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Notre Dame ponders Big East role as league meeting looms

From Associated Press and staff reports

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame likes being an independent in football, and being a member of the Big East in just about every other sport.

The comfortable arrangement may soon change for the Fighting Irish, however. The Atlantic Coast Conference let it be known Friday it wants to add three Big East schools, including football power Miami.

With the Big East's annual spring meeting convening today, the league is expected to formulate an aggressive response to the ACC's volley, and the path of attack could include anything from a counter-raid on the ACC to a cherry-picking expedition into Conference USA resulting in a wholesale renovation of the Big East's structure.

The weighty possibilities pose a dilemma for one of the most storied programs in college athletics.

``I don't know what this would do to Notre Dame,'' said Gene Corrigan, who served as athletic director at Notre Dame from 1981-87. ``Notre Dame has had a great situation in the Big East, being in with all those schools and not having to put in its football. They've been able to retain their independence.''

Kevin White, Notre Dame's current athletic director, has declined to comment on what might happen, other than releasing a statement earlier this week saying the school is happy with its present situation. He said several conferences have approached Notre Dame in recent years to inquire whether the school was interested in joining, and Notre Dame declined.

``We're very happy with the way things are right now,'' he said.

That's because Notre Dame has the best of both worlds. It belongs to a major conference for basketball and its non-revenue sports, while continuing a 115-year history of being independent in football. During that time, the Irish have won a record eight national football championships and produced seven Heisman Trophy winners.

As a football independent, Notre Dame doesn't have to share its gate receipts, bowl payouts or an estimated $8 million to $9 million a year from its television contract with NBC.

As a Big East member since 1995, the Irish basketball team has been to three straight NCAA tournaments, the women's basketball team won the national championship in 2001, and last year the men's baseball team went to the College World Series for the first time in 45 years.

``It's been a pretty good home for us for 23 other sports, as far as an entree to the NCAA championships,'' said John Heisler, sports information director.

When Notre Dame considered ending its football independence four years ago and joining the Big Ten, students and alumni rallied against the proposal. At Irish basketball games fans would chant, ``No Big Ten!'' Some argued that by joining that conference, the school would damage its status as a national Catholic institution.

The school's pride in its football independence dates to Knute Rockne, noted Heisler.

``We were a small Midwestern school; we travel to Army in 1913 and win,'' Heisler said. ``That put us on the map a little bit. Then Rockne, being the marketer that he was, decided he'd play a more wide-ranging schedule, so we go to the East Coast. Then he started a series with USC. Pretty soon we're playing a national schedule. Fortunately, we have some success over a lot of years, so that's just been the tradition.''

Corrigan, who also was ACC commissioner from 1987-97, thinks Notre Dame made the right decision when it decided in 1999 not to join the Big Ten, saying it wasn't the right fit. He said it's impossible to predict what Notre Dame should do now.

``It's one of those things Notre Dame will have to look at and see what the landscape looks like and try to decide what's best for them,'' he said. ``I think Notre Dame can do what it wants. I don't think there's anybody around who would turn Notre Dame down if Notre Dame came and said, 'We'd like to be in your conference.' I think it has its own choices to make.''

The Big East annual meetings, perhaps the most important gathering of conference and school representatives in league history, commence today in Ponte Vedra, Fla.  Notre Dame officials arrive on Monday.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. contributed to this report.

02/23/2007 10:36:27 AM

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