ND still undecided on conference decision

Updated: December 21, 2003, 6:48 PM ET
Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's new five-year television contract with NBC will not play a significant role in the school's decision whether to keep its football program independent.

"There's not an immediate correlation of any kind between those two things," athletic director Kevin White said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press. "We made a decision to extend our deal with NBC. We're going to continue to monitor our choice. We haven't made any decision."

There has been speculation since Notre Dame and NBC announced the five-year extension that it was a sign the school, a Big East member in basketball and other sports, would continue as an independent in football.

The contract with NBC is worth a reported $9 million a year through 2010.

White has avoided talking about Notre Dame's conference future except to issue a statement saying the school would "monitor the landscape."

White said Sunday nothing has changed.

"We're looking at everything and we're looking at it all the time," he said. "We're not rushing to a decision."

There's also been speculation that Notre Dame's decision whether to join a conference could hinge on how the next Bowl Championship Series is set up. The current BCS system, which ends after the 2005 season, has tie-ins with six football conferences and Notre Dame.

But White, the AD at Notre Dame since 2000, said he did not believe the new BCS contract would be a major factor, either.

"I think BCS is a market-driven endeavor. My position has always been, if we're good enough, we'll be invited. If our football team warrants an invitation, we'll get one. I don't think that is going to change," he said.

White declined to cite what factors will be key in the decision-making process.

"Everything is important," he said.

White said he has tried to avoid commenting on the subject because he did not want inferences drawn from what he did or did not say.

"We're staying the course and we're monitoring the landscape. We haven't made any decisions beyond that," he said.

He also said the decision would not be his alone to make.

Irish football coach Tyrone Willingham has said he supported White's approach.

"You just keep a constant visual of the landscape and at the right time you do what is right for the institution," he said.

Willingham was noncommittal on what he believed Notre Dame should do.

"My take is that we've done a great job in maintaining a very special place in college football history," he said. "No one has done that role any better than Notre Dame. But I do think you have to keep an eye out and be aware of that is going on around you."

White said Notre Dame has considered joining a conference since the 1920s. Notre Dame took its most serious look in 1999, but the Board of Trustees voted against joining the Big Ten after students and alumni rallied against the proposal.

White said he believed most Irish fans were taking a wait-and-see approach now.

"There are a lot of moving parts. It's fairly complex and I think a lot of people haven't rushed to a conclusion, at least that's my observation," he said. "A lot of things are changing around and we can't control that. But it would be irresponsible of us not to pay attention."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press