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What Notre Dame’s New Athletic Director, Peter Bevacqua Should Do To Re-establish The Fighting Irish at the Top of College Football.
Bevacqua and the Notre Dame athletic department need to double down on Notre Dame’s international scope, unparalleled alumni base, and unique brand.
When I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was not firefighter or astronaut, or even the President. Rather my heart was set on one thing, being a Notre Dame Football Player. So, when I was blessed to spend two years as a walk-on for Notre Dame’s football team, I quite literally was living my dream.
While a National Championship was unfortunately not in the cards during my tenure, I firmly believe that Notre Dame stands on the cusp of reclaiming its rightful place at the apex of College Football. The foundation laid by Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly since my final year on the team has provided Marcus Freeman and Pete Bevacqua with a formidable platform to make the next jump that has eluded Notre Dame since 1989 (technically, we won in 1993 since we beat FSU in our head-to-head matchup, but I digress).
In the grand tapestry of college football, Notre Dame stands alone. When you ask ChatGPT (the knower of all things) which program is the most storied in college football, Notre Dame is top on that list. When you look at accomplishments of National Championships, Heisman Trophy winners, or NFL Draft Picks, Notre Dame is again top of that list.
But the real allure of Notre Dame, the trait that sets it apart from its rivals, is its inherent improbability. It is a small Catholic school nestled in a sleepy Indiana town, competing against the behemoth state schools. This David versus Goliath narrative is the heart of Notre Dame's unique appeal, demonstrating the pride and tradition of a university accustomed to teams defying the odds (what tho they are great or small).
Beyond getting more money from the NBC deal (hopefully 3x), locking in a new sponsor (hopefully Jordan or Lululemon), and renovating the Guglielmino Complex (I would be happy to help train the kitchen staff on how best to cook a steak) there is more work to be done. Athletic Director Bevacqua is tasked with profound responsibility.
In an era of significant transformations within the collegiate sports landscape, he needs to amplify the unique aspects that make Notre Dame special and carve out a distinct path that resonates with our ethos. The strategy should be less about conforming to the change and more about infusing our unique identity into this changing landscape, creating a future that is undeniably, Notre Dame.
Just as our Golden helmets shine like no other, Notre Dame shines across the globe as the only truly international brand in college football. We are a school with a famous French name, a mascot symbolizing our Irish Catholic heritage, and have an alumni network that carries forth Notre Dame’s mission across each continent. This international flavor grants Notre Dame an edge that regional rivals like Alabama or Clemson could never dream of.
Notre Dame is kicking off the 2023 season against the US Naval Academy in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Ireland’s tourism department is anticipating “39,000 fans directly from the United States, which represents a new world record for the largest number of Americans to travel internationally for a single sporting event”, outpacing World Cup matches and Olympic events.
To harness this distinctive advantage, Notre Dame should commit to an international game every four years. This tradition not only allows us to maintain our global reach but serves as a phenomenal recruitment strategy. Imagine the allure of promising every potential recruit that during their four-year tenure, they will have the opportunity to play on an international stage. This approach intertwines our unique global identity with the changing dynamics of collegiate sports, creating a future that is quintessentially Notre Dame. Here are a few suggested matchups:
Notre Dame versus Boston College in Rome: A face-off between the only two Catholic Universities in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) set in the capital of Catholicism. Beyond the spectacle of the football match, kicking off the season on the doorstep of Vatican City affords both universities the opportunity to spotlight their academic pursuits and mission-centric activities. Furthermore, envision the profound resonance of a joint pregame mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
Notre Dame versus LSU in Paris: Given Brian Kelly’s recent departure for the purple pastures of LSU, this game would not hunger for storylines. But beyond the gridiron, Notre Dame is a school founded by French Priests and bearing the name of the renowned Parisian cathedral, which is reason enough for Irish fans to flood the cafes lining the Seine. Add to this mix LSU with its unique French heritage and its fervently loyal fan base, ready to cross the Atlantic for this high-profile matchup. Now you've got a recipe for a game that could stoke the fires of football enthusiasm across Europe as few others could.
Notre Dame versus USC in Istanbul: USC, carrying forward the legacy of its Trojan namesake, competing within a chariot ride from the historical city of Troy, promises a spectacle. Adding another layer of significance is Istanbul's rich history as the historic Constantinople, a city named after the first Catholic Roman Emperor. This game would not just be a meeting of athletic prowess but a convergence of historical, cultural, and religious threads, tying the teams to the past and presenting an exhilarating blend of tradition and competition suitable for such an iconic rivalry.
