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Football: Team adds Big East’s South Florida to 2011 schedule

Ken Fowler | Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Bulls will run in South Bend in 2011.

Notre Dame and South Florida have agreed to play a game at Notre Dame Stadium that season, an addition that will help Notre Dame fill its goal of seven home games.

The Tampa Tribune first reported the agreement between the two schools, saying they would play on Nov. 19, 2011. South Florida confirmed that date in a news release Wednesday, although John Heisler, Notre Dame’s senior associate athletic director in charge of football scheduling, said a conflict might force the schools to move the game from that date.

South Florida, a member of the Big East Conference, stunned college football observers this season with a strong start to the season, including wins over Auburn and West Virginia. The Bulls, who ran a run-first spread offense, climbed as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll before finishing the season 9-4 with a loss to Oregon in the Sun Bowl.

Heisler said the game is not necessarily part of Notre Dame’s plan to play three Big East teams each year. There will be no return trip to Tampa, but South Florida officials expressed great pleasure in having the opportunity to play at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I’m humbled and excited about adding Notre Dame to our schedule,” South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said in a statement. “Games like this are what you work so hard for; they help further the image of this program and they present a great opportunity for our fans and players.”

Traditional powerhouse teams often have trouble scheduling home games against quality opponents without agreeing to a game at the opponent’s home venue. The result often is a contest against a lower-echelon team, commonly called a “body-bag game.”

Notre Dame will have to schedule several “one-off” games to fulfill Athletic Director Kevin White’s goal of seven home games, four road games and one neutral site game each season.

“This is part of our commitment to play more games in South Bend,” Heisler said.

This time, at least, Notre Dame found a way to play an extra home game against a solid team on an upward trajectory.

In fact, it appears South Florida jumped at the chance to play in South Bend.

“Our football program and fans deserve this type [of] matchup,” South Florida Athletic Director Doug Woolard said in a statement. “It features one of the most storied programs in college football history against a young program that has risen to prominence at a record pace.”

Besides South Florida’s strong showing in the 2007 season, the Bulls have a major recruiting advantage that should help them build future competitive teams. Central and south Florida are hotbeds of high school talent, and the opportunity to play and live in the temperate climate of Tampa can woo players averse to colder weather.

The agreement between the two schools appears to have been in place for some time, but South Florida and Notre Dame only openly acknowledged it after the Tampa Tribune’s report. On Wednesday, Heisler could not confirm the date of the game because his files on Notre Dame’s future schedules were “in boxes” stored away.

Still, neither side is rushing to sign an official contract, which would include all financial and broadcast terms of the deal.

“We frankly have not been worried about signing contracts for a game down the road to a great extent because so many of the media things and language in the contract become [obsolete],” Heisler said. “For instance, the creation of the Big Ten Network and the Big Ten’s latest agreement with ABC, ESPN and the Big Ten Network creates a whole new set of rules related to footage, Web sites [and] coaches’ shows.”

Heisler said the use of video on new media platforms, which are changing rapidly, creates a particular problem when trying to sign a contract three years before a game.

“All that’s just gotten way more complicated. Web sites in particular are a huge item in use of footage,” Heisler said. “Part of this is getting NBC involved on any of these relationships so that there’s a complete understanding of when an institution comes to South Bend what can they do.”

NBC owns the broadcast rights to all Notre Dame home football games.

As for the Big East, Heisler said Notre Dame has yet to plan exactly how it will fulfill its goal of playing three teams each year.

“All that has not completely been put in place,” he said. “… I don’t know that there’s a school in the conference that we haven’t had conversations with.”

Notre Dame will have some return games against Big East opponents, but there are likely to be more home-only games announced in the future.

“We’ll end up with some home-and-home situations, but we can’t do that with everyone in the league probably,” Heisler said.