Nov. 4, 2015
By Curt Rallo
Shortly after the University of Notre Dame football rallied for a thrilling 24-20 victory against Temple on Saturday night, Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Vice President/Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick, and Notre Dame associate athletic director for football operations Chad Klunder huddled to discuss the noon kickoff for Notre Dame’s next game, Saturday, Nov. 7, at Pittsburgh.
By the time the meeting wrapped up, the call was made to give the Fighting Irish the best opportunity to be successful. Timetable for the departure to Pittsburgh was moved from Friday, Nov. 6, to Thursday, Nov. 5, to allow the football team to get in a noon practice the day before Saturday’s game in order to replicate the noon kickoff against the Panthers.
For Jason Michelson, Notre Dame’s coordinator of football operations, it was a sudden-change situation.
“Initially, the biggest challenge was getting all of our hotel rooms available on Thursday night,” Michelson said. “We had to get 100 rooms for Thursday. We also had to get a plane, with pilots and flight attendants, to change the departure to Thursday. Once that was set, everything else fell into place. Then we drafted a Thursday itinerary, and then came up with a Friday itinerary that would mimic Saturday’s schedule with a noon start time.”
Irish players thought that Kelly’s decision to create a Friday schedule that was identical to the Pitt game-day schedule would be extremely helpful.
Saturday’s noon kickoff against Pitt is Notre Dame’s first regular-season noon game since Sept. 24, 2011, when the Irish also played at Pitt. Since that time, 20 of the 24 regular-season games for the Irish played at away or neutral sites have been night games.
“I think the Friday noon practice is real valuable,” Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell said. “I think it will give us a chance to settle in.
“One thing we’re doing on Friday is we’re going through the same routine that we’re going through on Saturday, which I think is going to be really beneficial. It will get our bodies used to being on that schedule.”
Elijah Shumate, a defensive back for the Irish, agreed that it’s important for the players to get their bodies prepared for a noon kickoff.
“It’s real important to be able to practice at noon on Friday for a noon game on Saturday,” Shumate said. “It’s about body adjustments. We’re so used to practicing later in the day, and then playing at night time. You have to get your body adjusted to playing at that time of the day.”
Shumate said that he didn’t think it would be a problem for the players to adjust to a different kickoff time, and a different Friday routine.
“You have to be flexible in this game, and you have to be able to adapt,” Shumate said. “Things happen. You have to prepare the best way you can every way. Coach is doing the best thing, letting us leave Thursday, and getting a noon practice in on Friday. That’s going to help us out a lot.
“I’ve never played in a noon game. It’s a transition for me, but we’re football players. We play whenever, wherever. We play in rain, snow, thunderstorms … you just have to adjust.”
Michelson faced unique challenges in revising the Irish schedule.
“We also had to work around a full practice on campus on Thursday, and we wanted to build a schedule that included our usual routine for a Friday night,” Michelson said.
A primary concern was making sure that the Irish didn’t tackle the road trip to Pitt at a hectic pace.
“The biggest thing for us, having early games the past couple of years, is giving the players time to rest and relax and focus before the game, and not feel rushed,” Michelson said. “If we got into the hotel late Friday night, and get up early Saturday to play the game, they would feel rushed. They wouldn’t have that time to themselves to think about what they need to think about, and mentally prepare themselves.”
A variety of fronts were involved in the change to a Thursday departure.
Getting academic clearance was a key issue. Michelson had to get the class-miss schedule approved.
Then, Michelson worked relentlessly Sunday to contact Delta airlines, the hotel in Pittsburgh, and the bus company in Pittsburgh to arrange for Thursday’s accommodations. There was also a need to reschedule the police escort, adding three more team meals, and hiring security for another night.
Notre Dame’s equipment truck is leaving Thursday morning, but since the Irish are having practice Thursday night on campus, some equipment will need to be packed on the plane.
“Nothing really prepares you for this kind of week,” Michelson said. “People ask me what I went to school for. It was sports management, but that was a lot of business classes geared toward sports. Nothing would ever prepare you for all of the logistics and details that would go into successfully moving the operation of Notre Dame football.”
Michelson said he appreciated the opportunity to take on a monumental task to help the Irish get ready for Saturday’s noon kickoff.
“It’s a lot, but it’s fun to be challenged,” Michelson said. “You get into a routine of the same thing on away games. When we leave, when we arrive, when we get to the stadium, when we practice. This livened things up.”