Notre Dame versus Hawaii in Tokyo: This matchup capitalizes on the burgeoning popularity of American football in Japan, inviting a whole new demographic into the thrill of college football. Hawaii, with its geographical positioning as a nexus between the East and the West, serves as an ideal opponent. While bringing college football to Asia would reinforce the unique and far-reaching influence of Notre Dame football.
Notre Dame versus Miami in Cuba: Miami, with its vibrant Cuban-American community, shares a profound cultural connection with Cuba, making a game on this island nation an event of deep resonance for the hometown fans. Meanwhile, the city of Havana, steeped in Catholic heritage, provides an ideal setting for Notre Dame’s first game in the Caribbean.
Incorporate a Junior Year Abroad with Potential Team Activities
As I said earlier, my time on Notre Dame’s football team was a blessing and a dream come true. The one lament I have (aside from not winning a Natty) was forgoing the opportunity to study abroad during my junior year.
Notre Dame should borrow a tactic from Jim Harbaugh (an admittance that truly pains me, as it entails giving credit to Michigan), who in 2017 led the Wolverines overseas and conducted several spring practices in Rome, utilizing the facilities of the AS Roma Soccer Club.
Notre Dame should embrace this concept wholeheartedly and push it even further. Notre Dame already boasts a substantial presence in London through its study abroad program, complete with its own classroom and dormitory facilities. It stands to reason that the University could make it feasible for junior football players to spend their spring semester abroad.
By the time the spring semester comes around, these players would have already been part of three fall camps, three full seasons, and two spring camps. For overall fitness Notre Dame could easily coordinate a training regimen by partnering with one of London's Premier League teams. Moreover, a small contingent of graduate assistants and analysts could accompany the players studying abroad to London, ensuring they receive sufficient position-specific training and do not miss out on crucial development opportunities. This could all be combined with several full-team practices if Coach Freeman decides to bring the entire team overseas for the week of Spring Break.
The melding of academic experience and athletic development abroad would not only enrich the players' perspective but also bolster Notre Dame's reputation as an institution committed to integrating global exposure into its educational and athletic programs.
Expand Our Career Services to Players’ Entire Working Careers
Among the powers of college football, Notre Dame stands unrivaled in terms of its academic reputation. For schools that have appeared in the College Football Playoffs more than once, the nearest contenders to Notre Dame in US News Rankings (Ohio State and Georgia, tied at 49) are still over 20 spots below our Lady’s University. This illustrious academic stature, coupled with a robust alumni base, offers recruits the assurance that choosing Notre Dame is not merely a four-year decision but a strategic forty-year investment. It underscores the promise that Notre Dame sets them up for a successful career beyond football.
However, there is room to enhance this further. The career support services, as robust as they are, conclude once the players graduate. But the idea of career support should truly embody the "4 for 40" concept—offering guidance and assistance at different stages throughout a player's professional journey.
From discovering prospective job interests to pinpointing firms that align with players' talents and ambitions, the services should be a constant. They should offer practice for interviews, assist with cover letter creation, and support other vital aspects of professional growth. These services should not cease at graduation; instead, they should persist, ensuring former football players receive ongoing support until their eventual retirement.
Golden Dome Executive Circle
As earlier stated, Notre Dame’s alumni base is without equal amongst the college football powers. From Fortune 500 corporate executives to multinational CEOs to entrepreneurial small business owners who operate local real estate brokerages or car dealerships. Capitalizing on this exceptional alumni strength, the university can further its commitment to lifelong networking and career opportunities for its former athletes.
We should establish a "Golden Dome Executive Circle" (GDEC). This initiative would forge connections between the past, present, and future of Notre Dame, harnessing the potential of our alumni to enhance the lifelong prospects of our athletes.
Business executives who love (thee) Notre Dame, whether they be alumni or subway alumni, can apply for membership in the GDEC. Once accepted, these executives will get access to certain GDEC-wide perks like attending practices, joining the team at gameday mass, or getting a chance to watch how the coaches break down film.
In reciprocation, these executives will play a pivotal role in the ongoing development of our former football players. Through mentoring and leveraging their extensive networks, these executives can provide opportunities that align with our players' ambitions. The GDEC will not only create a symbiotic relationship between the executives and our athletes but also uphold the "4 for 40" promise we make to our players.
