Penn State is still looking to work out a plan to play a game in Ireland in the future. Quite honestly, as one of Irish descent, I love the idea.
Playing a game in Ireland may get overshadowed nationally if the game is played on the opening weekend of the college football season. When huge games are kicking off the season in Atlanta and Arlington, a non-conference tilt on European soil will tend to fly under the radar. Even this past season's match-up between Notre Dame and Navy never really grabbed a national spotlight. The trick is to line up a game that would generate that kind of buzz on a weekend that is largely dominated in the southeast.
But playing in Ireland brings a share of the national spotlight for a program looking to demonstrate good will, and the cultural experience of practicing and playing in Ireland while getting a chance to soak in the culture and environment can be far more rewarding than a postseason bowl game.
Before we get too excited about this potential game, let's keep in mind there is a lot that needs to be done before confirming this type of game is a done deal, and by all accounts Penn State is in the early stages of this discussion. When that game will be played and who they would play are two big questions that need to be pieced together of course, and finding answers for those two could prove to be a difficult task. The NCAA would also have to approve the game.
There are a few factors that must be kept in mind when figuring out when a game in Ireland may be able to be scheduled. If the Big Ten moves to a nine-game conference schedule that will leave just three non-conference games to work with. And what if the Big Ten dares to expand to ten-game conference schedules?
Penn State is currently discussing with Central Florida when a return game to Orlando will be scheduled. If it is scheduled for 2014 that will complete Penn State's non-conference schedule and likely mean any game being played in Ireland may not happen until 2015 at the earliest. Or will it? We'll discuss this in a moment.
Penn State is also looking to reschedule a game with Virginia for a future date. A home game in 2013 was postponed by Virginia and the schools are hoping to have it rescheduled for another date in the future. There is no timetable known for when that game would be moved, but do not expect Penn State to move that game to Ireland. It is not likely Penn State would consider losing a home game to play in Ireland.
So, who might be an option for Penn State to work with in partnering for a game in Ireland? Let's take a look...
Boston College played in the first college football game to be played in Ireland in 1988. Boston is also known for a heavy Irish-American population, one of the reasons Boston College was asked to participate in the first Emerald Isle Classic against Army. While the Eagles have been down in football recently, perhaps they might still be a program interested in participating in the overseas game.
Consider that playing in Ireland likely gives Boston College at least a little bit more attention and reason to get excited about the program leading up to the game and you can see why the program might be enticed to join in. Penn State and Boston College also have a little bit of history to play off of.
Penn State is scheduled to host UMass in 2014 on September 20. If there is one game to move across the Atlantic Ocean that is already on the schedule this may be it.
The reason being because of all of the games on the 2014 schedule, this may be considered the least attractive to the majority of Penn State fans. While Penn State would still make out better financially playing the game at home, giving the schedule a more marquee game might be worth it in this instance.
The fact that the game is already scheduled for week three of the regular season though may make this game less likely. If a game in Ireland is going to be played it will ideally be able to be scheduled in week one of the season. That would require some schedule adjustments and cooperation on both sides.
Penn State is scheduled to open the 2014 season at home against Temple and UMass is scheduled to open at home against Boston College. If it would be possible for Boston College and UMass to reschedule their week one match-up and for Penn State to be able to move their Temple match-up, then a week one trip to Ireland could come together. But that seems to be a complicated resolution at best.
Playing UMass in Ireland would more than likely be impossible for Penn State if a return game at Central Florida can be agreed to for 2014. But what if Central Florida agreed to move the game to Ireland?
The idea of playing Central Florida in the first place was attractive because it meant a trip to Orlando, and that may not be something Penn State wants to give up. Playing in the state of Florida offers a recruiting chip for potential recruits down south. But the key here is how valuable the game would be for Central Florida if the game was moved to Ireland. Central Florida averaged 34,608 fans per home game last season, a mild increase from 2011. Could that much more be gained from a neutral site game played across the Atlantic in a stadium with a likely attendance of about 47,000 fans?
That seems like a tough sell, but perhaps it is a idea worth exploring. For Penn State it keeps three home games but for Central Florida it leaves just two non-conference games at home (Florida International, BYU).
Any game being played in Ireland ideally will be one that is attractive to a more national audience. Considering Penn State is not going to be getting Alabama or Oregon to play in Ireland, the most likely scenarios will involve the service academies. We will keep Air Force out of the mix for a couple of reasons. For starters, the Falcons are based in Colorado. Army and Navy are located on the east coast, so travel expenses will not be quite as taxing.
Army played in the first Emerald Isle Classic, against Boston College as noted above, and may be a realistic possibility if Penn State is willing to wait a few more years before putting the game together. Army has a little bit more flexibility in scheduling as a football independent but Army has a full 2014 schedule but has openings to fill for 2015, including the first three weeks of September. Penn State's first two weeks of the 2015 schedule are booked, and a third week could be locked up if Central Florida is scheduled in 2015.
Like Army, Navy has the luxury of having an independent football schedule to fill and work with. The drawback is that Navy just played in Ireland and may not be ready to make another such trip any time too soon. Then again, Navy is a program that will travel all over to play college football so it may not be too far out of the question with a few years to prepare for the costs once again.
This is a reach, admittedly. We have heard rumors about BYU and Penn State getting some games scheduled for a while, including home-and-home and neutral site plans. Could BYU be convinced to play that neutral site game in Ireland? This scenario boggles the mind, but since we are talking about independent programs I felt it was worth a quick mention.
Without a doubt this would be considered the mega-match-up, but it will also be considered the extreme long-shot scenario. The Fighting Irish have made multiple trips to Ireland and the incentive to return too soon may not be there for Notre Dame. On one hand this would be a terrific match-up that would figure to sell the most possible tickets from both sides and would be a marketing success. On the other hand, the stadium availability in Ireland would pale in comparison to what Penn State or Notre Dame could draw with the game being played at home.
If Notre Dame and Penn State are going to play on a neutral field, it will be held on American soil, as cool as a game in Ireland might be.
Of the above teams listed, which would you consider the most likely scenario for Penn State in an Ireland game? Or is there another scenario you would like to offer? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet us your thoughts on Twitter.