(Quick update on yesterday's post about the Tulsa and TCU games. The South Bend Tribune is reporting today that ND and Tulsa are in negotations for an October 30, 2010 game in South Bend.)
Any time Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, has something to say, it's probably a good idea to saddle up and listen. His latest blog post in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution muses on the possibility of a Notre Dame-Georgia Tech matchup in the Georgia Dome. Sounds like the Atlanta Sports Council would love to have the Irish down in Atlanta for one of our neutral site games.
I think this game would be a great opportunity for the Irish to get a little exposure in heart of SEC country in a major city like Atlanta. From what I have heard, Atlanta is a huge college football town with SEC and ACC grads all over the city, and the city has been making quite a push to take advantage of their huge college football fanbase to host some major college football games in addition to the annual SEC championship game. They just started this Chick-fil-A College Football Kickoff event in 2008, and there has been some discussion about rotating the Florida-Georgia Cocktail Party between Atlanta and Jacksonville. I've also heard that they would be interested in becoming the new home to the College Football Hall of Fame someday. No idea if that's true, but it sort of matches the city's goal of becoming a major player in the college football world.
This Chick-Fil-A thing is not some half-baked event either. It has become the premier showcase of the opening weekend in college football. Here's a little closer look at the games on the docket for the Chick-fil-A Event:
2008 - (last year) Alabama vs. Clemson
2009 - Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
2010 - (rumored) North Carolina vs. Georgia/LSU/Ole Miss
2011 - TBD
2012 - Tennessee vs. North Carolina State
Seems like they have tried to match up an SEC school with an ACC school, and it looks like they've done a heckuva job putting together these games.
I have no idea if the plan would be for Notre Dame to play in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff event or another game, but I think Atlanta would be a very attractive option for a neutral site game for the Irish. It's a big college football town, recruiting is fertile in that area, the weather is good, and it's a huge city that we don't get to visit that often. There are so many big time football schools within a couple hours drive from Atlanta who would make for a quality option in a neutral site game. You've got Georgia and Georgia Tech in the state, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, Miami, South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee. All kinds of options, and every one of those teams would be great.
It sounds like ND might actually be serious about wanting to play a quality opponent in Atlanta. This line from the article is especially interesting:
The word I got here is that the Irish might consider it for a chance to play a Georgia Tech or an Alabama.
Now, we're talking! That type of game would be a major departure from what we have seen so far out of the "neutral site" home game. Thus far, the neutral site game has been used as a revenue generator and as a venue for a primetime NBC telecast. If we were to play Alabama or Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I'm presuming that it would be more of a classic neutral format. Split the gate, and sell tickets so that both fanbases can get an equal crack at tickets. More of a true bowl game atmosphere than this Washington State in San Antonio or Army in NYC nonsense.
Plus, Georgia Tech is actually a quality program with good tradition. They are your classic above-average ACC program that has had some excellent teams throughout their history. You can all but guarantee that GT is going to be a Gator Bowl/Peach Bowl type team every year, and we've had some great games with them in the past. Put it this way. Georgia Tech would be a SUBSTANTIAL upgrade over some of the other games we've been adding in recent years. I would never have a problem playing them.
The other great thing about a possible neutral site game with Georgia Tech or Alabama is that you could use it as a vehicle for a 1-1-1 series with home and road games added in. That would be outstanding. Maybe we couldn't do the games three years in a row, but signing a three game contract with one of these schools would be cause for excitement from the ND fanbase (and some relief as well). It would be nice to see ND renew a commitment to play more home and home series.
And if the game is actually Alabama, then I will be jumping for joy. An ND-Alabama game in Atlanta would be the game of the year in college football. Two historic programs that haven't played in a number of years, and it appears that both programs are on the rise. It would be an absolute blast to mingle with some Bama fans. I'd also love to have them up to South Bend for a game, and then I'd love to go down to Tuscaloosa the following year to experience all the pomp and circumstances of a game deep in the heart of Dixie. Rammer Jammer! I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.
