COMMENTARY: Irish Gridiron Match-Up A Boon


By Kevin Meacham The Daily Campus

February 14, 2008

Storrs, CT (UWIRE) -- On this Valentine's Day, I think it's appropriate to share with you my love for rotund, globular football coaches and mystical little Irish guys in a crazy green outfit.

Oh, you haven't heard?

Then you haven't been reading outraged UConn fans on the Internet bemoaning a potential 10-game football series between UConn and Notre Dame.

According to a leaked Notre Dame internal memo, the Fighting Irish and Huskies are finalizing a deal to play 10 games beginning in 2009, including five at Notre Dame Stadium, three at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro and two at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

I love this deal, despite the fact that none of the games will be played in Connecticut. Simply put, right now this is wonderful, even if it could be a disaster six or seven years from now.

Let me set the scene for you: Senior Day at Rentschler Field in November. I stand in the bleachers at about 11:45 a.m. as a wonderful crowd of about 7,000 greets the seniors who spent their blood, sweat and tears for four or five years. The apathy from the stands was literally deafening as the perennially late-arriving crowd shuffled in from that last imperative game of parking lot beer pong. It was a sight to see so many metal bleachers 10 minutes before a major college football game.

The point is simple. UConn is a small-time, barely-regional college football team in a third-tier sports state with no national profile, unless you want to tell me 30 million people were watching the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Through no fault of its own - after all, UConn moved to Division I-A seven years ago - the UConn football program is known as "that team that West Virginia just scored on."

UConn fans have to be realistic. The team plays in a very nice, yet Podunk-sized stadium. The athletic department continues to schedule Buffalo, Temple and regional I-AA team du jour, creating one of the most awful non-conference schedules this side of Ohio State.

That's why Notre Dame (even without any "true" UConn home games) needs to be on the schedule.

Say what you will about the Irish finishing 3-9 last year, but they are the premier name in college football. Every ND home game is televised on NBC to a national audience - i.e. more people watch Notre Dame host Stanford as they do UConn and Wake Forest in the Meineke Bowl - and ESPN always manages to find a spot for Irish highlights.

In contrast, when a No. 23 UConn team beat No. 10 USF last year, it got about 20 seconds of airplay just after pressing coverage of the Mountain West Conference.

No longer can we say UConn is not trying to become a player nationally. Guess what everyone - more people will care about UConn beating Notre Dame than they ever will about beating Baylor, Northwestern or Hofstra.

So what if none of the games are at Rentschler Field? I'm sure recruits will be distressed that they have to play a prestigious BCS team in crappy old Gillette Stadium. I'm sure those Super Bowl and AFC championship trophies will seem like cruel irony, psyching out all 80 scholarship players after that two-hour drive.

Or imagine how recruits will instantly drop UConn from their lists upon seeing 80,000 people in Giants Stadium (and millions on ESPN) watching the Huskies play a ranked Notre Dame squad.

This isn't intramurals - this is Division I football, and right now UConn needs to find willing partners to elevate it to something worth talking about.

UConn could win all five of its non-conference games in 2008 and not be ranked. Nothing - other than some cheap, bowl-padding wins - is gained by beating Akron in front of a stadium half-filled with "fans" who spend $40 on a ticket to watch three quarters of football and beat the traffic.

I absolutely will stand and applaud when UConn makes this deal official. This is the first step in making UConn a team that college football fans actually think about.

The second step is to actually beat them, because of course winning is all that counts. So in 2009, when I plan on flying to South Bend, it'll be up to (presumably) Randy Edsall to make it happen and really turn this UConn football thing into hyperdrive.

And yes, if UConn is a top-10 team in six or seven years like in so many Dynasty modes of NCAA Football 2008, the deal will seem terrible. But let's cross that bridge when we get there.

On an unrelated note, as a Notre Dame football fan, I can finally make that mash-up jersey that is half-Orlovsky, half-Clausen. So there's that, too.

(C) 2008 The Daily Campus via UWIRE

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