Georgia fans took over huge sections of Notre Dame Stadium when the Bulldogs played there in 2017. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Georgia ‘would love to’ renew Notre Dame series

That notion has crossed the minds of administrators of both schools, and they will try to make it happen if at all possible. But it’s not as easy as one might think.

Former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley said he tried off and on to get the Fighting Irish on the Bulldogs’ schedule ever since they met for the national championship in the 1981 Sugar Bowl. In fact, Dooley said UGA almost had Notre Dame on the books about 20 years ago. But, as often happens in the world of college football scheduling, everything fell through.

“I don’t think we ever signed anything, but we definitely had a lot of conversations, and it looked like we were headed that way,” the 87-year-old Dooley said this week. “But then they had a regime change and everything just sort of went away.”

It went away because Mike Wadsworth, then the Notre Dame athletic director, resigned under pressure in February 2000. At the time, the Fighting Irish were in the throes of an NCAA investigation that eventually would reveal major NCAA infractions that occurred under former coach Bob Davie.

The programs didn’t resume talks until 2013, and that happened quite organically.

Josh Brooks, then an assistant athletic director but now the Bulldogs’ deputy AD who oversees operations, had gotten to know Notre Dame’s Chad Klunder at the annual meetings of the Sports Management Institute. One day between sessions, the conversation turned to scheduling and the possibility of their teams being able to play down the road.

“He actually started it,” Brooks said of Klunder. “Of course, as soon as I heard it, it excited me. … We didn’t have a big road game on the books at the time.”

Interestingly, it was first discussed as a three-game series. The Irish wanted to get Georgia to play them a third time in an short-lived event called the “Shamrock Series.” That would feature the team playing at a neutral site in a neutral major city, such as New York, Washington, D.C., Boston or Dallas. But conference affiliations and TV agreements made that impossible.

It still wasn’t easy to hammer out. Usually home-and-home series are played in back-to-back years. But Georgia already had North Carolina opening its 2016 schedule, while Notre Dame was opening the season against Texas that year and had Vanderbilt coming to South Bend in 2018.

So, the schools settled on 2017 and 2019, and a contract was finally signed in June 2014.

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The Bulldogs won 20-19 in their first visit to Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 9, 2017. Saturday was Notre Dame’s first trip to Sanford Stadium.

This year’s matchup not only featured the nation’s No. 3- and No. 7-ranked teams for a CBS prime-time nationally televised audience, it also brought a record 160,000 people to the UGA campus and the city of Athens.  

So why not do it again?

“We’d love to continue this series; Notre Dame is always very attractive,” McGarity said. “But I can tell you that I haven’t had any discussions with (Notre Dame AD) Jack (Swarbuck) on it.”

Under fourth-year coach Kirby Smart, Georgia has made a decisive effort to schedule more marquee opponents such as Notre Dame. The Bulldogs have added Texas (2028-29) and Oklahoma (2023 and 2031) recently and will trade home games with UCLA in 2024 and 2025.

But there remain openings in 2021 schedule for a major, non-conference opponent, as well as other seasons down the line.

McGarity declined to discuss specifics with regard to Notre Dame or any other possible future opponents. He said he doesn’t want to unnecessarily get the hopes up for Georgia fans.

“We’re in discussions with a limited number of schools,” he said. “We don’t like to talk about that because some our experiences with Ohio State and Penn State and some other schools. Everybody got excited about those game and then they didn’t happen for whatever reasons. Sometimes it’s a coaching change or a conference realignment, a lot of things can cause those to not materialize. So, we just don’t talk about them anymore until we have ink on the paper.”

Considering the excitement and attention this Notre Dame series generated, 

“I think the newness of it and the uniqueness of it is what set this game apart,” McGarity said. “That will be the case when we play Oklahoma and we play Texas. It’s going to be different. I’m not sure if they’ll be at the fever pitch of this one, but those are going to be huge games. Our fans have that to look forward to as far as the blue bloods of college football.”

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