Two questions about this matchup.
1) When would it happen?
My guess is that we would be looking to do this type of game some time in the middle of the next decade when some of our contracts start freeing up a little more flexibility. I think the NBC deal runs out in 2014, so maybe we can renegotiate at that point and get rid of the 7-4-1 model. I believe we are playing Baylor in New Orleans in 2012 and Arizona State in Dallas in 2013. After that, maybe ND would look for a game in Atlanta. Maybe we would even ask to be one of the teams in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff event in 2014 or something like that. I couldn't think of a better way to open the season than by participating in a game like that one. It would bring back a little pizzazz to the opening weekend of the football season for the Irish. Historically, we have played some very big games in the opener.
In the meantime, why not just tell the city of Atlanta that we'll also do a neutral site game there in 2011 towards the end of the season?? Can anyone think of a good reason why we couldn't do that game?? Look at this 2011 schedule as it stands for now:
S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S17 MICHIGAN STATE
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O01 SOUTH FLORIDA
O15 Army (neutral site)
O22 SOUTHERN CAL
N26 @ Stanford
Two games TBD
Isn't there a gaping hole in the back end of that schedule?? After the USC game, we're basically playing no one. We could sign up for that neutral site game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech or Alabama, and suddenly we'd have a quality opponent for the November schedule. Why couldn't this work?? If you're worried about the fact that we're already playing Army in Orlando, then move the Army game to South Bend. Or just keep it in Orlando.
We could maybe set up something like this:
Neutral site game - November 2011
Chick Fil-A Kickoff game - Opening Weekend 2014
Home game - South Bend - 2017
Road game - GT or Alabama - 2018
Bottom line, that 2011 schedule needs another quality opponent, and Swarbrick has two years to find one. There are two opponents still to be determined. I don't want another Tulsa/TCU combo for 2011 when you have two years to fix the problem. If you get Georgia Tech, then you can add in your MWC "buy game" for the other game. But you can't tell me that there's no room for another big time game on that schedule, especially late in the year. Like it or not, college football is a beauty pageant, and you gotta play some good teams late in the year. When everyone else is impressing pollsters with conference championship games and big rivalry games, we can't be out there closing up shop with UConn and Navy and two "buy games." Go set up the game with Georgia Tech or Bama and put some teeth into the back end of the schedule.
2) Can the athletic department get it done??
In order to get a game like this one done, it is going to require a new line of thinking from the administration. This game will not happen if we pull the Heisler/White routine and ask for all the revenue. The fact that ND asked about playing Georgia Tech or Alabama instead of Central Florida or Army is encouraging. Swarbrick can't be naive enough to think that either of those schools would play us in Atlanta while we kept all of the revenue, so presumably he has made it clear that we would be willing to split the gate with whoever we play. Maybe the tv contract would be negotiable as well. Either way, that would be a major change from the Kevin White era of scheduling.
This is the type of flexibility and creativity that I would like to see out of Swarbrick. I know the ND schedule can represent a jigsaw puzzle at times, but this is his job. This is why we hired him. The scheduling process requires negotiation, but the guy is supposed to be a trained negotiator. He's supposed to figure out how to make these games work to make sure ND has a quality football schedule every single year. If it means occasionally bending on the 7-4-1, then that's what you gotta do. If it means using the neutral site as a true neutral game instead of a de-facto home game, then you do that. If it means putting Purdue and Stanford on the backburner for a couple years, by all means let's make that happen. Maybe it even requires that you play teams a few years apart to make it work. At the end of the day, the only thing I care about is that you get the job done.
We've heard lots of rumors, but we won't really know what we have in Jack Swarbrick until we start seeing some announcements for games in the upcoming years. I am curious to find out if Swarbrick is willing to make concessions to get this game lined up, or if he's just paying some lip service to get frustrated alumni off his back. If Jack Swarbrick is really serious about exploring one of these matchups in Atlanta, he might turn out to be an effective AD after all.