Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 DECEMBER 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he fact that Notre Dame recently ended its 46- year, 273-game sellout streak of home football games may seem like a big deal to some — as it should — because like a colonos- copy, this development pro- vides early detection to a bigger problem. A new streak of non-sell- outs began Nov. 16 with the Navy game and extended to two games Nov. 23 when plenty of good seats re- mained available for the Boston College matchup. In a statement released to The South Bend Tribune and The Indianapolis Star, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick outlined a couple reasons why he believes this sellout streak, that dated back to the Richard Nixon presi- dency, finally came to an end. "That this comes during a time of sustained success for our football pro- gram reflects both challenges impact- ing the ticket market nationwide and the unique dynamics of this year 's schedule," Swarbrick said, in part. One of the "unique dynamics," that Swarbrick theorized about, in a subsequent interview with The South Bend Tribune, is that having three November home football games this season diluted ticket demand. What Swarbrick failed to reference is how these non-sellouts are going to become more the rule than the excep- tion, in part, because of the schedul- ing constraints Notre Dame football faces as a moonlighting member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. When the ACC agreed to bring in all of the Notre Dame athletic programs other than football and hockey for the 2013-14 school year, its league officials asked in return that Swarbrick's foot- ball program play five of its 12 regu- lar-season games every year against their conference teams. The agreement seemed reasonable and it worked well in the early years. ACC members Florida State and Miami had a rivaled history with Notre Dame. And with 15 schools situated up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and in metro areas such as Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Boston and Louisville, the Notre Dame name and brand would grow and strengthen. The downside to this relationship was that regional rivalries against teams such as Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue were placed on the endangered list in favor of games against Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and other unfamiliar foes. This five-game ACC agreement contributed this season to Notre Dame having the least enticing home schedule for Irish fans in decades, which contributed to indifference, which resulted in empty seats. Because ACC football isn't any good beyond Clemson, this conference tie- in puts Notre Dame in a tough place as it tries to win a national title as an independent program. Simply put, the Irish must go undefeated to even be considered for a playoff berth. Swarbrick cannot be blamed for not trying to schedule above and be- yond this five-game ACC constraint. His Irish just finished up home- and-home series with Michigan and Georgia. Ohio State is slated for a there-then-here two-pack against Notre Dame in 2022-23, and Wiscon- sin is on board in '21 and '22 for a neutral-site doubleheader. But as the college football landscape quickly evolves, Notre Dame's scheduling philosophy must also, and that starts with rethinking the value of playing Navy and Stanford every year, be- cause the ACC games pro- vide little oomph. Ditching these two annual games would provide Swar- birck some needed schedul- ing flexibility to wiggle out of this ACC straitjacket to build a better postseason profile, even without a con- ference championship game. And with schedules built years in advance, this is not an easy or overnight fix for Swarbrick. But Notre Dame's sched- ule must start providing more than one or two power games every year. Georgia and Michi- gan made up the short list this season. And in 2020, the schedule includes Duke, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pitts- burgh, Wake Forest, Western Michi- gan, etc. — you can go ahead and pen- cil the Irish in again for at least 10 wins. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and a home game against Clemson are the two mar- quee matchups on the 2020 slate. Take away Clemson's 11-0 re- cord, and entering games on the final weekend in November, Notre Dame's other five home opponents in 2020 — Arkansas (2-9), Western Michigan (7-4), Stanford (4-7), Duke (4-7), and Louisville (7-4) — were a combined 24-31, not an ideal lineup to start another extended streak of stadium sellouts. This five-game relationship with the ACC seemed like a good idea upon conception. But if Notre Dame wants to put butts in the seats and put itself in better playoff position, it's time to look beyond scheduling status quo, even if some longstand- ing series end and some feelings are hurt along the way. ✦ Notre Dame's Scheduling Is Stuck In The Muck UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Notre Dame's 2020 home football schedule is headlined by powerhouse Clemson, but that may be the only marquee opponent coming to South Bend. The others are: Arkansas (2-9 this year), Western Michigan (7-4), Stanford (4-7), Duke (4-7) and Louisville (7-4). PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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