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Gene Smith is in a unique position to weigh in on the future of Notre Dame football. The athletic director at Ohio State, Smith played and starred at Notre Dame, giving him a foothold in two unique camps.
And for the Big Ten, who is reportedly trying to get Notre Dame to join the conference, Smith sees value in his alma mater joining his current league.
In fact, Smith thinks that Notre Dame might need to join a conference in the best interest of their student-athletes.
With the addition of UCLA and USC late last week, the Big Ten is growing. It is adding two quality programs, both located in the second-largest media market in the country. The Big Ten, if it wasn’t beforehand, has now joined the SEC as a superpower in the college sports world.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get my degree from there and compete there and I love my alma mater – except when they’re playing us. But I really have been so blessed to have gotten the education I got but they have to really look at the tradition and history that they’ve been able to develop as an independent and that’s important to Notre Dame and I understand that,” Smith said on the Big Ten Network this week.
“But today’s world they might need to consider what’s best for their student-athletes. I’ve always felt that they should be in a conference as we moved into this new world order, because it provides their football team, for example, an opportunity to chase a conference championship, as opposed to just the national championship. For them, I don’t think it is going to be wholly about money. I think they have to look at their independence value and their relationship with their television partner.
“But I think that in today’s age, our student-athletes need that opportunity to chase more than the national championship. That’s the benefit we’ve had thus far. And you can chase a division championship, chase a conference championship, and then ultimately the national championship.”
After playing at Notre Dame, Smith spent time as an assistant coach at Notre Dame before moving into college athletics administration.
The Buckeyes are Smith’s fourth stop as an athletic director. His first athletic director’s position came in 1985 at Eastern Michigan followed by stints at Iowa State and Arizona State.
Notre Dame, due to their national following and their success in football and non-revenue sports, is the biggest prize remaining in the conference expansion landscape.