1. Academic demands. ND's admissions standards limit the recruiting pool, but I do not believe they're a meaningful impediment. We could clear admissions with a top-three recruiting class every year and have done so. We do seem to get pinched at some positions, particularly defensive line. The bigger issue is ND guys have to go to real classes, with a Freshman core that presents some unavoidable challenges. We all know the soft spots in the curriculum, but you cannot build one full semester's course load on chaff. You have to take classes that may or may not meet at convenient times, and produce honest work. I had a handful of courses that were player-heavy, and many others with just a stray player or two. To go back to the admissions point, guys with 20 ACTs are going to have to put in the time in Calculus, Economics, Theology, and beyond. They will have big group projects, papers, and exams, right along with the increasingly elite student body. There's not enough time in the day to treat this like a mini-NFL experience, with hours of film study, treatment, conditioning, practice, and meetings..
2. Reputation, Weather, Social Scene. If we have an institutional recruiting barrier, this is it. For some, a Northern Indiana Catholic school, which is among the most selective in the nation, and one of the best undergraduate institutions, is a dream opportunity. For others, it's a frigid, boring, pressure cooker. The Walsh SYR was a great time. Does it stack up against the bar scene in Austin or Athens, parties in Tallahassee, or the celebrity treatment in LA?
3. Low Self-Esteem in Hiring. "Notre Dame makes great coaches; it doesn't hire them" is false bravado. We see the success of coaches at Alabama, Florida, Auburn, and worry it won't translate. Why would anyone want to leave an easier job for a harder job? That's insulting. Do you think John Affleck-Graves couldn't find less-challenging, more-lucrative employment? He's a pretty brilliant man, and he apparently finds his role at Notre Dame to be a worthy vocation. I think there's some degree of assumption that we need to shop for up-and-comers, because no one else would want to deal with us. ND's worth it and needs to believe that.
4. Nurturing, Insular Environment. I would kill for my kids to go to ND. When they're 22, working for a living, they'll find the world can be cold and sometimes hostile. When they're 18 and away from home for the first time, I'd rather they develop in the warmth of the ND incubator. I'm proud of Corey Robinson for having a summa cum laude GPA and pursuing PLS. He's worthy of admiration regardless of whether he catches or drops a football. That doesn't mean he thinks dropping a pass is OK, but any do-or-die attitude will be hard-pressed to survive in this climate. To be clear, all of these "limitations" are labeled in a vacuum. None of them are necessarily bad or wrong. The insularity of ND extends to -- or starts with -- its leadership. ND has a culture of reinforcement and support that does not always include criticism and blunt introspection. Bad decisions can escape consequence for too long.
5. Identity Crises. ND has been struggling with what it wants to be and how it wants to get there. This risks projecting weakness and proceeding with half-measures. Do we want an unspoiled game experience, or an "amped up" atmosphere? Do we want to lead with academic excellence or top-flight facilities? Are we a cold-weather team whose average recruiting strengths suggest building around a dominant line and strong-armed passer, or do we need an "equalizer" scheme to hedge against recruiting vulnerabilities? Are we content to be very good, or can we really compete with the SEC? These are questions for a reason -- following this school and program 365 days a year for two decades, I'm not sure I know many answers.
1. National Prominence. We can't fence off any one area, but we can, generally, find some open doors in every part of the country. Our players are celebrities, for better or worse, and the NBC contract remains a huge asset. Nebraska, Penn State, Washington -- all teams that have won a title since ND last did, and all teams with far less cachet than we have, throughout the country. We are still the biggest name in the sport, still the biggest challenge, still the biggest stage.
2. Smart Players. This is a benefit more than a limitation. We can and do attract a better, smarter class of player. ND ought to be able to field the most disciplined, intelligent team in the game. I don't think our personnel has held us back in this regard.
3. Independence. We have maintained a national brand because we are beholden to no one allegiance. Every year, we can play in California, the southeast, Texas, New York, the Midwest. No one thinks of ND as that Indiana team. Our exposure, recruiting reach, and reputation are unconstrained. We belong to no one and everyone.
4. Nurturing, Insular Environment. Football parents are not necessarily any different. For every parent who's fine sending her kid to play for that scumbag in Tallahassee, many others want a school that will both protect their kids while building good men. We do that as well as anyone. We have a lot of good people, who rightfully see football players as fellow students and alums, and we take care of our guys. You can succeed anywhere, but it's tough to fail at ND. Again, limitations can be advantages, and vice-versa.
5. Winning Here Is Better. Does "ND" have the will to win? I don't know. I think Fr. Jenkins does. I know we do. We will immortalize our champions, and that's no empty pledge. Quick, 16 year-old high school kid: what school comes to mind when I mention four white guys sitting on horses? Who's the Rocket? We have a national mystique at our disposal, some odd power to command the front page of Sports Illustrated every time we manage to crap and wipe in the same trip. Sure, it's annoying to everyone else. We have got to stop caring about that and embrace it. Lou got the job done because he was a smart, mean SOB, but also because he could say "We're Notre Dame, and you're not," mean it, and not give a shit if it bothered you. That message, somehow, isn't dead yet. We have to grab it, run with it, and not look back.