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Saturday, June 15, 2024
The Observer

Miller: Why doesn't Notre Dame schedule Big 12 opponents?

Marcus Freeman leads the Notre Dame out on the field at the Fiesta Bowl.
Marcus Freeman leads the Irish out onto the field before their 37-35 loss to Oklahoma St. in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2022.
Marcus Freeman leads the Irish out onto the field before their 37-35 loss to Oklahoma St. in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2022.

With Colorado's announced return to the Big 12, new head football coach Deion Sanders and his overhauled football program bring significant media attention to the soon-to-be revamped conference. Just 29 miles away from Denver, Coach Prime and the Buffaloes add another major market to the new Big 12.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame wants to hold on to its (made-up) title of “America’s Team.” Yet, Notre Dame continually avoids scheduling Big 12 opponents. Since 2002, the start of Tyrone Willingham’s tenure as head football coach, the football team has played just four regular season games against Big 12 teams: home and homes with Oklahoma in 2012 and 2013 and Texas in 2015 and 2016.

For such a national brand, Notre Dame is missing out on exposure in major markets west of the Mississippi. With its recent additions, the Big 12 has a stake in some of the largest cities in the nation: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Orlando, Kansas City and Denver. If the Big 12 were to add Arizona State to get to 14 teams, it would add Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in America.

In the coming years, Notre Dame so far has zero games scheduled against Big 12 teams (or Pac-12 teams outside of traditional rivals Stanford and USC). At the same time, outgoing athletic director Jack Swarbrick scheduled a strange home and home with Arkansas. In 2029, Notre Dame plays an away game at USF, an embarrassing concession made in 2020 to get USF to come to South Bend during the craziness of COVID-19 (the Irish will also host USF again in 2031).

Swarbrick and incoming athletic director Pete Bevacqua would be wise to venture outside of traditional scheduling tactics to ensure Notre Dame can be seen by new fans and new recruits. Notre Dame likes to control its athletics as much as possible, keeping away games to a minimum and scheduling ample neutral site games. Yet, every team must play away games. And Big 12 schools present Notre Dame with valuable and unique opportunities to advertise the football program, fans, traditions and mission of the University to new markets.

Dare I say even in Texas, because of its unique nature, Notre Dame has some level of leverage in recruiting. A private, Catholic, top-20 school can offer something different than Texas, TCU, and Texas A&M. It might not necessarily be better, but it’ll sure be different. Notre Dame could offer a message that might appeal to some parents and coaches looking for a place for their sons to play.

With the upcoming changes to the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame will be able to take more risks during the regular season. Gone are the days when a team could only make the playoff with at most one loss. With eight teams making it, there's more wiggle room for losses. And in the words of Nicole Kidman, “heartbreak feels good in a place like this.”

The Big 12 is transforming into America’s Conference. Its teams will range from Orlando to Salt Lake City. America’s Team should take every opportunity to boost its prominence. Notre Dame needs to stay true to itself. It can’t get complacent. Scheduling some games with the Big 12 are critical to continue the University’s legacy. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.