Rutgers-UConn: Who Wins in Notre Dame Football Debate?

Earlier this week UConn reached an agreement with Connecticut state legislators that allows the Huskies to enter a six-game football series against Notre Dame from 2011-2017 with the three Connecticut “home games” staged at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, or Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The agreement scales down the original 10-game package where Connecticut would have forfeited five home games to surrounding states, and comes days after Rutgers University rejected a similar offer from the South Bend football machine.

The Huskies elevated to Division 1-A in 2002, joined the Big East in 2004, and grabbed a share of the conference championship last season, along with its second bowl bid. On the heels of joining D-1, Connecticut taxpayers shelled out $91.2 million to build 40,000 seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford, which draws a loyal, devoted fan base for home games. Those same loyal, devoted fans who paid for the stadium get pushed aside by the almighty Irish money-making machine in this deal.

In exchange for the lost home games, UConn gains national exposure that the school hopes will help with recruiting, publicize the program, and draw revenue. On the surface it sounds good, especially given Connecticut’s incoming recruiting class ranks last in the Big East and 70th nationally according to Rivals.com, but does simply playing Notre Dame add that much value anymore.

Last season NBC ratings dipped 40% for Notre Dame broadcasts to 1.8, exactly half the 3.8 rating it enjoyed in 2005. The Peacock networks $9 million a year exclusive contract with Notre Dame expires after the 2010 season. Diminished ratings have led to softer advertising dollars. If the trend continues NBC may choose not to renew with Notre Dame, thus none of the six games in this contract guarantee national television exposure.

No longer a perennial power, Notre Dame has resorted to bully tactics to gain a competitive advantage by forcing the home field change.  The Irish played at Boston College, in a similar size stadium, multiple times, yet refused to travel to Connecticut for any games. If BC does not require a 70,000+ stadium to host the Irish, what’s wrong with Rentschler Field?

For one, Rentschler will sell out with Husky fans, a true road test, while Gillette and the Meadowlands, will have at least half Notre Dame fans. UConn’s AD can say what it wants about tickets, the Golden Domers will have a major presence in those so-called UConn home games. Second, the New York and Boston games probably will help with recruiting – it may help more with Notre Dame recruiting. With the program slipping in recent years, facing fierce competition for the best athletes, an extra game in the Metropolitan area will help the Irish establish more of a presence in the area. UConn is already here, half way between the two major metropolis’.

UConn mentions the games will help with fundraising and connecting the two big cities with alumni. I buy that, but is it worth deserting your students and local alumni and donors to do it? Still in its growing stages, if it makes sense for any team, its UConn. The annual Big East schedule can use an extra boost, and the program will take the publicity as it tries to crawl from behind the shadows of the wildly successful basketball team.

However, Rutgers, made the right decision not bowing to almighty Notre Dame. Embarking on a $102 million renovation to increase capacity to 55,000 seats, already down the block from the Meadowlands, the Scarlet Knights don’t need to back down to other programs. They put together multiple bowl seasons, just had a second-round draft pick, and convinced the coach to stay put, refuting various overtures from big schools. Recruiting continues to improve each year, and Rutgers proved it can capture the attention of New York when it fields a good team, generating buzz during its unbeaten run in 2006. As I mentioned, an solid out of conference game always helps in the BCS standings, and for the program at large, but Rutgers should not do it at the expense of building an identity at Rutgers Stadium.

Almost 20 years removed from a national championship, annually overrated both on the field and in recruiting circles, Notre Dame has arguably lost its clout to the USC’s, Ohio State’s, and LSU’s of the world. America’s fascination with the football team continues thanks to the rich history, unless, of course, Navy beats them a few more times, or god forbid, Duke wins in front of touchdown Jesus. Rutgers showed that teams no longer need Notre Dame, and made the right choice doing it. The verdict remains out on UConn’s decision. A bigger question remains, is this an omen of things to come for the Irish. Two years from now will they lose their exclusive television contract, and potentially their unique, powerful position in the BCS contract, up for renewal later this year. Stay tuned.

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6 Responses

  1. Let’s see what happens when Notre Dame has a winning season in 2008 to NBC’s television contract. Do you think it will NOT be renewed? Do you think the Irish will then go without a contract? CBS has been waiting for years for the opportunity to pounce on Notre Dame. The Irish just landed one of the best recruiting classes in the country (15 players played in national All-Star games – tell me how THAT is overrated) and despite last season’s poor showing, were in BCS games the prior two years. The 2005 USC game was the highest rated game on NBC in ten years. I don’t think NBC is going anywhere.

    What’s missing from your short sighted article is that Notre Dame has agreed to play three Big East teams per year, and we have agreed to play one of them in New Jersey every year. We did this because we participate in the Big East in all other sports. Oh, spare me the “then Notre Dame should join the Big East” argument. The truth of the matter is that the Big East needs Notre Dame much more then we need it. Granted, it has had two great seasons for a conference; lest we forget they nearly got kicked out of the BCS before that. If Notre Dame is “no longer a perennial power”, I argue, neither is the Big East.

