Why Notre Dame, Navy pushed to play college football in Ireland in 2023
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Football in Ireland: Why Notre Dame, Navy pushed to play overseas in 2023

When the Navy versus Notre Dame football game that was supposed to be played in Ireland in 2020 was nixed from the schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick didn't waste much time in pulling the necessary strings to make it reappear on the two teams' upcoming schedules.

Notre Dame announced Thursday night that Navy and Notre Dame will meet at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 26, 2023. Swarbrick said he has been working to make that official for the better part of a year and a half. He started the process of putting the game together "pretty much immediately."

Why?

“We were looking forward to it,” Swarbrick said in a press conference Friday. “We had told prospective student-athletes we'd be doing. So trying to figure out how we could get it done was very important.”

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The Fighting Irish lose a home game from Notre Dame Stadium in relocating the 2023 Navy game to Ireland, but Swarbrick said the benefits from showing the university's brand internationally could rival any economic gain Notre Dame and the South Bend community would gain from a seventh home game.

"[We want] to use athletics, and football in particular, to spread Notre Dame, its message and its identity around the world," Swarbrick said, "and this is part of that. We've seen it work in prior years and we know it will again."

Swarbrick said acting swiftly to schedule another game abroad was also designed to illustrate the unique nature of Notre Dame's independence as a college football program.

"When you make that decision, when you maintain that status, you have to use it," Swarbrick said. "You have to take advantage of it, or you shouldn't be independent."

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football vs. Navy Midshipmen in Ireland
Notre Dame and Navy last played at Aviva Stadium in Ireland in 2012, with the Irish prevailing 50-10. (USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, the Irish tie was a factor in making this happen too. Notre Dame has previously played two games in Ireland. The Irish beat Navy 54-27 in 1996 and downed the Midshipmen 50-10 in 2012.

Notre Dame was technically the road team in both contests, but Ireland Consul General Kevin Byrne said Notre Dame is never on the road in Ireland.

"We in Ireland like to think if you're a Notre Dame fan and you're coming to Ireland, you're coming home," Byrne said. "And if you're Notre Dame and you're playing in Ireland, then you're playing on home turf."

In the context of the next three seasons, 2023 made the most sense for Notre Dame to play overseas. Next year, Notre Dame is on the road at Ohio State in week one. In 2025, the Irish are in College Station to play Texas A&M in week one.

Those being marquee matchups against big-name brands, Swarbrick wasn't going to try to move them out of their season-opening slots. And Swarbrick wasn't going to schedule a week "zero" game prior to either of them.

When Notre Dame played in Ireland in 2012, the Irish turned around and played Purdue seven days later in South Bend. The Boilermakers nearly upended the eventual 12-0 Irish in a tightly-contested 20-17 final. Notre Dame will have a much-needed week off between the 2023 game in Ireland and its first game in the U.S.

"We maybe underestimated the challenge of coming back and playing," Swarbrick said.

Byrne said the country of Ireland is expecting over $100 million of economic impact from everything that comes with playing a game there. He views this as an opportunity for the two cultures to come together over a common bond: Notre Dame football.

Notre Dame has a gateway program and "a number of initiatives and programs that are a permanent presence in Ireland" per Swarbrick. He said this is a way to bring Notre Dame football to people who are already a part of the Notre Dame community.

This game is for them. It's also for Notre Dame fans in the U.S. to have an opportunity to see their favorite team play in a a truly unique environment. And it's for the citizens of Ireland to experience and enjoy as well. Byrne said he can't wait for those different demographics of people to come together in "the home of college football in Europe."

"It reinforces our distinctiveness in college football to do things like this because of the flexibility that independence affords us and also the importance we place on it," Swarbrick said.

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