As ND football keeps proving, money isn't everything
DIALOGUE: MICHIANA POINT OF VIEW
By DR. PAUL WITKOWSKI
Jim Stack's plan for the University of Notre Dame's football future (Michiana Point of View, May 27) further capitulates to the money interests of broadcast media and conference alliances. Such a course would diminish the university's unique position and place it permanently among football's also-rans.
Academic standards, on-field performance and independence made this program special (and marketable). Notre Dame's performance needs restructuring and our independence is on the line. Big money interests threaten both.
Notre Dame has been conflicted about its football identity for a half century. In the early 1960s, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the university, wanted to de-emphasize football in favor of academic recognition, and many believed that he preferred to be less successful on Saturday afternoons. That perception of having to choose only one excellence frustrated traditionalists, who now struggle with the commercial dissection of Notre Dame football. In general, money has been more of a distraction than an incentive for maintaining a quality program.
NBC Sports could have included a performance clause in its contract renewal offer. However, the network finds that the number of viewers is adequate, regardless of performance. Perhaps the viewers who delight in seeing Notre Dame flounder compensate for exasperated Irish fans who can no longer bear to watch. In return, Notre Dame receives a generous payoff and national exposure -- an exposure that showcases a program in disarray, from sideline chaos to uniforms adulterated by the Adidas logo.
The NBC contract demonstrates that, as in life, compensation without accountability does not solve problems -- it perpetuates them. The security of a major conference affiliation would produce another performance disincentive.
Disgruntled alumni should not expect a response from the university trustees, whose arrogance is becoming as legendary as the Four Horsemen. Trustees are selected mostly for their fame or fortune. They disclaim any covenant with the fans and rarely respond to the common folk. Notwithstanding, the 400 alumni who recently complained were correct about one thing: Few subjects gain the attention of the university more than money. It seems to be an obsession at the expense of other considerations.
Football propelled this university into national prominence, made South Bend a landmark, and gave millions of fans something to cheer about. The university must concede that a century of Notre Dame football has more than economic value and that it is time at last to get a comprehensive grip on the game.
Notre Dame's athletic director is an excellent executive and politician who spreads his attention among several sports. However, he and the head football coach do not effectively monitor and integrate the many strategic components of producing winning football. The program had similar coordination problems under former Coach Lou Holtz, but he was able to compensate masterfully on game day. Perhaps we need a new provost in charge of football operations -- someone with Notre Dame roots, Notre Dame passion, and determined leadership.
Loyalty is a two-way street. Notre Dame fans deserve commitment and continuity. We care less about conference alliances and television contracts than about tradition. Defining Fighting Irish football as a business in an increasingly materialistic culture betrays Notre Dame's heritage and mission. We prefer a university that refuses to embrace every mercenary scheme, from selling Adidas shoes to selling its independence. We cheer for victory, not for profitability.
Dr. Paul Witkowski graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1965. His brother, daughter and son-in-law also are ND alumni. He returned to this area from Denver two years ago to retire in the shadow of the Golden Dome and now is a Granger resident.