Tradition, with some tweaks

EVAN SHARPLEY
SBT Correspondent

In the competitive world of big-time college football, programs continue to push the envelope to stay relevant in the eyes of prized recruits. Recruits prance onto college campuses across the nation and the red carpet is rolled out to entice and impress.

Yearly, a who’s-who of programs renovate their stadiums, add luxury boxes for large donors, restructure their already top-of-the-line weight rooms, add jumbotrons to improve the fan experience, and release alternate helmets and jersey combinations on a game-by-game basis.

How does a traditional program like Notre Dame compete with mainstream programs willing to market to the next generation? Well, Notre Dame has and will continue to assimilate while still adhering to old traditions and a storied history.

Notre Dame football tradition is a double-edged sword because it can be a huge asset or a detrimental factor in the recruiting “game.” In order to play the fence between mainstream marketing and traditional values, the Irish brass have utilized the extensive and loyal national fan base to create unique venues, and now unique uniforms, for the Fightin’ Irish football team to participate in.

At a school so deep-rooted in tradition, it is all the more exciting when the Irish come out wearing an alternate jersey, although, not all of the uniform designs turned out great. It is essential to continue to reward the Irish student-athletes with opportunities to don unique uniforms.

Almost every other school has different uniform and helmet combinations that appeal to fans, players, and recruits alike. Notre Dame must find a balance between mainstream and classic. Finding a jersey that matches the medium between the two is very important for fans, players, and coaches.

For example, I loved the alternate jerseys that we wore in 2007 versus USC, along with the white, gold and green socks. Also, in the first under-the-lights game against Michigan, I thought the white with green jerseys looked fantastic (although I was not a fan of the helmet). Notre Dame and Adidas are on the right track, and must continue to be innovative if they want to attract potential recruits.

As a fifth-year senior, I was blessed to be part of the first Shamrock Series game in San Antonio versus Washington State. Since that first game, the series has blossomed into a wonderful recruiting tool, as well as a reward to the current players and coaches.

For recruits, the chance to play in venues such as Dublin, Chicago, New York, San Antonio, and Arlington, Texas is an opportunity reserved mostly to professionals. Most conferences are regional, meaning that the travel is also regional.

Because the Irish make it a point to add variation to their schedule, and also not being in a conference, they transcend regional markets and into the national realm. As a current player, it is a chance to showcase your talents on some of the largest stages such as AT&T Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Soldier Field.

Notre Dame already has a huge following, which means many prime-time games throughout the year, but having venues, such as Shamrock Series games, really sets the Irish schedule apart from other programs.

As I look back at my time playing football at the University of Notre Dame, I realize how privileged I was to travel the country to do what I loved and to experience so many amazing venues.

Unfortunately, the game in the Dallas area does force Notre Dame to give up one of its home games. For local, loyal fans this can be a bit upsetting, but it is offset by a national fan base. Notre Dame is unlike any other collegiate program in terms of its alumni and subway alumni network.

I have traveled all across the country playing college football and professional baseball, but at each stop, without question, I always came in contact with a strong alumni or fan support group. Nowhere, other than Notre Dame, would the idea of having an off-site matchup appeal to so many Irish fans.

The city does not matter, the opponent does not matter because when the Fighting Irish show up in town, people fill the stands. See you in Arlington? Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.

10/22/2007: Notre Dame's players took the field in throwback jerseys to honor the 1977 national championship team. 10/21/2007: Irish players sport throw-back green jerseys as they enter the stadium against USC Saturday, October 20, at Notre Dame Stadium.