It’s hardly newsworthy to mention the fact that Notre Dame Stadium isn’t the most daunting home field advantage in college football. Between welcoming fans, overly protective ushers, and a geriatric portion of the fanbase that spends most of the game sitting on their thumbs, it’s been far too easy for opponents to walk into South Bend and exit with a victory.
The Irish have put together a mediocre 17-16 record over the past five seasons at home. The laundry list of ugly losses is far from impressive: Navy (twice at home), Air Force, Syracuse, UConn, Tulsa, and South Florida. All games you’d expect Notre Dame to win easily.
Make no mistake, the Irish didn’t lose those games because fans weren’t loud enough. They lost because the brand of football that’s taken place over the past few years has been about as unenthusiastic as the 80,000 fans passively supporting it.
But athletic director Jack Swarbrick has decided to be proactive about the demise of Notre Dame’s home field advantage. Last October, Notre Dame started piping in music during the games. It might have been a rough start (I’m not sure Crazy Train will ever be played again without a few people snickering), but the athletic department is committed to helping the Irish win by helping to elevate the crowd noise.
Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune spoke with Swarbrick about the challenges that come with trying to do the illogical: Making Notre Dame a less pleasant place.
“You have to change the culture,” Swarbrick told Hansen. “The ushers are often reacting to a request from somebody else who wants the person to shut up and sit down — and that’s what we have to get to. That’s what we’re trying to change.
“We still want to be the most welcoming place in the country. But I don’t want athletic directors telling me, ‘We love playing here,’ which is what they say to me with some frequency.”
Notre Dame Stadium, its ushers and other University ambassadors have had a long history of extending hospitality to visiting teams. It’s common, particularly when an opponent plays in Notre Dame Stadium for the first time, for visiting fans to remark on the welcoming atmosphere they find.
Swarbrick would like to see that welcome end once the opening kickoff is in the air. He’d like to see a change to the 17-16 home record Irish teams have recorded over the last five seasons combined.
If you’re paying attention this weekend and in the weeks to come, you are likely to come across the phrase “Take A StaND.” It’s a subtle, yet pointed, way of encouraging fans at all Irish events to become more participatory.
Notre Dame students have participated in a long tradition of standing throughout the entire football game at Notre Dame Stadium—and that group generally makes its share of noise. However, students make up only about 10,000 fans out of Notre Dame Stadium’s 80,795 capacity. So there’s plenty of room for assistance in the decibel category.
Midway through the 2011 season, Notre Dame introduced recorded music (mostly on opponent third downs) to the in-game experience at Notre Dame Stadium. Expect that to continue this fall, with the Irish marketing staff tweaking the plan with three 2011 home games of experience now under its belt.
The 2012 also season marks a celebration of 125 years of football at the University of Notre Dame. You’ll see the logo marking that celebration just about everywhere. That means there are 125 years worth of reasons to throw a season-long party.
Long-time rival Purdue visits Notre Dame Stadium today to open the 2012 Irish home season. The Boilermakers won here in 2004, but, prior to that game, you have to go all the way back to 1974 to find a Purdue win in Notre Dame Stadium.
By Swarbrick’s tastes, that’s more like it.
So, any time you have a chance today, take a staND and cheer for the Irish. It just might make a difference.
Of course, the elephant left in the room is the product on the field. Put quite simply, win more games and the crowd will have a much easier job doing their part. Brian Kelly already knows that’s on his shoulders.
“I think it’s up to me to provide a better atmosphere in that stadium,” Kelly said. “We win games, it will be nice and loud.”
A boisterous home crowd and the Irish taking back their home field? It’s going to be hard to find anyone that can’t stand up and cheer for that.