-12 hockey games a year in the greater Boston area?
As far as the mechanical issues go, on its face it doesn't seem to scream "Hockey East" for the Irish, but the alternative travel arrangements would be just as challenging. Staying put in the CCHA or making the move to the WCHA would include an annual trip to either Fairbanks (CCHA) or Anchorage, Alaska (WCHA): flights that don't come cheap. Just as they would as a member of Hockey East, the Irish would also have to fly to every one of the ten remaining WCHA programs. But with the exception of Maine, Notre Dame could probably fly to Boston to face the nine other Hockey East programs. Flights to Boston would be cheaper than some of the more far-flung locations in WCHA, including the Upper Peninsula, Omaha, St. Cloud and Grand Forks.
It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I personally think the Irish are better suited heading east and joining Hockey East than heading west or standing pat. But who knows what will happen. One thing that is for certain is that Notre Dame will do what's best for Notre Dame; not what's in the best interests of the sport.