Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hurricane Watch | by Jay

We might have a storm front breaking on future Notre Dame schedules. Yesterday Jack Swarbrick confirmed to the Miami Herald that he and Miami AD Kirby Hocutt are talking about a potential 3-game series between the two old rivals.

After a nearly two-decade break, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the Fighting Irish is ''very interested'' in playing Miami again in football, and the interest is mutual.

UM's Kirby Hocutt initiated talks with Swarbrick, who became Notre Dame's athletic director in July. No dates are set, but talks will resume in April, Swarbrick said by phone Monday.

NBC's Notre Dame contract includes seven Irish home games and one prime-time neutral site game annually through 2015. ''You could do that,'' Swarbrick said of the neutral site game, "plus do one home and home.''

UM and Notre Dame played annually (1971-1985 and 1987-1990) before the Irish discontinued the series. A Notre Dame student printed ''Catholics vs. Convicts'' T-shirts before the epic 1988 game in South Bend, Ind., which Notre Dame won 31-30. UM won five of the past seven meetings and hostilities rose during and after Miami's 58-7 win in 1985, when the Canes were accused of running up the score.

Playing Miami is appealing, Swarbrick said, because "they are two great academic institutions. We're eager to play schools that share our values. There's a lot of great history around the games."
I like this deal for a number of reasons, but mostly because it blows up the scheduling paradigm that Kevin White was trying to implement. Adding a big-name team like Miami in a home-and-home arrangement is exactly the kind of scheduling change that we needed to shake up the listless slate foisted upon us by our erstwhile athletic director. As we noted back then, White actually refused such a deal with Miami back in 2006, so adding them now would signal a sea change from the "no more heavyweights" mandate and balance the schedule with another serious A-lister. (The third game, a neutral site matchup, is just the icing on the cake.)

There might be some reticence among some Irish fans to revive this series based on what happened in 1989. Everybody who went to the '89 game at the Orange Bowl (including friends and relatives of mine) came back with horror stories about shabby (and sometimes dangerous) treatment from the hometown crowd. I know Irish Alzheimers can be hard to shake, but think about this: we've played Miami 23 times, which makes them one of our most common "non-regular" opponents over the years. There's some history there with the 'Canes, and it goes beyond '89. (For instance, here's another little game againt the Hurricanes that you might recall.) In any case, twenty-plus years is a long time, and since then, Miami has moved from the "charming" environs of the Orange Bowl and decamped to Dolphin (née Joe Robbie) Stadium. Believe me, it's an upgrade.

Ideally, we could set this up as a home date at ND in October, and a late November away game (alternating with Southern Cal). Unlike with other conferences, there is plenty of precedent in the ACC for scheduling out-of-conference games late in the season: Georgia Tech traditionally plays Georgia in the last game of the season, Clemson plays South Carolina, Wake Forest played Vanderbilt last year, FSU plays Florida, and so on. Miami is actually playing a non-conference game against USF this year on November 29th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving; the Hurricanes would make a perfect replacement for Stanford as a late-season marquee opponent that we've been lacking in the years we don't travel to Los Angeles.

The article mentioned the NBC contract running through 2015; could this series be scheduled within that time frame? Perusing the various future schedule sites (as well as the leaked scheduling memo from last year, which now, of course, must be taken with a huge grain of salt), it looks like there's definitely room to squeeze them in. Let's git 'er done, Jack.