It's a good thing that Jim Delany walked away from negotiations with Notre Dame a couple of years ago. That allowed the Big Ten commissioner to feign indifference Wednesday, when the news broke that the Irish had found a willing conference to partner with - and it wasn't his.
Delany stood on principle, insisting that the Big Ten's share-and-share-alike structure was more important than the prestige of adding what remains, hard as it can be to accept, college football's most attention-getting attraction. (The Irish, now 24 years distant from their last national championship, are sort of the Anna Kournikova of the sport -- hogging attention far beyond their ability to win.)
It was the right call for Delany and the Big Ten, which has avoided the sort of rancor and favoritism that constantly threatens to pull the Big 12 apart. Notre Dame wanted special treatment, the right to keep football and its huge revenues separate from the conference structure that everyone else lives under. The deal the Atlantic Coast Conference gave the Irish, basically.
"We are very pleased with both our current conference membership," Delany said in a statement issued by the conference on Wednesday, "and our conference structure."
But standing on principle frequently involves suffering some pain, or what good are principles? And so it was Wednesday, when the Big Ten's dream of adding Notre Dame died for good. The pain isn't in the fact that the Irish aren't joining --the conference came to terms with that awhile back.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick's announcement, however, stung the Big Ten where it hurt: in its pride. It's confirmation that Notre Dame not only doesn't need the Big Ten, it doesn't particularly want it, either. The Irish's other sports needed to flee the Big East before they were forced to take bizarre road trips to places such as San Diego, Boise and Dallas. The football team wanted easier access to second-tier bowls such as the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, for the many years when they are not national contenders. And still they wouldn't call Delany.
Truthfully, the Irish don't seem to have much more than location in common with their Big Ten neighbors. They're an East Coast team stranded in Indiana; they're New York City's team in exile. Even in decline, they have a national brand that no individual Big Ten member can match. It's the glamour game on almost every one of its opponents' schedules.
Which is why, once the Irish begin canceling games with Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan in order to soften a schedule that's been beefed up with five ACC opponents a year, the insult will be compounded.
It hurts when your crush turns you down for a date. It's worse when she starts seeing someone else.
Which is why Delany's statement on Notre Dame sounded like denial. "Today's announcement ... was not a surprise," it read. "Both the Big 12 and the ACC have openly expressed an interest in adding Notre Dame under such a condition."
See? Our heart isn't broken. And who would go out with such a total flirt, anyway?