Noie: Why Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin won't happen - and shouldn't

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Three columns for the price of one fresh from the three-day holiday weekend…

It makes no sense and hasn’t since the sports world changed in mid-March.

But here we are, still kind of/sort of/maybe planning for Navy and Notre Dame on Aug. 29 in Ireland.

The Irish Times reported Tuesday that a decision is expected on the game (yay or nay?) within the next week. Really, a decision’s already been made. It was made last week.

When Notre Dame President the Rev. John I. Jenkins announced plans for the 2020 fall semester, it offered a blueprint into the university’s thinking on moving forward during the pandemic. Classes will start two weeks early. There will be no fall break. The semester will end Thanksgiving week, and students will stay home through Christmas.

Why no fall break? Why an early end to the term? To eliminate risk of someone bringing coronavirus to campus from point A, B, or C. Easily understood. The way the world is today, college campuses must operate in a bubble.

If there’s no fall break at Notre Dame and no return after Thanksgiving break to protect Notre Dame, Notre Dame certainly isn’t packing up over a hundred players and coaches and administrators and flying across the Atlantic for football. That would push the risk of detonating another biological bomb in 51,700-seat Aviva Stadium stands (see Italy, Champions League Soccer). That also would put the athlete before the student, something Jenkins has vowed never will happen.

It’s stressful enough traveling a mile up the road to the grocery store, let alone 3,600 between South Bend and Dublin.

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuck (it’s Navy’s home game) has said numerous times that the game in Dublin remains a go. Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick has agreed to agree. It’s been a go.

Trip of a lifetime? Absolutely, but not at the risk of anyone’s life. We’re still three-plus months out from the scheduled kickoff, but will Dublin be ready in three months? Will anyone? What about the rest of the Irish road schedule? First step, first. Rework the Navy game, then let’s see where we’re at in August. Or September. Or whenever a college football season that needs to be played gets the green light.

But pump the brakes on Ireland. Finally.

Navy and Notre Dame play every season for reasons that have little to do with football. The teams should again play this season, and for reasons that have little to do with football. But do it in Baltimore. Or Washington. Or Philadelphia. Just not in Dublin. Revisit that option in 2022, hopefully when the known is greater than the unknown.

It’s the only option.

Writing’s on the wall

Major League Baseball is crawling toward a July start (don’t hold your breath) with a list of do’s and don’ts that rival the board that hangs outside the caddie shack in Caddyshack — No spitting, no sunflower seeds, no high-fives, no showers afterward, no bare feet, etc.

That plan offers little promise for the South Bend Cubs and the Midwest League. The South Bend Cubs may have recently tipped their hand.

South Bend schools superintendent Todd Cummings announced last week that Four Winds Field (home of the Cubs) will host a series of graduations for South Bend public high schools in late July. Those dates coincide with a scheduled six-game Cubs homestand. The first area high school to graduate — Adams — is scheduled to do so 35 minutes before a scheduled game between South bend and Wisconsin.

A week before or a week later, and the Cubs are out of town. Why not schedule the graduations then?

Probably because everyone knows what nobody has said. The South Bend Cubs won’t be home. Or on the road. Or playing at all. The longer it takes MLB to figure it all out, the more minor league baseball will pay the price. For some teams, the ultimate price of no season in 2020.

That writing’s been on the wall since the sport shuttered with only a few days left in spring training. If professional baseball plans to move forward with a 2020 season without fans in the stands, it will do so at the expense of minor league baseball, which can’t survive without fans. It’s really one of the only reasons to venture out to Four Winds on one of those chamber-of-commerce summer’s night.

See friends. Share laughs. Have some ballpark food and beverages. Maybe catch a few innings or a foul ball while you’re there. That’s summer at Four Winds. Nobody outside of the two dugouts or front offices really cares who wins or loses. Nobody’s hanging on every 3-2 pitch, every double switch, every extra inning. It’s about the experience, about getting outside, about summer.

No fans then means no Midwest League season. That means a quiet summer at the corner of South and Taylor streets. That’s no fun.

Eye on his future

Former Notre Dame men’s basketball Pat Connaughton did a whole lot of good last week for a lot of people around southeast Wisconsin.

In the process, the Milwaukee Bucks guard may have done something for himself — laid a foundation for his immediate future.

Connaughton served as host of an 11-hour Radiothon to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. At the end of the 11 hours, with Connaughton’s voice sounding tired and worn out from a day of interviews with sports personalities from around the Milwaukee area, he raised more than $200,000.

It also allowed him to take the first step toward making sure he stays with the Bucks after this season. He even admitted as much throughout the broadcast. Helping people today and tomorrow was paramount, but Connaughton also admitted he has an eye on HIS future.

During the Radiothon, we learned that Connaughton has golfed with Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. He’s watched general manager Jon Horst play pickup. He’s played H-O-R-S-E with owner Marc Lasry. He’s entrenched in the organization. In the community.

All three talked about Connaughton being a class act. A good guy. A great teammate. Come the offseason, they have to decide if Connaughton’s worthy of a new contract.

Connaughton is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He’ll have the chance to test the open market and sign with any team he wants. Connaughton wants to remain in Milwaukee. The Bucks’ championship window currently is open. He has a good chance of becoming the first former Notre Dame player to win an NBA championship since guard John Paxson stuck that wing 3 for the Chicago Bulls to end the 1993 NBA finals in Phoenix.

The Bucks are ready to win now, and win with Connaughton as a key guy. He’s tight with league most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo He’s a big piece to the team’s Bench Mob of reserve role players. He’s a fan favorite. He’s a good guy to have on a roster. He’ll work hard; he’ll sacrifice individual accolades for team success. He fits.

And he can do some plenty good away from the game. Was it enough for Connaughton to continue to call Milwaukee home? We’ll find out come fall for the only former Irish currently in the NBA.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, center, and president Rev. John I. Jenkins, right, congratulate Manti Te’o the last time the Irish were in Dublin, Ireland, August 31, 2012.
Has former Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, cemented his future in Milwaukee?