Ohio State will play Notre Dame in a home-and-home series for the next two seasons. But if Gene Smith had his preference, these matchups would happen regularly.
After the bombshell news that USC and UCLA will be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten beginning in 2024, there was much speculation that the conference could expand even further. One of the frontrunners is Smith’s alma mater, which he hopes will consider joining the Big Ten in the near future.
“It’s hard to speculate on that. I love my alma mater except when we play her in some sport. But I always felt like they should be at a conference,” Ohio State’s athletic director said at a news conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Friday. “And I hope they consider that. I don’t know what a next step would be but I’ve always said I hope they consider that opportunity and I hope it’s the Big Ten. But who knows, they’ve been working the way they do for a long time.”
There’s no doubt that other Power 5 conferences will continue to realign themselves after USC and UCLA’s high-profile move, a year after Texas and Oklahoma accepted an invitation to accept the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025. As many of college football’s Blue Blood programs continue to consolidate in the Big Ten and SEC, Notre Dame may feel more pressure than ever to relinquish its independent status.
Ohio State President Kristina Johnson said on Friday that the upcoming steps are not yet clear but are nonetheless inevitable.
“It’s a little early to speculate,” Johnson said at the news conference with Smith. “I would be surprised if this was the last step taken at the national level, but I think it’s too early to tell now.”
With the addition of USC and UCLA, the Big Ten will count 16 teams among their member institutions. That number matches that of the SEC once Texas and Oklahoma are in the mix, although the Big Ten will add the Trojans and Bruins to their new conference a year before the Longhorns and Sooners join.
Smith believes the Big Ten and SEC were well positioned at the top of the food chain among the Power 5 conferences even before their recent expansion efforts. Now, however, the divide has become all the more apparent.
“The Big Ten and the SEC have previously openly parted ways. Before Texas and Oklahoma, before USC and UCLA, our conferences had split up long ago,” Smith said. “So that contributes to this separation. So, for many different reasons, we’ve always been the two most important conferences in the country. And that strengthens it even more.
“Who knows what the other schools and conferences will do in response, we’ll just have to wait and see, but who knows? There could be another major conference that emerges as a result of these changes. So we just have to wait and see.”
Though the Big Ten’s expansion seemed like a direct response to the SEC’s move to acquire Texas and Oklahoma, Smith said that wasn’t the case. Rather, Buckeye’s athletic director said the financial benefits from the Big Ten’s new TV deal with USC and UCLA had more to do with decision-making in the mix.
However, Smith said it will also support the conference’s relationship with the College Football Playoffs pending possible changes to its format.
“We didn’t do it in response to the SEC, we did it for our needs,” Smith said. “And obviously we’re in a situation now where Kevin (Warren) has done a great job facilitating discussions with our television partners. And that helps move the needle in that regard. So it had nothing to do with Texas and Oklahoma setting up megaconferences for the future. It was about what the Big Ten need? And our marketing and media rights opportunities, as well as the great relationship we have with two institutions that are culturally right for us, were just too good to pass up. So it was more about those things than trying to compare it to the SEC.
“And looking ahead, with the CFP and everything that’s popping up in that landscape, we’re certainly poised for the future. These results are real. Certainly we agree more with the SEC, that’s a finding. But that wasn’t a driving force.”
Earlier in the weekend, reports indicated some interest from the Big Ten in adding Oregon and Washington to the league alongside USC and UCLA. However, other reports said the conference may be awaiting word from Notre Dame before proceeding down this path.
Hearing that there is confidence in Big Ten circles that Notre Dame and Oregon will eventually jump on board.
— Jeff Erman (@Jeff_Ermann) July 1, 2022
Sources: Oregon and Washington have been shared @bigten that it is now pat. Awaiting a decision from Notre Dame.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) July 1, 2022
With the addition of two West Coast schools, Smith admitted that travel logistics seem to be “really challenging” for some teams in the Big Ten — and Olympic athletic programs in particular. The logistics of bringing Notre Dame into the league would hardly be a problem, at least geographically given its location in the Midwest.
Nothing is set in stone yet and there are many developments to come in the near future. Smith doesn’t have any answers yet, but said he’s excited about the latest expansion of the Big Ten and what might come after it.
“I think we’re obviously in an incredible, crazy time with collegiate athletics and all of the moving parts and things that have to be decided. I wish I had a crystal ball, I really do,” Smith said. “You asked me that question in March of this year, I couldn’t have projected it. So I don’t know, I really don’t know.
“Of course the landscape will continue to change, and who knows how. But we are really happy with it.”