Notre Dame prepares to take flight for "home" game
"It's a different feeling going to play a home game away from Notre Dame," tailback Armando Allen Jr. said.
The 25th-ranked Fighting Irish (5-2) will face Washington State (1-6) in San Antonio on Saturday, the first offsite home game under Notre Dame's new scheduling model that calls for the Irish to play seven games in South Bend, four road games and a home game at a neutral site.
Former athletic director Kevin White announced the plan three years ago, saying the offsite games harkened back to the barnstorming era of Knute Rockne. The goal, he said, was to go back to its roots as an independent team in football, saying "over time we've really begun to behave like a wannabe conference member."
Current athletic director Jack Swarbrick, hired in July 2008, has a different view. He sees the games as a way to promote the university rather than the football team.
"We don't need to go somewhere to promote Notre Dame football," he said.
Swarbrick also disagrees with White on the type of teams Notre Dame should be playing in the offsite games. White said the Irish didn't want to schedule "heavyweights," saying the school needed to schedule games "conducive to success."
Originally Notre Dame had hoped to draw a Texas team to play the Irish in San Antonio, but ran into resistance from conferences that didn't want Notre Dame playing a home game within its conference footprint, mainly because it would be televised by NBC. Swarbrick believes Notre Dame will be able to get around that obstacle.
"The thing that I have found is that the other conferences have to be your partner in this. They have to go to their broadcasters to get permission," he said. "I'm fairly optimistic that conferences will help make it happen."
The offsite games also give NBC a chance to televise a Notre Dame game in prime time, the first time in the 19 years the network has been airing Irish games.
The only other offsite games scheduled so far are against Army at Yankee Stadium next season and against Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in 2013. White scheduled the Arizona State game, while Swarbrick scheduled the Army game.
While the Black Knights don't qualify as a heavyweight, Swarbrick said the game makes sense from a historical perspective. Two of Notre Dame's greatest wins came against Army in 1913 and in 1928, as well as a 0-0 tie in 1946.
"Our goal is to have these be featured games, have some element to distinguish them on our schedule," he said. "Next year we will be celebrating our tradition with Army. In other years, our goal will be to have a very high-caliber opponent that creates the feel of a midseason bowl game."
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis calls the offsite games "intriguing," especially in the area of recruiting. The Irish, who haven't had a strong presence in Texas in recent years, can give three tickets to high school recruits, but can't have any contact with them at the game.
Notre Dame players, who took buses to their first two road games at Michigan and Purdue, like the idea of taking a plane for a home trip.
"It's cool," center Eric Olsen said. "It's fun to go to these games in different places every year and get to see the rest of the country."
The Irish likely won't see much of San Antonio, though, after arriving at their hotel Friday evening. Weis has told them they can forget the Alamo. They won't even be going to the pep rally like they normally do at home games.
Still, players from Texas, such as place-kicker Nick Tausch (Plano), defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (Weatherford) and left guard Chris Stewart (Spring) are looking forward to the trip.
"I think it's a great thing to get back to Notre Dame not only being in the spotlight here but around the nation playing games," Stewart said. "Growing up in Texas, you always heard about when Notre Dame was in Texas."
Like a second home.