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Notre Dame is Partly Responsible for Arkansas Being in the SEC

The Irish’s deal with NBC Sports caused a seismic shift in college football.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Southwest Classic - Texas A&M v Arkansas Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday that it will play 10 games among conference members only, effectively eliminating the chance for the Arkansas Razorbacks to visit the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this year.

The Razorbacks are in the SEC, in part, because of a decision that Notre Dame made 30 years ago.

In February 1990, Notre Dame broke with the College Football Association and negotiated its own TV rights deal with NBC Sports. ABC Sports, which had negotiated a five-year, $210 million deal with the CFA that was to begin in 1991, threatened litigation. Instead, the network dropped its deal by $35 million to reflect losing out on Irish home games.

Boston Globe, Aug. 31, 1990

Amid Notre Dame’s decision, the Federal Trade Commission had been studying the possibility that the television packages — the CFA package as well as a separate deal for Big 10 and Pac 10 teams — violated a U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed the television package that preceded these deals for being anti-trust violations.

“They recently dropped their investigation of the Pac-10-Big Ten package, on the grounds that it did not constitute a monopoly,” Dick Shultz, the NCAA executive director, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in June. “Therefore, we might assume some sort of ruling to the effect that no entity larger than a conference can negotiate a package. Under those criteria, it would make sense for any conference to expand, if it were able to do so.”

SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer began talking to Arkansas (then of the Southwestern Conference), the Miami-Florida Hurricanes, the Florida State Seminoles and the South Carolina Gamecocks (all of which were independents), according to the June 3, 1990 edition of The Daily Oklahoman.

On Aug. 1, Arkansas’s board of trustees unanimously approved competing in the SWC for football for one more year, operating as an independent in 1991 and then moving to the SEC for 1992. It ended a 76-year membership for the Razorbacks in the SWC. (Arkansas ultimately played in the SWC for the 1991 football season.)

“Athletic director Frank Broyles said Arkansas’ move was part of a restructuring of college football,” the Associated Press wrote the following day. “He noted that Penn State recently joined the Big Ten, Notre Dame negotiated its own television package, and other conferences are seeking new members. ‘The ‘90s will not be anywhere resembling the ‘80s,’ he said.”

Trustees also said the Arkansas football and basketball programs each stood to gain about $840,000 in revenue — and increase of 110 percent — by joining the SEC, as well as face stronger competition.

Joe Dean, LSU’s athletic director, said he was 90 percent sure the Seminoles would become the 12th SEC team.

“I really think Florida State is coming,” Dean told The Times of Shreveport (La.) in August. “We’ve talked to their people and their president has visited us at LSU.”

Bernard Sliger, the FSU president, meanwhile met Aug. 17 in Greensboro with officials from the Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Cavaliers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, N.C. State Wolfpack and Clemson Tigers to discuss joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles had expressed “sincere interest” to ACC Athletic Director Gene Corrigan on July 25 about joining their conference.

By Aug. 24, the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies announced they were staying in the SWC, despite having “informal talks” with both the Pac-10 and SEC. Four days earlier, the Pac-10 voted against expansion.

Kramer visited Tallahassee to continue wooing the Seminoles, but the SEC commissioner sensed “lukewarm enthusiasm” during the Sept. 11 visit, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

On Sept. 13, ACC faculty representatives voted 6-2 to expand their conference and 8-0 to invite Florida State. The Seminoles accept two days later, becoming an official member the following July.

“In regard to recruiting, we’re definitely better off not in the same conference with Florida,” said Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden. “From a football standpoint, we simply have more flexibility.”

(Dean, the LSU coach, fumed after the Seminoles-ACC deal was consummated: “FSU was scared to play SEC schools.” The Seminoles were 7-0 in the past three years against SEC opponents.)

South Carolina, which never drew interest from the ACC, accepted the SEC’s invite on Sept. 25. The same day, Miami Athletic Director Sam Jankovich met with Big East Conference officials about a possible affiliation.

“Like the Metro Conference and SEC, the Big East will be coming to our campus in the near future for further discussions,” Jankovich said in a news release. “They are following the same pattern as the other conferences in terms of not extending any bids until a school is serious about accepting one.”

The Associated Press reported Sept. 26, 1990 that Miami had officially eliminated the SEC and Metro conferences from consideration, and that the Hurricanes were looking only at the Big East and ACC. Kramer, the SEC commissioner, told the press that his conference had never invited the school — and his league was happy with its 12-school organization.

Miami accepted its Big East invitation on Oct. 10, 1990.