The Shamrock Series will be back in 2018.
But it won’t be a linear extension of this season’s trip to San Antonio to face Army. That will be the eighth Shamrock Series and likely Notre Dame’s eighth win in the campus transplant that’s been a success, to a point. The barnstorming tour has nailed the destinations – New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., etc. – and it’s connected on most venues, including Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
What the Shamrock Series has lacked is opposition, with a median record among the seven opponents an unsightly 3-9. Athletics director Jack Swarbrick wants to change that when the series returns after a one-year break.
“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.
“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”
Swarbrick wouldn’t reveal the programs in discussion to enhance the Shamrock Series but said he’s yet to have interest rebuffed by schools. Conferences have been harder to assuage with media footprints an issue, one Notre Dame overcame in moving a home game against Purdue to Indianapolis two years ago.
In short, leagues and their network partners don’t want Notre Dame playing the Shamrock Series in their backyards against their conference’s inventory.
“Because if you weren’t NBC, you weren’t happy about these,” Swarbrick said. “We used to be able to take a team from Conference A outside its footprint and being OK with the television restrictions. Well, between the emergence of networks and the changing of the agreements, now the footprint was North America.”
Which could lead to an international Shamrock Series, just not in 2018.
Swarbrick said Notre Dame is working on two international games for future schedules, but unless that means playing in Canada or Mexico it would be limited to the first or last game of the season.
When Notre Dame played in Ireland during the BCS National Championship Game season – counted as a neutral site game where technically Navy was the home team – it fell on the opener. A week later the Irish were almost upset by the Boilermakers in South Bend.
“Our biggest concern going to Ireland was the Purdue game,” Swarbrick said. “That’s what you worry about.”
Swarbrick said the ideal would be to play internationally at least once every five seasons, if not more. Sources have told Irish Illustrated in the past that Rome could be a destination.
How that fits into the Shamrock Series, if at all, is unclear. But those neutral site games will be back after a year break with the caliber of opponent likely enhanced in a major way.
“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick said. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.
“It wasn’t that I viewed (venue and geography) as more important, I was just too limited in opponents. I couldn’t solve it.”
Now it appears Swarbrick has a fix. And that likely means the degree of difficulty for the Shamrock Series is going up.