Tate | New world order of school athletics appears to be like similar to this … | Sports activities

In a bustling office in Chicago, a city where Notre Dame fans are legion, attorneys are pooling their knowledge with South Benders for the best strategy to allow the Irish to escape restrictions of their unwieldy Atlantic Coast Conference contract. Not that the folks under the Golden Dome feel any urgency. They have upwards of $13 billion in endowments, after all, and a wealthy support base jumping deep into name-image-likeness payoffs for the athletes (they have passed Ohio State to No. 1 in 2023 football recruiting).

Money must be incidental to football independence when, as a quasi member of the ACC, you’re drawing less than $30 million in total media rights, and could be doubling that in the Big Ten.

But just in case Irish leaders are swayed to change direction, clever lawyering can always come in handy.

Like we saw in the worst academic fraud in NCAA history at North Carolina.

Instead of throwing themselves on the “mercy of the NCAA court,” the Carolinians haggled and ultimately found a way out by showing that athletes, for whom 200 fake classes were arranged, weren’t the only students who attended (nothing escapes the frat boys ). After years of controversy, the NCAA found “no violations” in 2017.

It was a prime example that nothing is valid until the lawyers have had a shot at eviscerating reason.

Looking for the escape hatch Back to Notre Dame and the ACC. As it stands, Clemson and North Carolina and the conference members appear to be hogtied to a 2016 agreement with ESPN. It supposedly locks these schools and the Irish into a TV contract through 2035-36.

As it stands, “independent” Notre Dame plays hockey in the Big Ten and joined the ACC in other sports while agreeing to play five ACC football opponents each year.

Notre Dame now receives the full $15 million from NBC (through 2025; what would a renewal bring?) plus ACC basketball distribution. But, according to South Bend Tribune beat writer Tom Noie, Notre Dame does not presently participate in ACC football distributions.

So the Irish enjoy their historic independence while receiving nowhere near the amount that their brand could draw. And that Big Ten number will be even greater when Southern California and UCLA join down the road in 2024.

The Irish are all-too-familiar with USC. They’ve met in 91 highlighted football games since 1926. Other frequent Irish opponents are Purdue (87), Michigan State (79), Northwestern (49) and Michigan (44).

Heavily indebted UCLA can’t match USC’s football history, and was eager to join the Big Ten in order to save the Bruins’ non-revenue sports. And the Bruins would love to see Notre Dame join the fold, bringing projected Big Ten media rights near $100 million later in this decade.

Meanwhile, this hammer that ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips holds over Notre Dame (where he once worked) seems short-changed and unreasonably long. But Notre Dame leaders signed it… and that’s why the lawyers are on the alert for an escape clause.

Twenty years? To 2036? Maybe they’ll be able to show that whoever signed it for Notre Dame was out of touch with reality.

Noisy neighbors While Notre Dame shows no sense of urgency, speculation runs rampant in a country buried in (1) a struggle for excessive TV dollars and (2) positioning for the anticipated football playoff expansion. The latter should begin at the conclusion of the 2026 season.

Fighting has brought on a distressing loss of collegiality, collaboration, honesty, tradition and geographic sense. Long-time neighbors are sniping at each other. Oklahoma State hates Oklahoma.

Stanford and Cal were left hanging by USC and UCLA. Legislators in Washington and Oregon are mulling laws to prevent the two main schools in those states from going separate ways (would that hold up in court?).

How do Cal academicians carry on their collaboration with UCLA under circumstances where the Berkeley school is weighted down by an athletic debt of more than $400 million (it cost more than $150 million just to retrofit the stadium atop the Hayward Fault) and, unless the Big Ten becomes the savior, will soon be buried deeper due to the dramatic drop-off in TV revenue?

Merit-based system?Any way you view it, this is backstabbing at its worst. Every man for himself … soulless has leaving the have-nots floundering … good for a few, bad for the Baylors, Utahs, Stanfords, etc.

How else would you describe it when, just a year ago, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff had his members on board for a hand-shake Alliance with the ACC and Big Ten? That didn’t last long.

Some say the strength of the Big Ten is that, athletically and academically, long-time members have worked so closely together.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman made the point that Big Ten members feel an obligation to make decisions in the best interest of the conference.

Ohio State and Michigan carry the Big Ten pennant and attract considerably more income than others, but they haven’t attempted to take financial advantage… the way Texas did with its own TV network.

With TV dollars driving realignment, the question is raised whether we might soon see an even distribution within conferences, based on accomplishments.

If Big Ten members with stronger brands are thinking that way, it hasn’t slipped out of the boardrooms.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com


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