I get this question a lot: “Why does Notre Dame play Navy every season?” I also hear “What benefit to Notre Dame’s strength of schedule does playing Navy provide?” Or “Doesn’t Notre Dame have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing Navy?” How about “How many injuries does Notre Dame have to suffer on a year-to-year basis based on the way Navy cut blocks its opponents?”
These are all valid concerns and questions.
In fact, scouring the history books and articles written on this very subject will take you weeks and months. Many folks have interviewed important individuals through this series from Fr. Hesburgh, Notre Dame President Hugh O’Donnell and Reverend Edmund Joyce among many others.
What becomes astoundingly clear after reading these interviews is one very important fact: With the mass exodus of students going off to war and the precipitous decline in endowments being received by Notre Dame donors and alumni now being re-purposed towards wartime efforts, Notre Dame was a not a viable institution in terms of finances. In fact, in an interview a few years back, Fr. Hesburgh had this to say: “We had a couple years with no income and a lot of expenses. If it wasn’t for the Navy, we would’ve had to close within a year.”
Enter a quick chronology of how Navy saved ND during World War II:
We can all remember what happened in December, 1941. The US was under attack and it would forever change the landscape and course of our great nation. At that time, Notre Dame was an all male student population and they were enlisting in large numbers to fight everything that was evil. Hitler, Mussolini, the Japanese. Notre Dame’s student population dwindled to 750 individuals.
At that rate, ND was a sinking ship and going down fast. They were desperate.
So, the then-President of Notre Dame, Hugh O’Donnell begged the government for some type of financial aid that might help save the university. The War Department responded and the Navy stepped forward.
Merely one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a plan was established to resuscitate the University of Notre Dame and also allow the Navy to take advantage of facilities on campus. So, a one month training course for reserve Midshipmen officer candidates was introduced whereby several of the on campus dorms would serve as barracks for this newfound surge of troops. The Navy erects a massive drill hall to help absorb the new campus residents.
Move ahead to May, 1942. Notre Dame ramps up its academic calendar from two 18-week semesters to three 16-week trimesters. It rearranges its academic curriculum to accommodate other Navy affiliates.
In October of the same year, the Navy announces that its new training program at ND would become an officially sanctioned USN Reserve Midshipmen program. In so doing, the short 30 day training courses would evolve into 16 week developmental course loads. This would allow for officer trainees to follow a more traditional academic schedule and they would take college course work.
In the summer of 1943, the War Department sends an edict that would maximize Notre Dame facilities on campus. In lieu of being taught by Naval officers, these trainees would enroll and take classes taught directly by ND faculty.
The meek student population that was hanging by a thread in December of 1941 with an enrollment of 750 students would boast a number of about 4,000 students strong.
The Navy would negotiate a contract with Notre Dame that would guarantee nearly $490,000 which would help support infrastructure and adminstrative costs. When all was said and done, the NROTC program (still going strong on ND’s campus and is a major tangible umbilical cord between the two programs) and its V-7 Midshipmen School stationed on campus would provide the US Military campaign nearly 12,000 officers and officer candidates. When added together, the ND/Navy training program and ND alumni who entered the military through other means would produce 25,000 officers and ensigns during WW II.
Both programs have shared blood and lost brothers.
So, coming back to the original questions of why Navy will never be taken off of our schedule….do they have any relevant meaning anymore? I think the history speaks for itself. Whether or not we like the matchup as fans and even if the game does little in terms of boosting our position to college football pundits, I think Nave has earned their spot on our schedule for time immemorial.