    So, congratulations to Rutgers. Now, we will play other Big East schools in your backyard. We will continue to land New Jersey players out from under your nose (oh, yes, we already have two top 250 players from New Jersey for the incoming class of 2009 – they must also be overrated). Instead of having a chance to beat Notre Dame for these players, stand on principle. Ignore the fact that the teams receive $1 million just for playing on NBC in South Bend. Ignore the fact that the larger stadium would ADD revenue – it is a “home” game for the Big East team and Notre Dame takes the “road” teams’ revenue. 30 miles up the road is hardly an inconvenience for must Rutgers alumni – in fact – the closer to New York City, the MORE convenient it is for most Rutgers alumni.

    Rutgers is standing on ceremony based on a temporary return to the elite in college football. Let’s see how smart this decision was when they return to the dregs of football and Notre Dame-Syracuse is nationally televised and sold out up the road. Let’s see how those New Jersey kids look in blue and gold.

    As for Boston College, they have a bit more pedigree than does any of the current Big East schools. Furthermore, they already play in a big market. Besides, if Notre Dame wanted to move a BC game to Foxboro – how does one know that Boston College would object.

    Lastly, if this is such a horrible thing that Notre Dame is doing, then why has Army and Navy been playing them at neutral sites for the better part of the last century?

  2. Oh!!! Good seach sport site.

  3. [Author’s Note]
    To address those points:
    • Both CBS and ABC beat NBC in college football ratings last season. Neither is likely to give ND an exclusive Saturday afternoon contract, and dump the remaining games. Refresh my memory, but each of the past two or three years the Irish recruiting class ranked in the Top 5. How did that work out last season? Or even the year before when they could not stop anyone on defense?
    • Grant it, ND did make the BCS two straight seasons, though one could argue they did not deserve to go at least one of those years. As soon as they are eligible, they get picked because of the following. How did they perform in those two games? Nobody claims the Big East is a powerhouse – in fact, it never was. The conference is trying to build up, the Irish have declined to this point.
    • ND played Syracuse in a two game series earlier this decade, how has that turned out for Syracuse? They got no recruits from it. Again, those recruiting rankings mean NOTHING! It’s what they do on the field. Rutgers is by no means Notre Dame, but playing the Irish will not change the recruiting landscape, so why leave campus. Giants Stadium might be convenient for Rutgers fan, but why should Rutgers play a “home” game where half the stadium root for Notre Dame? Taxpayers are expanding the campus stadium just for this reason.
    • Army and Navy have played Notre Dame forever, and those schools are in different situations. First off, it’s history, they have played for decades. Next, they are military academies where winning is not the goal of the school. Finally, they need Notre Dame more than Rutgers does. The simple question is, what does Rutgers gain from giving up these home games? Beating ND is not a huge accomplishment anymore, Rutgers gets solid ratings on ESPN when they field a good team, and I argue that the Scarlet Knights can find a more competent BCS conference team to schedule.

  4. I love how you put Rutgers in a rising program scenario and one of your points is that they just had a guy go in the second round….hahahaha. Let’s discuss the players that will be on the field next year for the Knights, oh we can’t because they don’t have anyone to replace the 2,000 yd Ray Rice who was the whole team.

    Irish had two players in the second round and one in the third followed by Sullivan to the Vikings. Oh yeah, the Irish were 3-9 last year.

    Just like those ND bullies, all you haters get your shots in now while the Irish are down on the ground.

    Classy.

  5. 1. ND finished out of the top 40 for two straight years (prior to Willingham’s final season and during the Charlie to ND transition that left him with about two weeks left to recruit an entire class)…Those two classes were juniors and seniors last season. Clearly, that directly correlated to the 3-9 collapse.

    2. Recruiting rankings mean nothing? Could you please pass that incredibly idiotic comment along to Pete Carroll? Let’s face it, the increasing intensity of recruiting rankings competition between Rivals, Scout, ESPN, etc. has translated into deeper and far more sophisticated studies of high school football players. Are recruiting rankings infallible? Of course they aren’t! Are they becoming more and more accurate predictors of success on the collegiate level and beyond? Yes, that’s indisputable. Just take a look at the percentage of first-rounders that were five-star recruits coming out of high school (somewhere in the neighborhood of 20%). That percentage gets a little larger every year. Again, yes there will always be players that develop later or are incorrectly evaluated coming out of high school that eventually turn into superstars on the next level. But…From a pure statistical standpoint, the odds are continually expanding against that anomaly.

    The bottom line is that your arguments are illogical and clearly represent a bias against Notre Dame. Please do a little more research before espousing opinions. You’ve really made yourself appear to be very ignorant with this article.

  6. Writer’s Note:
    1) ND had Top 10 recruiting classes in 2006 and 2007 – plus Top 25 in 2002 and 2003. Those 2002 and 2003 classes produced a porous defense that could not stop any legit teams. The last two recruiting classes showed little promise last season. I agree that the two bad recruiting years contributed to the 3-9 record, but with the ND schedule and two Top 10 classes 3-9 is disappointing. Michigan St., Purdue, Ga. Tech, Navy, and Air Force are all mediocre teams – all lacked the talent of two Top 10 recruiting classes.
    2) My point above is how much the ratings mean. They do not always translate to performance. Same thing with the NFL draft.

    One stat to chew on, Notre Dame has 9 straight bowl losses by an average of 18 points. Proves they often get bowl bids based on reputation, not quality. I’m not biased against Notre Dame, I’m unbiased. Too many people remain biased towards ND, missing the reality of the situation.

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