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Notre Dame Baseball

Sunday Reflections

May 14, 2023

It’s been a busy week, but perhaps the hottest topic is Notre Dame now being open to conversations with companies about its next apparel deal. 

At the time of Notre Dame’s last apparel deal, it seemed like moving from Adidas was the smart move as Under Armour was the hot up and coming company. It’s funny looking back at it as Adidas did a complete 180 as they have made significant progress to make a move back into the shoe game while Under Armour has fallen - and fallen. 

In talking to sources, I don’t believe Jordan Brand will be a player for Notre Dame as mentioned earlier in the week. Yet, I still believe if there is a way for Jordan Brand to get Notre Dame women’s basketball, the brand would be open to that as it fits into a specific niche. Some may question why Jordan Brand wouldn’t want “Notre Dame” but the answer is simple. Jordan Brand doesn’t need Notre Dame. 

Would Notre Dame make Jordan Brand money? Sure. But Jordan Brand targets specific niches and they’ve been extremely picky in who they endorse when it comes to athletes and schools. They’ve been very selective when it comes to NBA athletes when they could completely dominate the market and that’s on purpose. 

Regardless, the decision is a simple one. Nike is going to benefit all athletic programs more than any other company. Nike has sport-specific footwear that goes deeper than all other brands and when talking to former players, it’s the biggest complaint as few like Under Armour shoes. 

In fact, there have been athletes who have gotten waivers due to Under Armours shoes to wear other brands (cough Nike cough). Before 2020 there was a former Notre Dame player who stripped his Nike cleats and had them done as Under Armour cleats - and no one knew. 

Nike is the best when it comes to performance. It’s not even a debate in my eyes. 

Some have made the argument Nike or even Adidas would help with recruiting - I’m not sure it will be a tipping point. Will it be a positive? Yes. Are kids going to look past the tough academics, cold weather and lack of nightlife in South Bend just because Notre Dame is a Nike school? I highly doubt it. It’s one of those improvements that is needed, but if a kid is picking a school for a shoe brand, then they probably aren’t going to be successful at Notre Dame at the end of the day. 

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Andy Staples from The Athletic wrote a story about how Notre Dame had a chance to set a new bar for NIL with its next apparel deal: Why Notre Dame has a chance to usher in a new model of college apparel deal

The base of his idea was: 

“Yet because Notre Dame’s brand is so powerful, Fighting Irish officials might want to consider a slightly different arrangement designed with the name, image and likeness era in mind.

“Do a deal that keeps one logo affixed to the uniforms but allows players to make their own shoe deals — just like NBA and NFL players get to do. Then use that as a recruiting tool.” - Andy Staples

It’s an interesting concept, but at the end of the day, it would be a horrific decision by Notre Dame. 

1. Notre Dame has built a strong culture based on brotherhood and team. Yes, the top players are always going to have more NIL opportunities and everything that comes with being a star at Notre Dame. Yet, this would cause a cluster of issues in a locker room as each player would be fighting teammates for deals, the latest colorways and new drops. 

If you want to split a locker room, this would be the way to do it. 

2. It would give players the opportunity to wear whatever is comfortable for them, but the players without deals would be paying for their own shoes. That would mean Notre Dame would then need to create a fund for to pay for players shoes so they would be losing money at the end of the day. 

That also brings in the question of all the free gear student-athletes get. What brand is going to do that? Staples floated the idea of Lululemon, Rhoback, etc. producing team gear, but that seems like a far reach. Do those brands produce athletic gear? Yes, but is there really a benefit of those brands doing a deal like that? Probably not. The millions spent producing gear for all Notre Dame sports would likely be better put to use on a different form of advertisement. 

3. Student-athletes do have apparel deals with brands their respective schools don’t work with as Staples pointed out. I don’t believe there is one in football, but in women’s basketball, LSU star Hailey Van Lith, has a deal with Adidas and UConn star Paige Bueckers has a deal with StockX. StockX is a sneaker resale site where one can buy new sneakers from all brands, which makes a bit more sense than what Staples proposed. 

The issue here is Van Lith transferred from an Adidas school (Louisville) to a Nike school (LSU). So she will now be wearing Nike on game days and only able to promote Adidas on Social Media or other avenues. 

But it’s just hard to see and expect student-athletes in all sports to get or find deals on their own. Sam Hartman will be fine. The women’s rowing team and a third-string hockey player - probably not. 

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Notre Dame offered and made 2024 linebacker Teddy Rezac‍ a priority in a week, which led to a quick commitment. 

The commitment raised some concerns about where the roster is going and what happened at linebacker or other positions where Notre Dame might be recruiting lesser-ranked prospects. 

There are a couple points here. 

- The majority of this staff was at Cincinnati when Luke Fickell turned it into a playoff team. If you remember, the Bearcats left Notre Dame Stadium with a victory in 2021 and became the first Group of 5 program to make the College Football Playoff. 

As ISD’s Jamie Uyeyama pointed out a few weeks ago (6 Thoughts on Thursday), Cincinnati had 12 NFL Draft picks playing in that game. It’s definitely fair to say Cincinnati was recruiting at a different level than most Group of 5 teams due to success dating back to Brian Kelly and Mark Dantonio, but to make the College Football Playoff, no. 

