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Irish program is one made for big markets

Friday, December 27, 2013 - 2:08 am

NEW YORK – Start spreading the news. The Notre Dame football team has arrived in this city and they definitely want to be a part of it: New York, New York.

The Fighting Irish have immersed themselves into the “Big Apple” for the better part of this week in advance of Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl game (12:15 p.m., ESPN) with Rutgers, and the players are loving every minute of it.

“I'm excited to be here,” Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees said. “New York is a great city. To be honest, I've never really been around it, so it's kind of cool to be here.”

The Irish contingent rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, and are visiting the 9/11 Memorial Friday morning. Side trips to the Rockefeller Center, visiting patients at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Pediatric Cancer Center, as well as to the MTV studios, have been just a few of the many places that have opened their arms to Notre Dame football this week.

“If we're not going to a BCS game,” Irish senior linebacker Dan Fox said, “this has been great so far. We've loved it.”

Notre Dame fits New York. The generations of Subway Alumni are evidence of that, but the connection goes even deeper. The Fighting Irish program personifies big in every way imaginable. Whether it be ticket sales, merchandise revenue, television ratings, or media coverage, Notre Dame just doesn't do small.

Many of the nation's most successful college football programs are similar to Notre Dame in that they call a small city home. However, what separates the Irish is that their reach is as vast as the coastlines of this country.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke on that topic recently when he laid out the future Irish football schedules.

“It's fundamental to Notre Dame football,” Swarbrick said of the reach of the program. “We play coast-to-coast.”

The Irish aren't just beloved in New York, but are essentially “America's Team” when it comes to college football. Fans can argue that all they want. They can become nauseated the thought. But it doesn't matter, because it is the truth.

That's why last year's Pinstripe Bowl featured a nearby program (Syracuse), yet drew less than 40,000 fans, while Saturday's game is expected to be a near sellout, despite being a game pitting a somewhat disappointing Irish (8-4) squad against a truly mediocre Rutgers (6-6) team.

Try putting an 8-4 Crimson Tide team in New York and see what the “buzz” around this city is.

Notre Dame is also a program made for big audiences – in big venues – like Yankee Stadium.

“We want to play in special places,” Swarbrick said. “When we're not (in South Bend), the most special place in the world to play football, we want to take our student-athletes to other special places.”

Saturday's game will be the second visit by Notre Dame to Yankee Stadium (the Irish played Army there in 2010), but it won't be the last to the market moving forward, according to Swarbrick. The Irish will have games against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium in 2014 and 2016 and that is a trend that will continue.

“In the four-year period (2013 to 2016), we will play in nine of the 12 largest cities in the United States,” Swarbrick said.

The three that Notre Dame won't visit are Chicago (which the Irish played in during the 2012 season), Miami and Houston.

Swarbrick said that future games will be played in Miami (due to the ACC commitment), and a concerted effort will be made to get to Houston.

“Of course we'll be coast to coast,” Swarbrick said. “We'll be around the country. Notre Dame football has to do that.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at