A common point for bashing of Notre Dame is the schedule they play. Some call it soft, some call it arrogant and most simply do not understand it.
So for starters, I would like to cover the history. For most Irish fans only three teams are considered considered Must-Haves. They are:
University of Southern California: USC is the rival. This series goes back to 1926, minus a few years during WWII. For the most part, both schools have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. This is THE game for both schools during the regular season.
Michigan: Michigan is the enemy. This series goes back to 1887 and is a natural series due to the close proximity for each school. This series only has 36 games but all signs point towards this being an annual tradition going forward.
U.S. Naval Academy: Navy is the friend. Not many people know the reason why Navy is on the schedule every year and why Navy will remain there. During WWII, Notre Dame had a large drop in enrollment. Almost to the point it caused the school to close.
The U.S. Naval Academy gave Notre Dame a helping hand by moving thousands of young men to Notre Dame for officer training during the war. Out of respect, friendship and dare I say love...this game will always be played.
A little more history....
Outside of these three schools, Notre Dame tries to keep schools like Purdue (Shillelagh Trophy), Michigan State (Megaphone Trophy), Boston College (Holy War), Pittsburgh, and Standford on the schedule on a regular basis. Other notable series include Penn State, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), and Nebraska.
A large reason for some of these series to happen was due to schools like Penn State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Michigan State being independent schools. As we all know, Notre Dame is the last standing independent out of this group.
The unique relationship between Notre Dame and the Big East...
I am not going to go too much into this because it has been hashed out ad nauseum in other posts and comments. I will say that Notre Dame is required to play three Big East schools every year.
I will also point out that, regardless of what Big East fans have to say, nobody is holding a gun to the Big East to allow Notre Dame this unique opportunity. It is mutually beneficial.
I also think it could lead to some great opportunities...
As many people know, Notre Dame has chosen to play a 7-4-1 schedule. This will give Notre Dame seven home games, four away games, and one neutral site opponent. This allows Notre Dame to have eight home and home series with three teams being asked for a game only in South Bend.
The neutral site game, and I am calling it what it is, is a opportunity for Notre Dame to take the show on the road to it's national following.
Now their has be a lot of criticism for this neutral site game but I have a very simple solution. Play the "national following game" with another team that has a national following. That team would be Navy.
I would even go as far to say Notre Dame should offer the game to Navy, keep the television rights to appease NBC but split the gate receipts with Navy. A good gesture between friends.
This game could close the season for both teams in places like San Diego and Jacksonville which are home to major US Naval bases and have a pleasant climate in late November. Every 4th or 5th year, the game could be played in Dublin, Ireland (already scheduled for 2012) and in Hawaii.
This would allow the brave men and women who serve our nation to see this game and it would put Notre Dame in both the Southeast and Southwest every other year. Which would help recruiting in the Florida and California.
What comes next...
Now that Navy, a traditional home and home game has been moved out of that position, Notre Dame now has eight teams it can schedule home and home series with. Those eight teams should be:
- USC - The rival
- Michigan - The enemy
- Big East School No. 1 - Suggested Pittsburgh
- Big East School No. 2 - Suggested Rutgers
- Big East School No. 3 - No Opinion
- Boston College - Holy War
- Open BCS Powerhouse Team - Example Oklahoma 2012-2013
- Open BCS Team - Rotation of Purdue, Michigan State or Standford
I think one of the worst things done by Notre Dame, from a PR perspective, was ask Big East teams to not play in a home and home. It simply caused unnecessary friction. I think a fair compromise would be for Notre Dame to play all three Big East opponents in a home and home.
Now what is left.....
By all accounts the schedule above is just as difficult when viewed over a long period of time as those played in the SEC or Big 12.
The schedule above would have THE premier team in the Pac-10, one of the two powerhouses in the Big 10, a solid ACC program in Boston College, a Powerhouse BCS team like Oklahoma and rounded out with middle of the pack Big 10 and or Pac 10 team.
This leaves the three home only games for Notre Dame to schedule. These games can be tricky as to some programs they are insulting.
If schools like Purdue, Michigan State and Standford want a more consistent game they should be open to maybe a three away and one home series with the Irish. I know fans of these teams might be insulted but each school needs to do what is in it's own best interest.
Playing an in state opponent in Purdue does not help Notre Dame as much as playing a school 300 miles away. Playing two Michigan schools causes similar problems. Standford is unique because it holds similar values to Notre Dame in terms of how it views student athletes but I feel Notre Dame could schedule more variety.
I would love for Notre Dame to schedule teams like Boise State in this home only section of the schedule. That is a consistently great program since the turn of the century and have a "anywhere and anytime" attitude.
Maybe an East Carolina or a Buffalo program could fill out the schedule. East Carolina has the Holtz connection and I have a strong feeling Buffalo will become a BCS program in the next 10 years or four years after the Buffalo Bills move to another city once the owner passes away.
I think the key is for Notre Dame to show a little more respect to the Big East teams, a little less consideration to Big 10 and Pac 10 teams not names Michigan and USC and take the game with Navy on the road.