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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Scrutiny vs. Scrutiny

posted by Mike Coffey
I've tried to stay out of the brou-ha-ha regarding the recent South Bend Tribune articles regarding Jimmy Clausen's recruitment and its effects or lack thereof on the philosophies of the Notre Dame football program. Not only am I not the site's football guy in the first place, I dislike recruiting in all college sports, and attempt to stay away from that aspect of the site whenever I can.

But tonight, I read one of the author's response to the negative reaction the story has been generating, and I really felt I had to chime in. The author seems to believe the blowback is the result of Fighting Irish fans not wanting to hear bad news. In that regard, I think he's mistaken. We have no problem with bad news. We just think what was reported doesn't qualify.

I have no problem with scrutiny of any part of Notre Dame. My signature was the first one on the BOT letter, so you can be damn sure I realize plenty of things worthy of criticism happen on campus. Victory within the bounds of rules and sportsmanship remains very very important to me (as it does to most alums and fans), so if Notre Dame is cutting corners or otherwise neglecting the required efforts in support of any its teams, I'm going to be all over it (See: facilities, basketball, ad nauseum).

I also have been on record many times regarding my uneasiness with Jimmy Clausen's presser. While his comments show him to be a level-headed young man with a proper respect for the institution in which he's going to undertake his academic and athletic endeavors, some of the more show-biz aspects of the event, I felt, were over the top. I realize that's part of the animal that is college football recruiting, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, can't pray for more mature heads to try and bring it to heel, and not wish that Notre Dame would set itself as a leader in that regard rather than saying, "It is what it is".

All that probably puts me in Mr. Carroll's and Mr. Wieneke's "target demographic", so to speak. But unfortunately for them, they didn't reach me with their series. And if they're not reaching someone who is willing to listen to them, they've got problems.

From what I saw in the series, they scrutinized the situation for NCAA violations, which are the only true potential problem, and didn't find any. Under normal circumstances, I would think it would result in the series not running. After all, you don't usually see newspaper headlines like "Man Changes Mind About Robbing Bank" unless you're reading The Onion.

And yet the series ran anyway, with the scrutiny detailed. I considered that unusual, so perhaps I'm predisposed to find problems.

But what bothered me while reading it was how the scrutiny and "danger" felt manufactured. All the inferences trended negative. "Will Sting Follow Buzz?" Charlie Weis utilizing a "technological loophole in the NCAA rules on phone calls". All seem to operate under assumptions that ND football is running pell-mell towards the world of NCAA chicanery, calling various SEC schools to see if they have any advice on rental property there.

No, they didn't directly say Notre Dame and Charlie Weis had sold out or were violating rules, but they seemed to say everything but. And that really didn't work for me. While, as I said, I realize ND is worthy of criticism in many areas, historically, NCAA compliance hasn't been one of them. If you're going to convince me there's a clear and present danger of it happening, you've got to bring a hell of a lot more to the table than they did because you're going up against over 100 years of strong attention to rules.

That's the problem I (and, I would imagine, a lot of ND fans) have with the series. No rules were broken, but the authors seem disappointed in that fact and poised to pounce on any as soon as they appear. It seemed gratuitous -- danger warned of with little solid evidence. It may be they didn't mean for that impression, but that's the one that was left with this reader, at least.

There's a line in college athletics, defined (sometimes poorly) by our friends in Indianapolis, and I really don't give a damn what Notre Dame is doing on the right side of that line so long as they stay on that right side. You follow what the rules say. Inventing extra rules, as I've said on NDN many times, doesn't impress anyone.

Lest I be painted as soft on discipline, if ND commits a violation, by all means, bring it to me. If there are credible accusations of willful misconduct, I want to know. I won't stand for misbehavior with malice aforethought at my school, because ND is supposed to be about accountability.

But don't bring me a Hummer limo and high school championship rings and expect me to get worked up to the extent these stories apparently expected me to. Distasteful, yes. Immature, sure. NCAA trouble? Give me a break.

Monitoring events at Notre Dame has to be the SBT's strong point. They're the guys on the ground. I don't want homerism, because that's no good to anyone. What I want is objectivity and justification, and after reading this series, I didn't get the impression of either. They're blocking the crossing for a train 50 miles away that isn't scheduled to stop at this station.

As the local paper, these are the people guarding the proverbial flock. If they start crying wolf, they're no good to us.
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Anonymous Rilo said...

Damn right. How many of us would have been happy to have cameras following all of our adolescent actions? The author of that series of articles is looking for a job in a "big" market where your ability to throw stones is more valued than actual journalism.

