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Inside College Football | Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE

Being Single Has Its Advantages

September 11, 2003|Chris Dufresne

Notre Dame is playing at Michigan on Saturday in a game ABC doesn't want you to miss, but there is another game going on involving the Irish:

It's called cat-and-mouse.

As the Big East Conference struggles for survival and the Atlantic Coast seeks a 12th team to make its hopped-up conference a dirty dozen, Notre Dame remains an elusive and tantalizing wild card.

"I couldn't tell you what Notre Dame is doing or thinking," one conference commissioner said recently. "There are so many rumors about Notre Dame it's unbelievable."

Notre Dame can save college football as we know it ... but it probably won't.

See, only the Swiss treasure independence more than the Irish.

With one phone call, Notre Dame could rescue the Big East, staggering after the defections of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, from second-class status.

And although Notre Dame is a Big East member in most other sports, Commissioner Michael Tranghese doesn't even say rosaries anymore hoping the Irish will make it a full football partnership.

You also can bet that, within a year, the ACC is going to make a run at the Irish.

Could you imagine a football conference that features Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami and Virginia Tech?

The smart money, though, says Notre Dame will turn down the ACC. Some speculate Notre Dame would never join the ACC as long as Miami was a member, the bitterness of "Catholics vs. Convicts" too fresh in memories.

But this has more to do with Notre Dame's staunch belief that it is better off as a solo act.

And you know what? Notre Dame may be right.

If Notre Dame were ever going to join a conference, it would have entered the Big Ten when it had the chance.

Still, the "what will Notre Dame do?" question is so often whispered that some Irish power brokers have taken to hiding under four-leaf clovers.

A request to interview Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White for this column was denied. White basically has been out of pocket since the Big East-ACC story broke.

Feelings still are raw after the ACC fiasco and Notre Dame doesn't want to get dragged publicly into the speculation.

Irish spokesman John Heisler said this week that Notre Dame would have preferred the Big East stayed intact, and also reiterated that the Irish's position on being football's most powerful independent has not changed.

"This appears to be a cherished part of our identity," Heisler said.

Joining a bowl championship series conference would provide the safety net of revenue sharing and automatic BCS qualification for winning a league title.

Notre Dame, for example, could win the Big East Conference with an 8-3 record and a No. 20 national ranking and be assured of a $13.5-million bowl game. As it stands, the Irish must now win nine games and finish in the top 10 to assure themselves a BCS bid.

But the benefits of going it alone outweigh the risks.

Notre Dame has its own network TV deal with NBC and plays a national schedule it can control.

"It's given us an awful lot of flexibility," Heisler said of independence. "We haven't lacked for people wanting to play us. Our geographic range of alumni and students continues to be coast-to-coast."

Notre Dame can never say never about joining a conference.

Someday, the landscape may change. Maybe NBC cancels "The Notre Dame Football Program" on Saturdays and replaces it with "Saved By the Bell: the College Reunion Years" (a reprise role for former Irish star Bob Golic?).

Maybe someday, Notre Dame will need a place to call home.

But today is not that day, and don't place a bet on tomorrow.

Bust or NFL

Maurice Clarett as Curt Flood?


The Ohio State (for now, tick ... tick ... tick) tailback may be the first player to challenge the NFL's eligibility rules, but this is only because he wore out his welcome so fast in college he may have no other choice.

There is no way, at 19, that Clarett is physically or emotionally ready for the NFL but, that said, he also deserves to give it the old college try.

The NFL rule is seemingly indefensible; the best the league can do is throw down legal spike strips to force a protracted court fight.

The NFL rule stipulates no player is eligible for the draft until three years after his high school class graduates, which makes Clarett eligible in 2005.

And just because Clarett deserves the legal right to play in the NFL doesn't make it a good thing. Clarett, for one, hasn't proven he can survive the rigors of a college season.

He gained more than 1,200 yards as a freshman, but also missed three games and parts of two others because of injuries.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, a former NFL assistant and a man who would benefit from seeing Clarett out of the Ohio State lineup, says challenging the rule would be a mistake.

"You're going to see college guys that should be in college playing in the NFL and crashing and burning, and no one's ever going to hear from them again," Ferentz said. "That's my prediction."

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