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Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith hopes Notre Dame will join the Big Ten: ‘I always felt like they should be in the conference’

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Ohio State is set to take on Notre Dame in each of the next two seasons in a home-to-home series. But if Gene Smith had his preferences, such matches would be commonplace.

Following the sensational news that USC and UCLA will be leaving Pac-12 and moving into the Big Ten in 2024, there has been plenty of speculation that the conference could expand even further. One of the top candidates is Smith’s alma mater, which he hopes will consider joining the Big Ten in the near future.

“It’s hard to talk about it. I love my alma mater, except when we play any sport with them. But I always felt like they should be at the conference,” Ohio State Athletic Director said Friday at a press conference at the Woody Hayes Sports Center. “And I hope they consider it. I don’t know what the next step will be, but I always said I hope they consider it and I hope it will be a big ten. But who knows, that’s how they work like they have been doing for a long time.”

There is no doubt that other Power 5 conferences will continue to rebuild after the high-profile move by USC and UCLA, which comes a year after Texas and Oklahoma accepted an invitation to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025. With many of college football’s blue-blooded programs continuing to consolidate into the Big Ten and the SEC, Notre Dame may feel more pressure than ever before to relinquish its independent status.

Ohio State President Christina Johnson said on Friday that the steps ahead are not yet clear but inevitable nonetheless.

“It’s too early to speculate,” Johnson said at a press 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 have 16 teams among its member organizations. That number will equal the SEC’s own when Texas and Oklahoma join them, although the Big Ten will add the Trojans and Bruins a year before the Longhorns and Sooners join their new conference.

Smith believes that the Big Ten and the SEC were already well positioned at the top of the Power 5 conference food chain even before their latest expansion efforts. Now, however, the gap has become even more obvious.

“The Big Ten and the SEC have frankly parted ways before this. Before Texas and Oklahoma, before USC and UCLA, our conferences were divided a long time ago,” Smith said. “So, it contributes to this separation. So we’ve always been the top two conferences in the country for a lot of different reasons. And that makes it even stronger.

“Who knows what other schools and conferences will do in response, we just have to wait, but who knows? As a result of these changes, another major conference may emerge. So we just have to wait and see.”

While the G-10 expansion seemed to be a direct response to the SEC’s moves to acquire Texas and Oklahoma, Smith said that was not the case. Rather, Buckeye’s athletic director said the financial benefits of the Big Ten’s new television deal with USC and UCLA, combined, are more decision-making.

However, Smith said it would also help tie the conference to 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 right now where Kevin (Warren) has done a wonderful job of facilitating discussions with our TV partners. And so it helps move the needle in that regard. So it had nothing to do with Texas and Oklahoma or us having mega conferences for the future. Was it about what the Big Ten needed? And our marketing and media rights opportunities, and the excellent relationships we had with two culturally relevant institutions, were too good to pass up. So it was more about those things than trying to compare it to the SEC.

“And moving forward certainly sets us up for the future with CFP and everything that is emerging in this landscape. These results are real. Of course, we are closer to the SEC, this is the result. But that was not the driving force.”

Leading up to the weekend, reports indicated some interest from the Big Ten in trying to add Oregon and Washington to the league along with USC and UCLA. But other reports said the conference might be waiting to hear from Notre Dame before moving on down that path.

With the addition of two schools on the west coast, Smith acknowledged that travel logistics for some of the Big Ten teams – and especially Olympic sports programs – seem “really daunting.” The logistics of adding Notre Dame to the league, at least in terms of geography, is unlikely to be a problem given its location in the Midwest.

Nothing is yet set in stone, and there will be many developments in the near future. Smith doesn’t have the answers for now, but he said he’s excited about the latest Big Ten expansion and what could come after it.

“I think it’s clear that we’re in an incredible, crazy time with college athletics and a lot of moving parts and things that need to be sorted out. I wish I had a crystal ball, really,” Smith said. “You asked me this question in March of this year, I would not have been able to project it. So I don’t know, I really don’t know.

“Obviously the landscape will continue to change, and who knows how. But we’re very happy with it.”


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