In coordination with Juneteenth, Notre Dame's and Howard's men's basketball programs announced precedent-setting scheduling news Friday. For the first time in program history, Notre Dame will play a road game against a school from an institution from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
And they're going to do it, appropriately enough, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next season. On Jan. 18, 2021, Notre Dame will travel to face Howard. The MEAC school is coached by Kenny Blakeney, who was previously an assistant for Irish coach Mike Brey when the two worked together at Delaware.
The game will land two days before the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., the same city as Howard's Burr Gymnasium. The game between the schools was agreed to long ago -- before Blakeney became the coach at Howard -- but a confluence of circumstances prompted the schools to reconsider how and where to play the game.
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Amid ongoing protests against brutality and/or slaying of African Americans by police, and with impassioned calls for long-overdue racial equality in the United States, Brey and Blakeney adjusted to make sure their game could be played on the most relevant of all days during the 2020-21 season.
"We have been looking for the best way to fulfill our game contract with Howard and this seemed like the perfect fit," Brey said in a statement. "As our program searched for the best way to remain active participants in the push for social change, a visit to one of our nation's top HBCUs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day will provide an incredible educational experience for our student-athletes, coaches, support staff and university."
"It gives me chills," Blakeney told The Washington Post. "I'm sitting here outside on the back patio right now and I have chill-bumps all over my body hearing [it described] that way. To have, probably, one of the top five biggest brands in intercollegiate and higher education agree to come play us, an HBCU, but also one of the most important and significant brands in our culture is unique and special."
In a statement, Blakeney added: "We understand that this game is bigger than both universities and I feel that we have a social and civic responsibility to engage our programs in celebrating Dr. King's birthday."
Notre Dame and Howard are also engaged in When We All Vote, which Notre Dame describes as "a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that is on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting, harnessing grassroots energy, and through strategic partnerships to reach every American."
Brey has deep connections to the nation's capital. Before getting into college coaching, he lived in the D.C. area, as he was a player and then coach at legendary DeMatha High School, in nearby Hyattsville, Maryland. Blakeney also played at DeMatha before playing under Mike Krzyzewski and Brey at Duke in the early-to-mid 1990s.
The game between Notre Dame and Howard will be Howard's first time hosting a power-conference school since 2010, when it famously welcomed in Oregon State, who at the time was coached by Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson. Howard playing host to Notre Dame will be the first road game for an ACC school against an HBCU school since Miami played at Savannah State in December 2013.