Football independence isn't a financial decision

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As it seems to every few years, the idea of Notre Dame joining a conference becomes a topic of conversation. What people seem to forget is that Notre Dame is already a part of a conference (the Big East) and enjoys that relationship in many of their major sports. Yet football independence is what seems to get people the most riled up, and now that the Big Ten has announced they are looking to add to their eleven schools, Notre Dame inevitably shoots to the top of the list.

Speaking with the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, athletic director Jack Swarbrick once again reiterated his stance on football independence.

“Our strong preference is to remain the way we are,” Swarbrick said. “Independence is a big part of the tradition of the program
and our identity. We’d sure like to try to maintain it.”

Greenstein does a nice job laying out the financial issues of the decision, pointing out that the Irish could actually make more television money joining the Big Ten than they do with their current NBC television contract. Even if that is the case, Swarbrick points out that the decision isn’t merely a financial one.

“All of this has a lot more to do with our priorities than it does with
business issues,” he said. “Our independence is tied up in a lot of the
rivalries we have. We play Navy every year and have the tradition of USC weekends. Frankly, it works pretty well to play USC in October at home and in November at their place.”

A few months ago, Clay Travis at FanHouse tried to make an argument based on the financial ramifications that Notre Dame was better off joining a conference. If the decision was strictly financial, I’d agree.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Big Ten Network, the new SEC Network and the millions and millions of dollars ESPN has thrown at college football have changed the financial landscape of collegiate athletics. The ground-breaking deal the Irish made with NBC no longer puts them in a class by itself, and the financial advantage the Irish used to enjoy may no longer exist.

But independence allows the Irish the ability to stay unique and to continue to be a truly national university with a fanbase that has no geographical restraint. And while the revenues that come along with the new television networks have certainly buoyed the bottom line of the universities in the Big Ten, the ugly battle the Big Ten Network had to fight to even get into the homes of their constituents kept a lot of people from actually seeing games, and it’s a battle that even now limits viewership for some of the Big Ten’s premiere games each Saturday.

As Swarbrick smartly alluded to, just because the Irish aren’t interested in joining a conference, doesn’t mean the Irish won’t be monitoring the situation.

“The question that any school faces — not just Notre Dame — is, ‘Does this
start the dominoes falling again, like the last round of
reconfiguration?'” Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick’s referencing the ACC’s purging of the Big East’s three biggest football schools, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College in 2003. What if the Big Ten comes calling and pulls three more of the elite athletic schools from the Big East, leaving a conference filled more with mid-level athletic schools like Seton Hall, Villanova, and South Florida.

Would the demise of the Big East, possibly without schools like Syracuse and Pitt, be enough to force Notre Dame to join a conference in football, if only for the betterment of the school’s other athletic programs? Or would Notre Dame then look to find another conference that would allow the Irish to join in every sports but football?

“It’s less about our willingness to enter into
discussions than what happens to the industry. What are the
implications?” Swarbrick told Greenstein.

Just another example of why Jack Swarbrick was a great hire for the university. 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.