SBD/November 7, 2011/Colleges

Notre Dame AD Says School Not Involved In Talks About Joining Conference For Football

To the disappointment of about 300 Wake Forest boosters Saturday, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said the school is not involved in any discussions about joining a conference in football. Swarbrick joined Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman for a discussion about intercollegiate athletics Saturday morning at Bridger Field House, hours before the Irish and Demon Deacons played that night. IMG College President Ben Sutton, a Wake Forest graduate, moderated the discussion. Both Wake and Notre Dame are IMG College clients. The breakfast was accessible to mostly Wake Forest boosters, who packed the room that overlooks the playing surface at BB&T Field. The greatest cheer of the morning came when Sutton asked Swarbrick about joining a conference that begins with an A, a reference to the ACC. The room roared with laughter when Swarbrick answered tongue-in-cheek, “There must be a silent P in Pac-12.” Swarbrick got serious when he said the school is "not engaged in any kind of action” related to ending Notre Dame’s storied history of football independence. Swarbrick also shared that his “single greatest frustration in day-to-day business” is the lack of media coverage devoted to the academic performance of student-athletes, who in some cases outperform students on the rest of campus. “And it just gets buried,” Swarbrick said. “ESPN has done more to promote college athletics than just about anybody, but there’s no reporting at all done on graduation success rates.” Wellman, meanwhile, took on the notion that ESPN was directing the ACC through its addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. “I chair the TV committee and I can assure you that throughout all of our discussions, no one has said, ‘You ought to expand.’ It just hasn’t come up. ESPN has stayed as far away from that as possible.” Expansion “probably would have gone in another direction if the decision was only about money,” Wellman added. “It really is about getting the right institution that has the kind of academic profile that will make them a good partner. If it was only bottom-line driven, it might have produced different members.” After the event, Swarbrick sat down to answer a few more questions with SBJ/SBD.

Q: Is conference affiliation the question that you’re asked the most?
Swarbrick: Yes, it’s right up there with video boards. Those are the two.

Q: You’ve said the schools and conferences have not had their best foot forward during this most recent realignment. Why?
Swarbrick: I think it’s been a disaster to have realignment play out during football season. I don’t think there’s been any external reason for that. There was nothing forcing it to happen on this timetable. And we’ve taken our most important product and sort of detracted from it through our own actions. You should never do that. I would have preferred it to play out on a different timetable. ... Then just the number and severity of schools involved in the compliance cases has cast a shadow over collegiate athletics. We all have to be committed to making that better. It’s the lack of integrity. Some of it is financial, some of it is competitive. At the core, though, is the lack of integrity and in the collegiate environment, that’s the worst thing you can do.

Q: Independence in football has seemingly made as much sense for Notre Dame financially as well as traditionally. Now that conferences are commanding so much more money for their media deals, does that change Notre Dame’s outlook on conference affiliation?
Swarbrick: Not for us. The promotional value -- I’m talking about promoting the university -- is engrained in our history and dates back to 1913. We began scheduling nationally when no one had done it. Out of that came an opportunity to promote Notre Dame that never existed before, and it really ties to that. Being able to go to New York, being in San Francisco, playing at FedExField, that’s how we help the university at the end of the day. That’s why it’s so important to us.

Q: With the changes at Comcast/NBC, will Notre Dame see a benefit?
Swarbrick: Our focus is on taking full advantage of the increased assets which NBC is now part of. For Notre Dame, the Comcast/NBC merger is a great thing. It significantly expands the distribution possibilities for programming. We hope it results in a lot more Notre Dame programming across a lot more distribution points. But our model will not be the Longhorn Network, but we would like to see more athletic contests, more features on athletes, more university programming.

Q: What is Notre Dame’s future in the Big East?
Swarbrick: I expect developments in the next week. We remain pretty optimistic about the Big East’s long-term prospects.

Q: How do you think new NCAA President Mark Emmert is doing?
Swarbrick: I’ve spent a significant amount of time with him, and I’m really pleased with his pursuit of fundamental change, not marginal change. That’s the most important thing he can contribute. He’s saying, "Look, it’s broken, we need significant change." Frankly, we’ll get some of it wrong, but hey, let’s go, let’s implement change. We’ll fix it and figure out what we did that wasn’t right, but let’s not take a marginal approach.

Q: The NCAA has approved a $2,000 stipend for athletes on full scholarships. Is this just a step toward larger amounts?
Swarbrick: I don’t think so. The number may adjust over time, but it’ll be more of a cost-of-living adjustment than anything else. The economic consequences will challenge a lot of institutions. I have no idea how everyone will manage the gender-equity consequences. It’s a huge issue.
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