The Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletic program is continuing its HBCU tour. In January, the men’s basketball program under Mike Brey made the trek to Washington, D.C., to face the Howard Bison in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day clash.
Now the Tennessee State Tigers football program led by former NFL star Eddie George will be traveling to South Bend, Indiana, to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The game will take place on Sept. 2, 2023, and will be broadcast on NBC. It’s a big payday for a middling Tennessee State program that is currently mired in a dying Ohio Valley Conference, one that currently has just six schools participating in football. The payday will definitely help with recruiting, visibility, exposure and revenue.
The matchup, which was announced Tuesday, will pit two legendary programs against one another in a day of pageantry, tradition and football. Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick shared his sentiments about the game in a statement released after the announcement.
“We’re excited to bring a pair of great academic institutions that are steeped in tradition together in 2023. None of this would be possible without Dr. Mikki Allen and Coach Eddie George’s vision for what this game can represent to our Universities. I’m thrilled we’re able to bring the Tigers and the Irish together for a weekend that will feature programs with over 20 combined national titles, the Aristocrat of Bands and the Band of the Fighting Irish.”
Notre Dame adds its first ever FCS opponent to its schedule, which also means Tennessee State will be the first HBCU to play Notre Dame.
I wish it wasn’t a FCS opponent, but the second part of the statement is pretty cool, in my opinion. https://t.co/n8YvbwZn3v
— Notre Dame Recruiting (@NDrecruiting01) April 5, 2022
TSU Will Be First HBCU To Face ND On The Gridiron: Huge Move For Exposure
TSU athletic director Mikki Allen is trying to figure out the best course of action for the program going forward. This move to play a traditional powerhouse program like Notre Dame, can be seen as shrewd by Allen, who’s looking for anything to give the TSU program a financial jolt and some national TV time.
At the announcement Allen expressed a great optimism that the school will benefit greatly from a game in which they will probably lose by five or more TDs, with the belief that the journey to building an elite program is a marathon not a sprint.
“TSU and Notre Dame are two iconic programs that have helped shape todays college athletics landscape. We are setting the foundation for long-term success under Coach George’s leadership. The goal is that TSU will be a destination program for the next generation of student-athletes to come.”
The TSU football program was in need of some good news, following their recent situation with Deion Sanders and Jackson State pulling out of the Southern Heritage Classic after 2022. And watching the once proud OVC conference lose teams with visions of greener pastures. Those moves have even caused George and the administration to question the future of the only conference they’ve been a member of since 1988.
The Tigers have won 16 Black college football national championships and The Fighting Irish have won 11 consensus NCAA national titiles.
Here’s what George had to say on the “1StarRecruits” podcast in February about staying in the OVC:
“We’re going into a different time and age. For us now — obviously — with Tennessee State, we are seeking to go to a new conference that has more stability. The OVC —it’s a dying conference at this point in time. But, we can continue to stay hopeful that OVC leadership will pick and continue to add teams. But at some point, we’re going to have to take into account our future and do what’s best for Tennessee State.”
Game Features Eddie George VS Marcus Freeman: Rising Black Coaches, Ohio State Brethren
The two head coaches in this game are both Ohio State alums. Eddie George starred in Columbus (1992-95) winning the Heisman Trophy as a senior. In four years George rushed for over 3,700 yards and 44 touchdowns. He then went on to rush for over 10,000 yards and 76 touchdowns in the NFL.
— Tennessee State Football (@TSUTigersFB) April 6, 2022
Marcus Freeman started at OSU from (2004-2008), earning second-team Big Ten honors twice. While his pro career never got off the ground, he’s become one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. Promoted to Notre Dame head coach after Brian Kelly left for LSU in November, Freeman is the school’s second Black head coach after Tyrone Willingham.
George completed his first season as a coach at any level. He’s learned a lot in a short amount of time and realizes that visibility is the key to competing and acquiring resources. So he believes this game will do wonders for the program no matter how it shakes out. The fact that both are members of an elite and exclusive Black coaching fraternity further deepens their bond as friends and competitors.
“For me from the coaching perspective, I’m like, ‘Hey, I gotta figure out how to beat Deion,’” George said Wednesday as he and Freeman attended a news conference about the game. “I’m not trying to think about Notre Dame, who has played in the playoff and has a ton of great athletes. They’ve been on a historic run. When (the game against ND) became real I began to think about the benefits of how it could help our program, a great storyline of two storied programs and iconic brands in college football.”
Looks like Coach George is beginning to make moves for the betterment of the TSU program, admittedly taking a page out of Deion Sanders’ playbook. But not even Deion has been able to showcase his HBCU talent against a top 10 Power Five recruiting class, which indicates George is a quick learner.