Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2023

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

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4 AUGUST 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I t's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Jack Swarbrick stood behind a podium on the top floor of the Hesburgh Library in July and in- troduced himself as the new director of athletics at Notre Dame, all while prophetically promising that major changes were coming to college sports. Since that hot summer day, Swarbrick's list of accomplishments and memorable decisions are too many to list here. But these are a top five he should be best cel- ebrated for. PLAYOFF INCLUSION When chatter began in the summer of 2021 about a possible expansion to the College Football Playoff, Swarbrick made certain he would help to lead those negotiations, and that Notre Dame's best interest would be protected. Swarbrick was one of four playoff man- agement committee members who de- signed and proposed a 12-team playoff, a model that positioned his football pro- gram well for inclusion, even without any conference affiliation. It was a major coup that ruffled some feathers from other presidents and ADs around the country. Hurt feelings aside, the 12-team play- off Swarbrick fought so vehemently to adopt will be implemented after the 2024 regular season, with Notre Dame hav- ing enviable access and a great chance to host a playoff game in many years. COVID MANAGEMENT While football independence has served Notre Dame quite well for more than 100 years, in the summer of 2020 its national schedule became a migraine with COVID-19 threatening to wipe out the entire college football season. The Pac-12 Conference had already planned to cancel its season, pulling Stanford and USC from Notre Dame's schedule. The season-opening game against Navy in Ireland was obviously a no-go, given international travel re- strictions. The Big Ten played conference games only that season, which canceled Notre Dame's date with Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Swarbrick was in a lurch. Yet, staying free of panic under tight time constraints, Swarbrick negotiated a scheduling deal to become a full-time ACC football member for that fall. It was a brilliant move. Notre Dame went 10-0 in its ACC games that sea- son, beat No. 1 Clemson, won the regu- lar-season league title and qualified for the College Football Playoff. INDEPENDENCE MATTERS When the news broke in July 2021 that Oklahoma and Texas would be leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC, speculation regarding the potential repercussions for Notre Dame came swiftly. Power Five conferences — most no- tably the SEC and the Big Ten — began expanding and/or realigning, or at least postured to do so. Rumors of a possible collapse of the ACC ran rampant, and so did theories that Notre Dame couldn't hold onto its independence any longer and it was time to join a conference im- mediately out of fears it would be left on the outside looking in otherwise. But instead of panic, Swarbrick stayed the course, let the drama play out around him and managed to maintain Notre Dame's independence even when many thought the jig was up. CAMPUS CROSSROADS In arguably the most important cam- pus improvement undertaking in Notre Dame history, Swarbrick initiated the Campus Crossroads project in 2014. The massive undertaking added thou- sands of premium seats inside the foot- ball stadium, and it also brought three attached buildings to the stadium that house classrooms, labs, a student center, fitness center, media center, meeting and hospitality space, and much more. Part of Swarbrick's wise vision for this $400 million project was to find ad- ditional ways to use the stadium beyond only five or six home football games in the fall, and the Blue-Gold Game and commencement in the spring. The project took almost four years to complete and it continues to serve the campus community very well. OFF TO THE ACC In a masterful case of getting ev- erything he needed and much of what he wanted, Swarbrick in 2012 saw the writing on the wall that the Big East was morphing into a small-school-only conference and his Olympic sports pro- grams would need a new home. Swarbrick found a high-end one in the ACC, one of the top conferences in a variety of sports every year. Even with his hands somewhat tied during ACC negotiations, Swarbrick still managed to protect football in- dependence by becoming only a part- time football member in the league. He was also able to secure a tie-in spot to the ACC's bowl games and a great new home for his Olympic sports programs. The only thing Notre Dame had to "give up" was some of its football scheduling flexibility when it agreed to the ACC's demand of playing at least five football games every season against league members. During some the most turbulent times in college sports history, Swarbrick al- ways survived … and advanced. ✦ Swarbrick has helped Notre Dame successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape of college athletics. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Jack Swarbrick Leaves A Lasting Legacy 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

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