Nobody knows whether or not Notre Dame will join the Big Ten. But the decision clearly weighs heavily on the Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the university.
A possible reshuffling of college sports’ biggest conferences has placed Notre Dame in a difficult spot, Father Jenkins (left) said during a visit to The Chronicle on Tuesday. To enter the Big Ten would be to join a prestigious league with some of the nation’s most celebrated research universities. To stay put would allow Notre Dame to maintain its unique national reputation in sports, particularly in football.
“It’s like musical chairs,” Father Jenkins said. “You don’t want to be left standing when everybody else has a seat.”
Alumni are not enthused about seeing the Irish become the next member of the Big Ten, he said. A big part of Notre Dame’s storied history in college football has been its national presence: Starting with a dramatic victory over Army, back in 1913, the Irish have gone on to build a national brand—albeit marred by inconsistent play in recent years—before sellout crowds from Yankee Stadium to the Rose Bowl.
“I would worry that joining the Big Ten would regionalize us,” Father Jenkins said. “If we were regionalized, we wouldn’t be playing in those areas.”
The hushed nature of the expansion discussions, he said, has created an unusual climate in college sports: “The current uncertainty around the number and the timing creates greater tensions and greater stress.”
(Photo by Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame.)