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December 18, 2012

Exit strategy still unknown

In September, Notre Dame announced that it would be leaving the Big East and joining the ACC in all sports other than football and hockey.

Notre Dame would appear to be closer to its future destination with the recent decision by the “Catholic 7” -- Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s DePaul, Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall - to leave the Big East and consider their options, including forming their own basketball conference.

But athletics director Jack Swarbrick isn’t sure what Notre Dame’s next move is exactly.

“We’re trying to assess,” said Swarbrick Monday during Notre Dame’s media day gathering for the BCS national championship football game between the No. 1 Irish and No. 2 Alabama.

“We’re a little like you are right now, trying to get information and figure it out. One of the challenges right now is it’s so unsettled, I’m not even sure who I talk to. If this splits into two conferences, and one of the things they negotiate over is the Big East name, who has the Notre Dame affiliation?

“Those are the very fundamental things that somebody has to figure out, and the challenge for us is how long can we wait for people to figure it out. That’s the issue we’re wrestling with.”

Swarbrick is anticipating resolution within the next month. Notre Dame needs answers - quickly.

“Maybe even sooner, frankly,” said Swarbrick when asked if he expected resolution with the Big East in the next 30 days. “One of the real challenges we have right now is trying to assess when that might settle out because I’ve got to make sure our student-athletes are taken care of.

“We haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m also very conscious of the fact that at some point, we’ve got to know what next year looks like…You could imagine a situation where that division happens and we’re on an island, we’re by ourselves.”

Discussions with the Big East since Notre Dame’s September announcement have been, by and large, dormant.

“I’ve known this was in the works for a little while so we haven’t been very active in negotiations for probably about two months,” said Swarbrick of the Catholic 7’s secession from the Big East.

“Now those two parties have to divide assets, so it poses a question about who you’re even talking to. Who is the Big East? Which of the two sides of that has the Big East name and rights? Who might lay claim to the Notre Dame affiliation going forward? It’s an interesting dynamic trying to figure out where all that’s headed.

When a reporter compared the Big East’s situation to a divorce, Swarbrick responded: “Yeah, and we’re the kid.”

Swarbrick said that Notre Dame does not owe an exit fee to the Big East, similar to the Catholic 7 after West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh paid exorbitant fees to leave the conference.

“We withdrew under the same agreement that the seven basketball schools withdrew under,” Swarbrick said. “So we don’t owe any withdrawal fee. Never have. It’s not in dispute. Never has been. It’s a different dynamic with us. We’re not trying to negotiate a withdrawal fee. There isn’t one.”

As for the bylaw that requires schools to give a 27-month notice of its departure, Swarbrick responded: “We’ve never discussed that. We never had an exit fee discussion. We’ve talked about what else might be done with scheduling or some other things. But that’s all.”

While Swarbrick is interested in expediting the process, he’s just happy Notre Dame negotiated its move to the ACC when it did.

“I would rather see a stable college environment, but given what has occurred, I’m really pleased with what we did and when we did it,” Swarbrick said. “I feel really good about that.”

Yet the question remains: When can Notre Dame leave the Big East for the ACC?

Other topics discussed with Swarbrick:

Brian Kelly’s appeal when he was looking for a head coach: “When we were talking football during the interview process, it was 70 percent defense from a guy the world was perceiving as an offensive guru. We both had a realization that if you were going to play the schedule we play in the places we play, you better be about defense. That’s a different model than the one he employed at Cincinnati.”

Putting it all together in football: “The frustration, especially last year, was when I knew we were better. We had a series of things -- much of them our fault -- that conspired to hide that, whether it was the last minute-and-a-half of the Michigan game or the three goal-line fumbles last year, all of which went against us. Michigan fumbles at their goal line, it rolls to Denard Robinson and he walks into the end zone, and against South Florida and USC, we fumble on the goal line and they pick it up and run 99 yards for a touchdown.

“I frequently said, ‘Give me those three plays back and people have a different perception of the season.’ Now that catches up with you, it balances out, like a missed field goal by Pittsburgh this year. We had several of those fortunate results this year. Sports always does that; it balances it out. But last year, with all the negative ones grouped together, I was saying, ‘Man, I know how much better we are.’ Unfortunately, I’m not sure everybody else could see it.”

Paying assistant coaches: “We need to be financially competitive and we are. But this is also a pretty nice place to be for coaches to work with these kids. There are a lot of problems you don’t have when you’re working with young men like this. (The assistant coaches) recognize that, and they’re pretty selective about what their next opportunity will be.”

The notion of four 16-team conferences that some say is inevitable: “I am not one who subscribes to the four conference model. I can’t get there. I can’t do the math and figure out how you ever get there. So I don’t see that happening.”


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