247 Composite Team Rankings (Average player ranking)

2016 74 (81.97) 15 (89.00)
2017 63 (82.70) 10 (89.37)
2018 49 (84.43) 10 (90.05)
2019 67 (84.88) 16 (90.78)
2020 41 (85.31) 18 (90.74)
2021 45 (85.61) 9 (89.94)

It’s a date point where this staff has not only identified and landed NFL caliber players, but developed them into draft picks. 

To take it a step further, here’s a chart of where those 12 picks were ranked coming out of high school and where they were drafted. 

CB Sauce Gardner 83.44 (three-star) 4 (1st)
WR Alex Pierce 84.66 (three-star) 53 (2nd)
DB Bryan Cook Not Ranked 62 (2nd)
QB Desmond Ridder 81.80 (three-star) 74 3rd)
DE Myjai Sanders 85.13 (three-star) 100 (3rd)
DB Coby Bryant 81.87 (three-star) 109 (4th)
RB Jerome Ford (Alabama transfer) 89.09 (four-star) 156 (5th)
LB Darrian Beavers (UConn transfer) 80.25 (three-star) 182 (6th)
DT Curtis Brooks 77.31 (three-star) 216 (6th)
WR Tre Tucker 84.44 (three-star) 37 (3rd)
WR Tyler Scott 85.05 (three-star) 133 (4th)
TE Josh Whyle 88.63 (three-star) 147 (5th)

- Now this isn’t to say Notre Dame should stop chasing elite talent or focusing on recruiting blue-chip prospects.. Closing on linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa‍, the top-tier defensive line talent and safety talent will be crucial to future success and the Irish need day one impact players. 

Will all the three-star talent turn into NFL Draft picks or college starters? No. The point to be made is there is a track record of this staff evaluating at a high level because they needed to at Cincinnati to have success. The 2023 and 2024 class isn’t filled with projects, but it’s also easy to see why Brandyn Hillman and Kaleb Smith were takes in 2023 while others in the 2024 class were easy decisions.

I think you’re seeing top programs come into Isiah Canion’s high school and leave impressed. Will Georgia and Alabama offer? We’ll see if their pride can take it as if they offer now and Canion sticks with Notre Dame then that’s a L for them and it certainly seems he’s happy with his pledge because the staff believed in him. 

- The other piece to the puzzle, especially on defense, is Notre Dame is recruiting for specific roles. Offense is king in college football, so defenses need to have talent to play a variety of offenses and Notre Dame more than anyone else. Notre Dame needs to have a defense that can play air raid, power spread, triple-option and more conventional offensive attacks. 

Kennedy Urlacher‍ and Rezac fit roles. If they develop into something more, then Notre Dame looks pretty smart, right? Both are guys who can run, play in the box and be physical, but also project to a number of positions. With Urlacher, he has the ability to be a box safety and then he can always grow into a linebacker. Rezac is made for the rover position, but who knows how he fills out. 

Both kids can run and that’s important for Notre Dame as they look to improve team speed on defense. For example, Notre Dame can use Urlacher similar to DJ Brown on third down packages, but also as a fourth linebacker when they go big against Navy or power run attacks while keeping someone on the field who can run with a tight end or running back. Remember how useful Drue Tranquill was at rover? Sure, Tranquill wasn’t JOK, but that’s he was the exception. Notre Dame also has a deep roster of cornerbacks who can play nickel where they can roll those guys out there and take Rezac off the field in favorable situations. 

These guys fit roles and have the chance to develop into much more with their athletic traits. It’s developing a roster of guys who can actually do what is needed over playing guys out of position or asking players to play roles they can’t, which is where Notre Dame wants and needs to be. 

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Notre Dame baseball will honor 12 seniors on Sunday afternoon for its Degree Day at Frank Eck Stadium. 

The big three of Brooks Coetzee III (180 games), Zack Prajzner (205 games) and Carter Putz (215 games) will play their final game at home and it’s been a ride. They’ve endured multiple coaching changes, a season cut short due to a pandemic, the NCAA hosing them two years in a row and all that comes with being a Notre Dame student-athlete. 

When you throw LHP Will Mercer and LHP Aidan Tyrell in there, it’s just a group that shows up to work and plays their hearts out. They won’t be high draft picks if drafted at all, but anyone who has watched this team over the last three seasons knows Notre Dame is going to grind out wins and the effort is often unmatched. 

The 2023 season has had its ups and downs, but as it stands, Notre Dame should make the Field of 64 and this group deserves it if it’s close. The Irish lost its best player for the season in Jack Findlay and they didn’t miss a beat. They continued to fight and swept a top 10 program in Virginia a week after losing Findlay and starter Jackson Dennies was out. 

Notre Dame baseball has a bright future and this group of seniors had a significant part in where the program goes as they also didn’t have to stay in South Bend as they all had options to transfer elsewhere. They’ll get to write a final chapter in the coming weeks and it’s likely there will be more highs before it’s all said and done. 

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