SOUTH BEND - It has become the chameleon of conferences, morphing seemingly on a daily basis to the whims of not only its own members but potential poachers that seem to appear with alarming regularity.
On Tuesday, Big East commissioner John Marinatto attempted to deliver a state-of-the-league message during a 30-minute teleconference window, but the best absolute he could come up with was a testimonial of Notre Dame’s support to keep the basketball-centric but football-driven conglomeration from full implosion.
"Notre Dame is as committed if not more committed to this conference than any other member," he said. "Notre Dame has worked side-by-side with our other (remaining) 13 schools (during realignment).
"Notre Dame is committed to moving forward with us."
How Notre Dame moves forward, athletic Jack Swarbrick said Tuesday, is with patience as its mantra.
How the Big East plans to move forward still resides mostly in the shadows, with unnamed sources doing most of the talking.
Sources told CBSSports.com that Houston and SMU — along with Central Florida — are prepared to accept an invitation to join the Big East as all-sports members once an official invitation is extended.
The Big East’s goal is to get to 12 football-playing schools through a combination of all-sports and football-only additions. Boise State, Navy and Air Force are reported to be the football-only candidates.
"When the dust settles," Marinatto said, "we will emerge as strong as ever."
Marinatto reiterated that the Big East would enforce the 27-month exit agreement on future Atlantic Coast Conference members Pitt and Syracuse. That means the Big East may actually have more than 12 football-playing schools in 2013.
He also confirmed that the Big East’s presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to increase the league’s exit fee to $10 million, but the increased fee is contingent on either Navy or Air Force joining the league as football-only members, sources told CBSSports.com.
"We’re pleased with the fact that the league is responding in such and aggressive and strategic way," Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune. "With everything that’s going on, the nature of the response is really important."
Since Notre Dame essentially went through a referendum process in the late 1990s, football independence has become its stated goal. The three triggers that could change that figure to be: 1) The end of the NBC contract for football; 2) Squeezed access to the Bowl Championship Series; 3) The implosion of the Big East, leaving ND’s basketball teams and many of its Olympic Sports teams homeless.
Swarbrick said he has not had contact from any other conference in recent months trying to gauge Notre Dame’s interest in leaving the Big East.
"We stay very informed and talked to a lot of people," Swarbrick said, "ADs in the Big East and elsewhere, and just keep our ear to the ground and monitor what’s going on. But we’re not engaged in any discussions with any conference, nor do I anticipate that."
In the interim, there are questions: What happens to the current series with Pittsburgh or the future one with Syracuse, for example? Those series were scheduled in the name of aiding Big East football.
"I don’t anticipate that it will," Swarbrick said of the Big Ten question. The issue is less about the number of conference games and more about flexibility in playing non-conference games throughout the year. As long as there’s some flexibility to when those games are played, I don’t think there is any threat to those relationships."
But what about the Big East? Should ND be committed to the new and existing members at the expense, of say Pitt and Syracuse? Will ACC membership even allow for those games to be played on their scheduled dates?
"For a host of reasons, we have to let the dust settle," Swarbrick said. "That’s one of the reasons we haven’t announced any of our future schedules (beyond 2012). I think the entire industry is kind of in that mode, just trying to figure everything out.
"Let me say that while we do want to continue to support Big East football, we’re going to be very mindful of protecting traditional rivalries. Our tradition rivals have been great in discussions with their own conferences to protect their ability to play Notre Dame, and we want to honor that."
Staff writer Tom Noie contributed to this report.
Staff writer Eric Hansen: