Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan, someone who's fond of using baseball analogies to explain the workings of his football team. So naturally, the prospect of playing UConn at Fenway Park in a few years is enticing for the third-year Irish coach.

But he's also wary of size of the field, especially in light of the attempt to play football at Wrigley Field a few years back.

"You know me, I love Fenway Park. I just don't know if it's big enough," Kelly said. "We don't want to get into that NorthwesternIllinois game where the end zone is not big enough. As long as they do the due diligence, and I know (Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick) is looking for great venues -- and I don't think they played a game there in a long time. If it's on the schedule, we're going to play it. Being a Boston guy, baseball has not been very good there, so maybe we'll bring some football."

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, though, indicated nothing regarding Notre Dame's future schedule is set as the football program works five ACC opponents into their slate.

"Media reports today that we will play UConn in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate," Swarbrick said in a statement.

That doesn't mean a contest absolutely will not be played there, but it's doused the flames for a bit -- at least until Notre Dame's ACC scheduling arrangement is figured out.

Fenway Park hasn't held a football game on its grounds since 1968, but the park did host a soccer match between Italian and English clubs AS Roma and Liverpool this summer. Generally, soccer pitches are about 110 meters long or 120 yards -- the exact length of an American football field.

While the pitch for AS Roma-Liverpool was shortened to about 107 yards, it was wider than what's required for American football. Still, the way Fenway's football field was tucked in back in the 1960's makes for a tight fit in two corners of the end zone. It's not like players will risk banging into a brick wall as they did at Wrigley Field.

However, at this point a Notre Dame game at Fenway appears to be a longshot. A neat idea, but a longshot.

Meanwhile, in South Florida...

While the viability of Fenway Park remains in question, the chances Notre Dame secures a tie-in with the Orange Bowl appear to be increasing. A report has the Orange Bowl closing in on a deal that would pit Notre Dame or a Big TenSEC team against the ACC champion beginning in 2014, when college football's playoff format begins.

College Football Talk's Ben Kercheval has the details, along with a good take on the agreement. He's exactly right -- with the way the college football landscape is shaping up after 2014, "either your team is part of the privileged group or it isn't." That group includes the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

During the conference realignment cycles of 2010 and 2011, when the prospect of four 16-team superconferences was floated as college football's endgame, there was some consternation over whether Notre Dame's steadfast independence could leave them on the outside looking in. Taking a step back, that never was going to be the case -- while plenty of national columnists and talking heads have been eager to say Notre Dame is losing its relevancy, that never was the case.

Notre Dame football still packed a tremendous punch in terms of ratings and ticket sales, even during its lean years. The agreement with the ACC and, more importantly, the apparently impending one with the Orange Bowl only goes to prove that.

'Superior' Shoelace offers another challenge for Notre Dame

Before Saturday's game, I hopped on WSCR-670 AM with Connor McKnight and Nick Shepkowski to look ahead to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State, and we kind of figured we'd learn a lot about where the Irish stood after their performance in East Lansing, especially with regard to Everett Golson and the secondary.

While Golson didn't have a great game statistically, he did enough (by not turning the ball over) to allow Notre Dame's defense to handle most of the heavy lifting in the team's 20-3 win. But the Irish secondary also showed up in a big way, helping limit Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell to 187 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage.

Denard Robinson and Maxwell are completely different, though, and the Michigan signal-caller's explosive playmaking ability on the ground and through the air present a massive challenge to a secondary that's still fairly inexperienced.

"If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before anybody else. We've got great alumni out there," Kelly joked Tuesday. "It's a difficult proposition, because you can't sell out on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you've got to keep him from making big plays.

"So there isn't an easy answer to that. He's a superior football player. He's not a great player, he's the best player on the field."

Making matters more difficult will be the absence of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury during the Michigan State game. There's a chance Slaughter could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, although Kelly didn't sound too confident that'd be the case.

"Doesn't appear so," Kelly said. "He did have another injury that caused him to miss some time. We are still kind of vetting through all that right now. The early indication is we couldn't tell you one way or the other. We'll do some more work before we are ready to publicly comment on it."

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

Sometime in the future, near or far, Major League Baseball will probably begin using a pitch clock to penalize sluggish hitters and pitchers.

The sport without a clock will, someday, have a clock. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian offered that as one of his predictions for what baseball could look like 20 years from now, which would be one of Rob Manfred’s signature reforms as commissioner. 

This kind of change wouldn’t be necessary, though, if more pitchers were like Mark Buehrle. 

“Buehrle was hyper,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He wanted to go, go, go.”

No pitcher since 2007 — when Pitch F/X began calculating “pace” — worked faster than Buehrle, who averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. Only 56 qualified pitchers since 2007 can be considered to work “fast,” i.e. with an average time between pitches of 20 seconds or fewer (it’s a list that includes fellow former White Sox left-handers John Danks and Chris Sale). And that’s only 12 percent of the 473 qualified pitchers in the last decade.

Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game against the Seattle Mariners in 2005 still is the only nine-inning contest to be completed in fewer than 100 minutes since 1984. There was that memorable 1:53 duel with Mark Mulder and the Oakland A’s in 2003, and both Buehrle’s perfect game and no hitter lasted 2:03. 

Of course, Buehrle didn’t just work quick, he pitched well while zipping through innings. Buehrle finished his career with a 3.81 ERA, made four All-Star teams and threw at least 200 innings every year from 2001-2014. He had a .572 career winning percentage, too, so Cooper knew about Buehrle would give the White Sox a chance to win in about six out of every 10 starts.

“But you also know it’s going to be about two hours and 10 minutes, too,” Cooper added. 

A given game’s length isn’t all about the pace of the pitcher, of course. Batters can slow things down by stepping out of the box and calling for time, and games can feel like a slog with replay delays and mid-inning pitching changes. 

Still, how quickly a pitcher works usually dictates the pace of a game and how long it takes to be completed. Cooper wondered why hitters didn’t step out more against Buehrle to disrupt his rhythm, but perhaps the answer is that everyone on the field gets caught up in the quick pace set by the pitcher. 

“Everybody tells me they were so happy when I pitched for a quick game, but every time I was on the bench in between my starts, it was a 3, 3 1/2 hour game and it wasn't very much fun,” Buehrle said. “I think some of these games do get too long. Pitchers take their time, hitters get out of the box. I don't get all that but that's just the way I worked. I just grabbed the ball and went.”

Maybe adding a pitch clock with penalties affecting the count will force pitchers and hitters to find a quicker rhythm. That was one of the hallmarks of Buehrle’s career, and those snappy starts are one of the reasons why No. 56 was such a popular player on 35th and Shields. 

Former manager Ozzie Guillen, in summing up Buehrle's mentality, also offered some free advice for fixing baseball's pace-of-play problem: “Just throw the ball, get people out and have fun.”