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The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come gather 'round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
They you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin'

What started out as an off the cuff remark by Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez...

Speaking to Wisconsin's athletic board on Friday, Alvarez, the former longtime Badgers football coach, said the conference already has investigated possibilities for expansion "from all over the country." And though he places no timetable on the search, Alvarez thinks conference commissioner Jim Delany will respond to a group of athletic directors and coaches who want expansion.

"I have a sense he is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it," Alvarez told the board. "I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators."

Is starting to pick up steam...

Later today, the Big Ten will issue a statement acknowledging that the expansion issue has moved from the back burner to the front burner. Nothing is imminent, but the chances of expansion are stronger now than they were six months ago.

Big Ten expansion is back on the table. Frankly, I think it's past due. If you conducted a poll a year ago of the coaches and athletic directors of the league I think you could have found a slim majority. But for years the talk has been of two players opposing league expansion: Ohio State and Michigan. Today, it sounds like one of those players is on board.

Ohio State's E. Gordon Gee, one of the more powerful presidents in the Big Ten, said Monday that he sees the need for a 12th team in league, which would create a conference championship game like the SEC, Big 12, ACC and others.

"We have to be thoroughly modern and realize the world has moved on, and having a playoff for the Big Ten championship makes sense," Gee told The Columbus Dispatch. "I'm not planting a stake in the ground on that issue, but it's something we now need to tackle."

The biggest opponents of Big Ten expansion have always been Michigan and Ohio State. For years they have feared a Big Ten Championship game would take the focus off of THE GAME as the marquee event of the conference. But Michigan'sfailure to be competitive with the Buckeyes the past few years has already diminished the matchup, and the rest of the conference has suffered as they sit and watch the last three weeks of the college football season unfold from their couches and their teams get leapfrogged in the BCS standings. Ohio State has finally wised up and realized it'stime to move on with or without the Wolverines.

You can expect to see the names start flying around over the next few days and weeks. The Crimson Quarry is already on it. In my opinion, any discussion about Big Ten expansion has to begin and end with one school: Notre Dame.

Some people consider approaching the Irish to be a non-starter. Notre Dame has rebuffed the Big Ten's offers for years. The Irish are proud of their independent status, they have special status in the BCS agreement, they have their own network deal, and they make plenty of money. But if I'm the Notre Dame president and athletic director, I have to ask myself how much longer they can sustain the current model.

Notre Dame has been irrelevant in college football for nearly 20 years. They were a national program back in the 80's, but today there are no kids walking around California wearing Jimmy Clausen jerseys. There are no Joe Montanas or Theismans playing in the NFL and winning Super Bowls. Jerome Bettis was probably the last Notre Dame player to make any kind of impact in the NFL, and he retired a few years ago. Your fanbase is rapidly aging. The only people who are Notre Dame fans today are the old timers who can remember the 80's and the recent alumni who went there. At a small private school, that isn't much.

Sure, Notre Dame makes a lot of money, but how long can they keep that up? They just turned down a bowl invitation because their expenses probably wouldn't cover the costs. They can't count on BCS money every year, or even every other year. And now Comcast is buying NBC. As a guy who has worked for companies that have been bought and sold, I can tell you with each change of ownership comes a new way of doing things. How much longer do you think NBC is going to want to have the exclusive rights to broadcast an average team with a dwindling fan base get blown out by USC and lose to service academies? The only thing national about Notre Dame anymore is the national desire to see them choke and set new lows for Irish futility. NBC might as well offer Syracuse an exclusive contract if that's what they're into. The NBC cash cow will not last forever, but in the Big Ten Notre Dame would enjoy economic security without the pressure of winning ten games every year to avoid massive budget cuts. Heck, if I were Delany I would tell Notre Dame to keep their NBC contract as long as they can and keep all the money for yourself. And when the NBC money runs out we'll include you in the revenue from the Big Ten Network.

Look, I don't want Notre Dame to crumble and fail. I do think college football is more interesting when the Irish are near the top. I miss those epic battles against Penn State in the 80's and 90's. While Notre Dame fans may say they can't give up traditional rivals like USC, Stanford, and Navy, they would quickly pick up new rivals in Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa while keeping traditional rivals Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State.

It's now or never, Notre Dame. The Big Ten can no longer afford to wait, and you cannot sustain yourself on your current path. When Jim Delany calls your office next week, you better pick up the phone.

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a-changin'