Let us introduce this unique process, managed by tokens. Upon graduation, each player will receive an annual allocation of tokens, with the amount determined by the number of Monograms they earned during their tenure at Notre Dame. These tokens then serve as a form of currency to purchase networking opportunities with members of the GDEC.
To illustrate, a 15-minute phone call would hold a different token value than an hour-long networking lunch. Similarly, an event with a local business owner might cost fewer tokens than a similar occasion with a high-level CEO. The token value of these opportunities could be decided at the executive's discretion, or alternatively, they could be auctioned off using a Vickrey Auction system. Under this model, bidders would submit blind bids, and the highest bidder would secure the opportunity but only at the price of the second-highest bid.
For instance, envision the opportunity for a former player to save up their tokens and spend them to get a chance to play a round of golf with Jimmy Dunne. Or another player hoarding their tokens to get a 30-minute coffee with Tom Mendoza on a game weekend. Or yet another former player using their token to meet a local real estate broker to try to break into the market of a city they recently moved to.
This token system would essentially pave the way for unique experiences and critical networking opportunities. Notre Dame football players could connect directly with business executives who are eager to contribute to their alma mater's legacy, thereby reinforcing the powerful bond within the Notre Dame community.
Moreover, both current and former players can contribute their own unique experiences to accrue more tokens for future use. Consider, for instance, Kyle Hamilton, looking towards his future after football, could decide that once a season, he would offer the GDEC community a Ravens Home game experience as his guest, getting dinner the night before the game and sitting in the family section. He could save these tokens for his post-football career, effectively providing a nest egg for his transition into a new industry. Current players can also leverage this token system. Sam Hartman, for example, might offer post-home game film breakdowns or quarterbacking lessons for a GDEC member's child. This initiative not only facilitates player involvement in the GDEC but also empowers them to shape their future careers.
A program such as the GDEC can stoke the synergy between former football players and our expansive alumni network. It will serve as a powerful recruitment tool by forging robust connections for recruits with a plethora of executives. More importantly, it will spawn a multitude of impressive post-football careers for our athletes, underlining the exclusive 4 for 40 experience that only Notre Dame can provide.
Marketing & Content Creation
Sports once adhered to an employer/employee model, yet this archetype has lost its relevance in today's contemporary landscape. This evolution traces its roots back to Michael Jordan's revolutionary decision to collaborate with Nike as his shoe sponsor and acquire a share of the shoe's equity rather than merely receiving a paycheck. The story, recently depicted in the film "Air," signals the inception of a transformative shift in sports. Although Jordan garnered approximately ~$100m from his on-court exploits, he has amassed over ~$1.5b from Nike and the Air Jordan brand.
This trend shows no signs of deceleration. Recently, Lionel Messi made headlines by choosing to spend the latter part of his illustrious soccer career in the MLS. The intriguing element of this contract is not his annual salary but rather the innovative agreement he forged with Apple+ and Adidas to earn a share of the additional revenue he generates for these companies. When Serena Williams decides to stop dominating the tennis court, her next planned move is to start her own early-stage venture capital company. Athletes like Kevin Durant and Michael Phelps have transitioned from player to owner as they have recently purchased their own pickleball franchises.
Athletes today transcend their roles as mere sports participants tasked with scoring points or clinching victories. They have evolved into content creators and personal brands capable of generating considerable value. It is crucial that Notre Dame becomes a frontrunner in this arena, assisting its athletes in brand building, monetization, and maximizing their moments in the spotlight. Notre Dame might not be able to compete with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in terms of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals. However, it can certainly become unparalleled in supporting its athletes to reap greater rewards for their future success.
Notre Dame should consider forming a partnership with a renowned Hollywood digital talent agency. By creating a program within the athletic department, they can establish themselves as pioneers in this field. Given its substantial influence, Notre Dame might be the only college program capable of negotiating a mutually beneficial partnership with powerhouses like UTA or WME. Such a collaboration would offer their athletes unparalleled resources, ensuring they are well-prepared to navigate and capitalize on the dynamic terrain of sports media and content creation.
This may just be a personal preference, but can we please have our night games start at 5:30 pm rather than 7:30 pm? Given the length of our broadcasts, a 7:30 pm kickoff does not release fans from the stadium until close to midnight. With a 5:30 pm start, we can still ensure the prime-time viewership that our TV partners require while also capturing the electrifying atmosphere of big-time college football under the lights, and it would also give fans enough time to grab a slice of pizza and a beer at Rocco’s before wrapping up their celebration of our latest gridiron triumph.
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