The kids commitment was over the top for my taste as well, but he's a kid. The salient point is it's not worthy of the attention of a paper of record for a respectable city.

7/30/2006 01:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Old Pro said...

I wonder if the Trib will have their ISR promotional booth in the JACC before games this season? They might get egged.

7/30/2006 06:55:00 AM  
Anonymous ND Mike said...

OK so Clausen took his turn, not so unlike Reggie Bush's suspense presser. Hey the kid was rated the number 1 recruit in the nation, not a small honor, when thinking about the numbers of young men playing high school football. He is number 1! How do fans react when their team is rated number 1?

What will be the measuring stick of Notre Dame will be the diminishing of this ego, and how the young man is turned into a student athlete and a team player. Then we will have a good handle on Coach Weis's promise of a quality program. I hope Clausen has many many moments of glory in the Blue and Gold of the Irish, but should he not, at least he had his one shining moment at the CFHOF.

7/30/2006 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous 88_92WSND said...

Not having ESPN and not being much of a follower of recruiting, I didn't see or read any of the coverage of Clausen's announcement press conference. But reading the later descriptions, as well as all that has been said about his level-headedness, I have to ask this: was the whole thing a spoof? Did he deliberately go overboard to mock the attention, Lemmings, and reporters? You know the sort of thing you did in high school and college where you kept a perfectly straight face while appearing to be gung ho about something, all the while keeping the inside joke with your buds? Wishful thinking perhaps, but if it is the case, how perfect that the SBT swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

7/30/2006 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment about no one wanting to read about the bank robber who changed his mind is right on point.

The press doesn't make a living today reporting about all the dogs that DIDN'T get lost....so with Weis it's been -- and will always be -- an unending list of hints and innuendos..."well he may be good, but he's from the PROS".."OK he wins, but he CUSSES at his players in practice.." "Well yeah, but look how OVER-WEIGHT he is..." "They won, but he wasn't as NICE to the losing coach as Ty used to be...BLAH BLAH..."

You get it...and so does Charlie. He's got to be VERY aware of this whole dynamic. And at the risk of sounding cruel, if he's smart enough to excel in the NFL and at the hightest level of NCAA football, I think he can manage the crack troups of the SB Tribune. (Think about it....SB Tribune.....zzzzzz).

7/30/2006 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous j schell allentown, pa. said...

you know, what i dont get, is that this commitment from clausen occurred months ago and now we are rehashing the entire event like it was yesterday's news. are there no other newsworthy events in south bend that we have to hear about this crap? yeah,, it was a dumb move by the parents of a teenager who happens to be the number one recruit in the country, but can we move on now? the sbt needs to get a life.

7/31/2006 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous jack b said...

I agree with the fact that the kid was over the top and the whole thing was in bad taste, but don't excuse a 17 year old.....His father or his brothers have experience with this stuff and the kid didn't hire the Hummer.

7/31/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think most people would agree that Claussen and his approach to his commitment were in poor taste. I too agree that with his families experience they should have known this was nothing short of obnoxious. But the reality is a newspaper is to deal with FACTS! There has been no proof of wrong doing. Let's move on to bigger and better reporting SBT!!!

7/31/2006 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger SBAce said...

I talked once to a small town newspaper publisher about interviewing prospective journalists for his paper.

He always asked them, "Just what is a newspaper, anyway?"

They would trot out the usual J-school pieties about "fourth estate", "guardians of truth", "speaking truth to power", "making a difference", etc.

He would answer, "No. A newspaper is a business. If we don't make a profit, I can't pay you a salary. If you find an authentic scandal or some demonstrable wrongdoing in our community, by all means cover it and cover it hard. But if you think you can come in here, insult patrons who have done nothing to be insulted, and walk away with a Pulitzer Prize, find some other paper to work for."

He said they all pretty much got the message, and those who didn't didn't stay long.

True, we don't want homers. We also don't need manufactured non-scandals becoming the focus of a Pulitzer-fishing four part series.

7/31/2006 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Claussen is a teenager. He has been lifted up because he is a nice football player. I hope he is the next great ND quarterback. So does he. He was enjoying having ESPN cameras and being the star of an entire weekend at the center of the college football universe. Congratulations Jimmy.

8/01/2006 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. This is all much ado about much ado about nothing.

What will be interesting to me is what Coach Weis does with this situation when Claussen finally joins the team. I expect that, as he does with almost everything else, Charlie will use this to his and ND's advantage -- perhaps to take "the #1 QB in the nation" down a peg or two.

8/01/2006 10:57:00 AM  

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