August 23, 2012

Green with envy? Ireland trip could be boon

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Notre Dame will play Navy in Ireland on Sept. 1. The game will be blasted out on American television, the Armed Forces Network and ESPN America in Europe. Because of the domestic and international audience it will reach, the matchup is being called one of the most distributed regular season games of all time.

Oh, and as if there was any chance that it wouldn't reach the most important demographic, there's this tidbit:

A group of American high school teams stuffed with future FBS players will attend.

The Emerald Isle Classic is technically Navy's home game. The Midshipmen did the bulk of the planning for the event. They made the arrangements, cleared the idea with broadcast partners and took care of the other tedious details.

So where'd all these high school players come from? Enter the Global Ireland Football Tournament (G.I.F.T. for short).

Organized by Global Football, a group that puts together events all over the world, the G.I.F.T. will include 10 high school teams (seven from the United States).

It's set to take place at three separate Dublin-area venues the night before Notre Dame-Navy. Plans for the following day are simple.

"The majority of them are going to the (college) game," said Michael Preston, a Global Football spokesperson. "That was up to a school-by-school decision on whether or not they go, but most of them are.

"They'll go to the Notre Dame-Navy game and then go to this big after-party we're having."


An organized tailgate for the college contest is also on the docket. One of the G.I.F.T's corporate partners is an organization called "Play Like a Champion Today." Two of the high schools participating in the event are actually named "Notre Dame." And the president of Global Football? Former Notre Dame quarterback Patrick Steenberge.

Hamilton High School, a Phoenix-based school set to participate, is coached by Steve Belles, who played for the Fighting Irish under Lou Holtz.

Bellis downplays the recruiting significance of what's about to take place. He doesn't want his team's overseas experience to be portrayed as the world's most expensive unofficial visit. Top priority is, after all, winning a football game.

"I don't think it matters," Bellis said of the potential recruiting impact. "Kids are more interested in how a school plays than anything else. That's what everybody gauges stuff on anymore. It's, 'how good are you?'"

Scrolling Notre Dame's name across the marquee of an unforgettable, all-things-Irish getaway certainly won't hurt the cause. Teams that will make the trip feature six players already receiving interest from the Irish. Seventeen carry at least one FBS-level scholarship offer.

And it's all as legal as a flea flicker. The G.I.F.T. is handled by a independent booking agency. The games are not cross-promoted, and college coaches are not allowed to have "extended contact" with high school players per the current recruiting quiet period. Everything is downright swell in the eyes of the NCAA.

"Coaches can't have in-person conversations (in Ireland)," said Emily Magy, a member of the NCAA's legislative department. "They can have a friendly 'Hi, how are you,' but they can't talk about anything. They can't have a whole conversation. They have to keep it moving."

The staff at Global Football is aware of the rules and has taken measures to ensure its event is on the up-and-up in the eyes of college football's governing body.

"We're not aligned with the college teams," Preston said. "Of course we've spoken to them, but we've taken strides to remain separate."

No violation means no problem. So having busloads of prep talent parked in the stands of a game being played 3,600 miles off campus won't bother a soul in South Bend.

"From talking to compliance, the high school thing is completely separate from our going over and playing," said Notre Dame media relations director Brian Hardin. "We don't have any type of interaction with the high school tournament.

"That fact that Patrick (Steenberge) is affiliated with the high school games is more coincidence than anything else."

The Irish's take on the matter is simple: Sorry, we're not sorry.

"By opening this season in Dublin we've been telling recruits about the international brand power we have," Notre Dame assistant coach Tony Alford said.

For 16- and 17-year-old football players, it's the football trip of a lifetime. Whether or not it's also the recruiting pitch of a lifetime is up for debate.





 

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