Whether you love them or hate them, get used to them. Notre Dame unveiled new uniforms Thursday that the team will wear during their Oct. 6 home-away-from-home game against Miami. Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the fresh look is a trend they plan to continue.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o models the helmet the Irish will wear in Chicago on Oct. 6.
Notre Dame's trip to Soldier Field is the fourth installment of the Shamrock Series, which brings the Irish to a new city each season for an offsite home game. For the past two years, in New York and Washington, D.C., the series has also given the team and its partner adidas an opportunity to roll out an alternative to the traditional navy blue jersey and gold helmet that the teams wears in South Bend.
“We decided in a very conscious way to take this and use it as the one time each year that we modify our uniforms to make it a special different event,” Swarbrick said.
The new threads, most notably a split-color helmet featuring the leprechaun logo, got mixed reviews from football fans chiming in on social media. Irish coach Brian Kelly and his players, however, said they were happy with the outcome. Kelly said the team had an extra bounce in its step after seeing the jerseys for the first time Thursday morning.
“I love them,” said senior Manti Te’o, who served as a fashion model with Tyler Eifert during the press conference. “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good.”
The Shamrock Series will move to Jerry Jones’ football palace in Dallas next fall where the Irish play Arizona State. Locations for the future of the series through 2016 are all locked in place, according to Swarbrick. He kept the venues a mystery because the games have yet to be finalized, but did add that they plan to do their best to spread their trips out across as much of the country as possible.
Swarbrick said what the Irish lose in taking one of their home games off the campus they gain back by getting a chance to showcase the university in many different markets. The geography of this year’s schedule, a nod to the Knute Rockne barnstorming days, is an extension of that philosophy. Notre Dame will play in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dublin, Ireland this season.
The season opener in Dublin might be a test run for future attempts to play overseas. Last fall, Stanford and Notre Dame explored playing their 2013 season finale in China. Swarbrick said that game is still a “high priority,” but the planning process was derailed when Stanford’s athletic director, Bob Bowlsby, left to take the Big 12 commissioner job.
While a game in China would be played during the final week of the regular season, Swarbrick said he hopes to learn a lot about the effects of playing an international game early in the year from the game in Dublin. If the players handle the added fatigue, and the overwhelming logistics of moving an entire football team across borders proves to be manageable, the Irish might be traveling abroad in years to follow.
A full look at Notre Dame's Shamrock Series uniform this season.
Of Jumbotrons and FieldTurf
The offsite home games also let Notre Dame and its fans imagine regular home games in a different environment. The school has used its trips to Yankee Stadium in 2010 and FedEx Field last season as laboratories to experiment with modern day touches like recorded music and large video screens.
“It gives us an ability to test it and evaluate the impact and think about it,” Swarbrick said. “It doesn’t, again, reflect a commitment to do it, but it’s been helpful. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me, including people in leadership positions in the university, and say, ‘Hey, I’ve changed my mind.’”
The spaghetti to the Jumbotron’s meatballs when talking Irish football is the playing surface at Notre Dame Stadium. The field is replaced every five years and its next facelift is scheduled for after the 2012 season. Swarbrick said the discussion about replacing grass with FieldTurf or a hybrid product will come then.
He said the benefit of making a change, other than a happy head football coach, is to give the surface the stability it needs to hold more than six events each year. A synthetic surface would suffer less from graduation ceremonies, alumni events or team practices in the stadium.
All of these new toys are talking points in a discussion to try to improve the gameday atmosphere on campus.
“We’re going to continue to look for ways to make the stadium a tougher place to play,” Swarbrick said. “It’s not tough enough for our opponent to play, and we have to get better at it.”
The tricky part for Notre Dame is walking the line between a rowdy, intimidating venue and its aspirations to be, as Swarbrick said, “the Augusta of college football.”
“We want to still be a place where when other schools come they say, ‘That was a marvelous experience for us.’ But I don’t want athletic directors telling me, ‘We love playing here,’ which is what they say to me with some frequency,” he said.
The New Commish
The Big East conference, home to all but three of Notre Dame’s sports teams, hired a new commissioner last week who has a long history of working with Swarbrick.
Mike Aresco, a former network television executive at CBS, accepted the position on Tuesday. He takes over a conference in turmoil, one that is currently in the midst of negotiating a crucial new television deal.
“I’ve worked with Mike, must be 20 years,” Swarbrick said. “He is a great guy, phenomenal people skills and management skills. Most importantly, it made a statement by the Big East about how the Big East perceived itself. The combination of hiring Mike and retaining [media consultant] Chris Bevilacqua was a statement of an aggressive view of their future. We think it’s really smart, and Mike will do a great job.”
The conference at times appeared to be headed toward extinction, or at least the endangered species list, during the most recent wave of conference realignment. The hope for Big East members is a new media deal in the same ballpark as its competitors would keep its current roster of schools from defecting, which in turn would provide a steady home for Notre Dame’s sports and allow the football team to remain independent.