The highlight of today’s Week 4 in major college football is the showdown between Notre Dame and Wisconsin taking place at Soldier Field in Chicago.
That’s cool. Sort of.
But wouldn’t a home-and-home series between the Irish and Badgers be better?
I’ve long been a skeptic of these neutral-site clashes, even though I do understand their appeal. Florida playing Michigan in Cowboys Stadium presented fans with a unique chance to go see the Gators play at JerryWorld, and even if they went back for the 2020 Cotton Bowl, no Florida fan in 2017 could have anticipated that; same goes for the 2019 season opener against Miami in Orlando, which brought Florida to the City Beautiful for a regular season contest for the first time since 1991.
But a Florida-Miami series at home stadiums is obviously better — which is part of why it’s on the schedule again. Florida’s decade-long run of home-and-home series with various teams — USF, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Arizona State — is going to be good for the Gators, I think, because it will get fans to Gainesville to see Florida against teams the Gators haven’t played in years, if ever, and also get diasporic elements of the Gator Nation chances to see their beloved team and/or alma mater at far-flung outposts.
And I firmly believe that more home-and-home series should be the norm for college football’s powerhouse programs, most of which are about to be unbelievably rich thanks to renegotiated TV deals, and should in turn sell their TV partners on the benefits of home-game atmospheres over the more sterile experiences at neutral sites.
Notre Dame’s status as an independent-ish program with its own TV network and a history of setting up shop outside of Indiana is going to allow it to continue making these matchups; other teams are going to accept the Irish’s terms just to play against them.
Notre Dame, though, is a unique exception that should prove the rule — which is that home games rule. Watch that game today and imagine what it would’ve been like in Madison or South Bend, and you’ll probably be able to tell which setup you would have preferred.