Never before in the history of its storied program has Notre Dame football played against an HBCU.
In fact, the Irish were one of three major Division I schools to not have scheduled an FCS opponent.
That all changed on Tuesday with the announcement that Tennessee State will play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2023.
How did it all go down? How did Tennessee State — not FCS powers North Dakota State, Eastern Washington or even Deion Sanders-led Jackson State — get this assignment when no school from a lower division has before?
Also read: Tennessee State coach Eddie George tells Deion Sanders how he will navigate newfound challenge
Eddie George, the Tigers’ second-year head coach, shares a commonality with Notre Dame first-year coach Marcus Freeman.
Both were Buckeyes.
George was an All-American running back at Ohio State and Heisman Trophy winner. Freeman played linebacker for the Buckeyes and was named All-Big Ten twice in four seasons in Columbus. The two developed a friendship over the years.
That relationship could have played a significant role in bringing this historic agreement to fruition.
“The Eddie George factor comes with the hire,” Tennessee State athletic director Mikki Allen told HBCU Sports in a phone interview. “He’s a celebrity and with that comes relationships. I had relationships coming from the SEC. All of those relationships that really could help elevate our program are now on our campus.”
Allen explained that the last 18 months of work — which happened to coincide with a complete program rebrand, including naming George football coach — also factored into Tennessee State positioning itself to get on Notre Dame’s radar.
“(Notre Dame athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick) knows that we are a program that really brings a lot of entertainment value and has a great academic and athletic profile,” said Allen, who noted that the ultimate goal for Tennessee State is to one day move to the FBS. “Notre Dame just doesn’t play anybody. They play institutions that are alike in terms of their mission. Tennessee State fit in that wheelhouse.”
Tennessee State, unlike Notre Dame, doesn’t play many games on national network television — something said Allen, that will “do wonders” for the university as a whole with NBC exposure.
“This opportunity allows us to expand our brand and allows us to get on a prominent network,” he said. “When you think of NBC, you think for the Golden Domers. To be in that space alongside an iconic brand is special and will do wonders for us.”