Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM AUGUST 2022 17 ning and then show them why we make the decisions that we do," Freeman said. "Yeah, I've seen them go, 'OK. That makes sense.' And they decide to com- mit to this place and the way we're do- ing things." The NCAA never intended NIL to operate on a pay-for-play system, but that's essentially what it has devolved into. Notre Dame has stayed on the cautious side of that. The Irish haven't even really dipped their toes in the shal- low end unless you categorize a collec- tive (Friends of the University of Notre Dame) founded on rewarding student- athletes for charitable work as a kiddie- pool endeavor. And heck, it might be more than that. Who really knows, after all? It's only a couple months old. Freeman said shortly after taking over as head coach in December that Notre Dame wouldn't break any rules. He was deemed a world-class recruiter before NIL. That doesn't have to change in the world of it. So far, it hasn't. The num- bers are tangible proof. "We've made the decisions to do things the way we're doing them be- cause this is our core belief of what it takes to have a strong and successful career," Freeman said. "Then that kid has to decide, 'Is this what I want to be a part of or not?'" Four-star class of 2024 quarterback CJ Carr made that decision on June 9. He could have gone to Michigan, Georgia, LSU, Alabama — the list goes on. There were places that might have been more NIL-friendly than Notre Dame. But Freeman isn't selling NIL. To him, it's something that comes along with elite play. It worked for Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams, two Irish NFL draftees who didn't leave South Bend empty- handed. And now they're much richer. Carr's On3 NIL Valuation was $10,000 on April 12. On July 19, it was $148,000. His commitment didn't come with a leaked NIL deal worth millions. And it appears he's still set to reap the rewards when he steps on campus as a Notre Dame student-athlete in two years. The number is only going to keep climbing the better he plays, too. He's got two years left at Saline (Mich.) High to bolster his stock. That light bulb must have gone off in his head. ✦ Walk into the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in the heart of the Notre Dame campus. The first thing you'll see, front and center through two sets of double doors, is a crystal ball commemorating a Fighting Irish national championship. Sure, it's from a season 34 years ago. But it's there. It's a reminder of what Notre Dame once was and what it can still be, even in the ever-changing landscape of college athletics when "What can you do for me now?" far outweighs "What have you done for me before?" There's a staircase to the right of the trophy that leads to Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman's of- fice. Before you get there, though, you pass a buffet serving station. It's much smaller than one you'd see at an Embassy Suites, for reference. Much too small for Brian Kelly's taste. The former Notre Dame head coach told Ralph Russo of the As- sociated Press in April that one of the main things he pushed for be- fore leaving the Irish for LSU was a true dining hall in "The Gug" that could seat every player at once. It currently doesn't have one. The one in Baton Rouge is lavish. All the bells and whistles. Dining halls don't win national titles, though. "There is nothing missing in this building to prevent us from winning a national championship," Freeman told Blue & Gold Illustrated in late June. "I'll say that. I believe that." Kelly doesn't. He told Russo he and Notre Dame were on "different paths." In reality, the path has always been the same. It has always led to being the last team standing at the end of any given college football season. It hasn't happened at Notre Dame in more than three decades, but it hasn't been for a lack of trying. And it generally hasn't been for a lack of resources. Kelly took Notre Dame to the national title game at the end of the 2012 season. The Irish were walloped by a superior Alabama team. More recently, Notre Dame went to the College Football Playoff twice in a span of three years (2018 and 2020). Clemson and Alabama easily handled the Irish by an average margin of 22 points. Essentially three touchdowns, with a two-point conversion tacked on after one of them for good measure. A missing dining hall didn't do in Notre Dame on those grand stages. It was a talent gap. All three of those teams — 2012 Alabama, 2018 Clemson and 2020 Alabama — won the national championship. Notre Dame clearly was not on their level in those respective seasons. The Irish were well coached for what they were, but what they were was not crystal ball (or golden football) caliber. Freeman is working to change that. Take a look at the latest On3 Con- sensus Football Team Recruiting Rankings. Notre Dame ranked No. 1 for the class of 2023 as of July 25, ahead of Ohio State and Alabama, two teams perennially in the mix to win the whole thing. Clemson was No. 6. That'd be an outstanding mark for the Irish in any year. But Freeman has his sights set on more. He wants Notre Dame to have a top-five class for the first time since 2013. Only three times since 2014 have the Irish been inside the top 10, and Freeman had his hands all over one of those classes with a No. 6 finish in this past cycle. In the end, the players are always the most important piece in elite programs. Notre Dame had some re- ally good ones in the Kelly era. Those of Alabama and Clemson, in many instances, were better. But the times could be changing, and that change won't include a dining hall in The Gug. For now, anyway. If one comes, it won't be out of necessity. Freeman has all he needs. "Are we always looking for ways to enhance, to improve? Absolutely," Freeman said. "I know [director of athletics] Jack [Swarbrick], his team, our teams, everybody is looking for ways to improve this building and future building. But our focus right now is making sure there is nothing in this build- ing that's preventing us from winning the national championship." — Tyler Horka Freeman has built an elite recruiting class by letting Notre Dame sell itself and not by harping on NIL. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER National Title Time Is Now

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