I have told my high school friends for years, if Notre Dame ever plays Wisconsin, I will host the tailgate. It has always seemed a safe bet. The Irish schedule is already littered with more geographically-centric Big Ten foes. Why add the Badgers?
Then the whispers began anew this week. The two schools may or may not be discussing a combination of games at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field. Or perhaps schedules will allow for only one tilt. Either way, my bold cafeteria promises of a grandiose tailgate could come back to cost me.
At least I can take comfort in knowing they will not for a few years, if not more. Without getting too deep into the intricacies of scheduling, Notre Dame and Wisconsin will not meet until the next decade, possibly a ways into the next decade.
Whenever it occurs, if ever it occurs, some portion of each fan base will belittle the exercise. Why play at a neutral site, are the campus venues not unique enough? Why add a Midwestern opponent to the schedule rather than a more successful program in the south? If insisting on avoiding the SEC, why not add a cupcake to an already difficult schedule?
A four-year player at Notre Dame will already play between 24 and 28 games at Notre Dame Stadium. Moving one of those to a unique venue seems harmless. If nothing else, it increases those players’ experience. Sure, in this hypothetical a class of 2020 recruit (about to be a high school sophomore) will miss out on playing at Camp Randall. Unless from Wisconsin, those players will hardly lament not seeing another college stadium when they will already see Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium and Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium in 2021, Ohio State’s Horseshoe in 2022 and Clemson’s Death Valley in 2023.
No disrespect to Camp Randall — it is a worthwhile place to see a game and Madison as a whole is a tough college town to outdo — but each of those four should rate higher on any college football player’s or fan’s bucket list. If insistent on getting to Camp Randall and upset a Lambeau-and-Soldier arrangement would rob you of that opportunity, here is a news flash: Wisconsin hosts games at least six times a year. You can see Camp Randall without Notre Dame going there.
If worried the games will lack a college atmosphere, think back to Wisconsin’s upset of then-No. 6 LSU at Lambeau Field to open the 2016 season. Nearly 78,000 enjoyed that 16-14 victory in person, and ABC’s ratings indicate many more found the spectacle worth tuning into. How different is it for a fan at home, anyway, wherever the game is played? (There is something to be said here about bowl games’ attendance and broadcast ratings, but that is for another day.)
Oh, but of course, this supposed arrangement would deprive Notre Dame and Wisconsin of the ticket sales from the home games. To be blunt, neither school will miss one weekend’s receipts.
As for scheduling quality, an opponent of the Badgers’ caliber is never a knock on a schedule. Admittedly, Wisconsin is not fertile recruiting ground — exactly none of my state-championship winning classmates played Division One football — but neither is Indiana, yet Purdue appears on the calendar semi-frequently yet.
All of this, including this column, is bothersomely preemptive. The Big Ten plays nine conference games a year. In its own way, the Irish play eight (five ACC + Stanford, USC and Navy). Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick has already scattered Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State on its schedule over the next decade, not to mention Georgia, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
The first half of that sentence will affect this proposal more than the latter half. Swarbrick has said he wants the Irish to face at least one opponent from as many of the Power Five conferences each year as possible. The ACC and Pac 12 are obviously taken care of. He has needed to pursue Big 12 and SEC opponents and seems to be gaining momentum in that endeavor. A Big 10 opponent may not be as assured as it was five years ago, but it is essentially an annual occurrence at this point.
Someday Notre Dame might play Wisconsin. It very well could be at Lambeau Field. That just won’t happen while any of the current roster is still around.
When and if it does, it should be viewed as a notable change of pace, a matchup against a tough opponent and an opportunity to enjoy some deep-fried cheese curds. My truck sporting state of Wisconsin license plates will provide the High Life, the Honey Weiss and the Spotted Cow. Until then, you’re on your own, including on this Friday in late July.