In the wake of the recent coaching change, Notre Dame is going to have an important decision to make relative to this year’s bowl game.
Ordinarily, a 6-6 team wouldn’t need to worry about such things, but this is Notre Dame, after all.
It is expected that the team will have an opportunity to vote on whether to accept an expected bowl bid. It is still unclear when this might take place, although it should happen relatively soon.
Conventional wisdom has the Irish getting a bid to the Little Caesar’s or GMAC Bowls, likely against an opponent from the Mid-American Conference, such as Central Michigan or Ohio.
Certainly a major step down from the BCS bowls Notre Dame aspires to. Yet, if the players decide they would like to play in the bowl game, then that is what should happen. It appears that the university will honor the wishes of the players.
However, regardless of what the players decide, I believe that the longer term interests of the football program would be better served if the Irish declined their fourth coming bowl bid.
First off, I believe that the bowl game and everything associated with it will be a distraction from the program’s primary focus, which should be finding the best head coach. Who knows how long that process might take?
As the George O’Leary fiasco proved, hiring a head coach is not something that can be rushed. It takes time, effort, patience, persistence, and diligence.
Realistically, this is a process that requires a minimum of a few weeks to as many as several weeks. Candidates need to be identified, interviewed, and probably most importantly, a contract needs to be worked out. A coaching staff needs to be assembled after the head coach is hired.
I can’t imagine a scenario where both the right head coach for Notre Dame and the coaching staff are assembled in time to properly prepare for a bowl game in December or even early January. And even if this could be accomplished in less than one or two weeks, I’m not sure that preparing for a bottom-tier bowl game would be the best use of the new coaching staff’s time and talent.
The program would be better served by allowing the new head coach and coaching staff to focus on shoring up the 2010 recruiting class, rather than preparing for a lower-tier bowl game. Certainly, there have to be a lot of recruits asking a lot of questions about the direction the football program is going.
If the new coaching staff is focused on the bowl game, it might allow rival schools to take advantage of the situation and swoop in and grab blue chippers that might have some reservations, given the coaching situation. At this point, Notre Dame needs all the good players it can get.
Additionally, I just don’t see where Notre Dame has an awful lot to gain by playing in a bowl game like this. Given all the extraneous activities surrounding the program of late, I think the results of the bowl game are a toss up, at best. If Notre Dame wins, then, of course, mighty Notre Dame should win against the mid-major little brother. Or, if they lose, then it adds even more misery to the program and perhaps sets them back even further for next year and beyond.
If I’m a senior on the team with minimal NFL opportunities, then I would be more inclined to vote to play the game. Might as well have one last hurrah.
However, if I am Jimmy Clausen or Golden Tate, and already expect to enter the NFL draft, then I’m not sure I see the benefit to playing another game. My draft stock is already high, so why risk injury or a terrible performance that might affect my draft position?
Likewise, if I’m an underclassmen, I think I would rather have my new coaching staff working to bring in the best recruits to assure success in future years rather than prepare for a relatively meaningless lower-tier bowl game.
You might recall that there is some precedent for Notre Dame turning down a bowl bid. In Lou Holtz’s last year (1996), the Irish declined bowl bids to lesser tier bowls.
Will history be repeating itself?
There certainly is plenty to watch in the coming days and weeks under the Golden Dome…and this includes more than just who the next head coach will be.