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Thursday, August 5, 2010
Irish's Texas deal could signal change

By Wes Morgan

The university perhaps most responsible for Notre Dame retaining its treasured football independence is reportedly the latest program to agree to take on the Fighting Irish.

Texas and Notre Dame agreed to a four-game series that begins on Sept. 5, 2015 when the Longhorns travel to South Bend. The Fighting Irish will visit Austin in 2016 and 2019 before Texas returns to Indiana in 2020.

"Starting a series with the Texas Longhorns is great not just for Notre Dame, but college football, and we couldn't be happier about it," Irish coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. "When I look at the job Coach Brown has done at Texas in reviving a once proud tradition, I see many parallels to what our staff plans to do at Notre Dame. The addition of Texas to our future schedules is just another example of the type of high-profile programs we plan on playing as an independent. We look forward to embracing our unique status within college football and continuing to schedule games against similar programs down the road."
Which likely means soon abandoning its 7-5-1 scheduling model.

The Longhorns, who temporarily staved off widespread conference realignment earlier this summer by remaining in the 10-team Big 12 conference, bring serious weight to an Irish schedule that added a few pounds just last month. Notre Dame renewed its storied rivalry with Miami beginning on Oct. 6 of 2011 at Soldier Field followed by a home-and-home series.

Though former coach Charlie Weis was unable to take advantage, Notre Dame's schedule in recent years hasn't resembled the murderer's row it boasted for decades.

Combined with ongoing appearances by spotty service academies over the past three seasons, the 2009 slate featured Nevada -- the Western Athletic Conference's second-best team -- and Connecticut, a non-factor in the Big East that waltzed into South Bend and knocked off the Irish in double-overtime and sealed Weis' fate.

In 2008, a narrow victory over San Diego State to start the season and an embarrassing loss to Syracuse near the end were both surprising results against teams few ever expected to see play at Notre Dame Stadium. Duke wiggled its way on to the schedule in 2007, an Atlantic Coast Conference squad that last cracked the Top 25 in 1994.

Despite four consecutive bowl appearances prior to last season, Tulsa comes to South Bend on Oct. 30 lacking real marquee value.

Last September, the Irish had an unexpected vacancy in its 2010 schedule and filled it with Western Michigan, the first MAC program since the league's formation in 1946 to square off against Notre Dame.

"We put notice out to a number of schools," Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette last October. "Western did a great job on it and were a great partner in trying to make this work. ... Frankly, how much effort they put into it and how responsive they were to the situation made it very easy. ... With a lot of other programs, it got pretty complicated."

It worked mostly because an eager WMU didn't dare ask for anything in return other than the $800,000 check for traveling 75 miles to South Bend.

Akron appears willing to do the same, according to a recent report at themacdaily.com.

"I think you might be hearing something positive in that regard very soon," said Zips first-year coach Rob Ianello, a former assistant on Weis' staff at Notre Dame.

When reached Wednesday, before the series with Texas was made official, Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler would not confirm that a deal with Akron was being discussed.

"Neither of those items is official or has been announced," Heisler said in an e-mail. "Our policy has been to announce complete season schedules as they are finalized. We have not formally announced individual series."

If Notre Dame continues to add heavyweights like Miami and Texas to the mix, there will be fewer opportunities for one-off dates in the future and the Irish might have to settle for the traditional six home games -- a tradeoff that appears worthwhile to Swarbrick and Kelly.