Friday, September 15, 2006

My Message to Garcia

As noted on The Pit last week, I had planned to make my feelings about Joyce Center upgrade plans known to the ND administration. This is the letter I sent to Kevin White early last week, CC'ed to Fr. Jenkins, JAG, Mike Brey, and Muffet McGraw. I also sent copies to Patrick McCartan (chairman of the ND BOT) and Philip Purcell (chairman of the BOT Athletics Committee and rumored donor for the upgrade plan).

I've set this entry to be sans comments, not only because I'll be in SB for the next couple days and won't be able to approve them but also because the letters have already been sent and if I have typos or other logical inconsistencies, it's way too late for me to do anything about them. Any questions or reactions can be made on The Pit.

I appreciate all of you who shared the letters you sent with me -- I though they were well-written and from the heart -- and encourage all of you who are like-minded to submit your thoughts to ND's athletic administration. This is an important step to getting Notre Dame basketball where it used to be and can be again. We don't want them to blow it.

Dr. Kevin White
Athletic Director, University of Notre Dame
Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Dear Kevin:

I was gratified to hear from some friends on campus the other day that the long-awaited Joyce Center upgrades are finally going to get off the drawing board and become a reality. Given the long, strong tradition of basketball at Notre Dame, the program deserves strong support and I'm happy to see they're finally getting it.

My friends were unsure, however, about the specific direction the upgrades would take. It was their belief there would be many changes to the playing venue in the Joyce Center court itself but little attention paid to the practice facilities or other areas that affect the everyday lives of the basketball players. That belief concerned me, and given the possibility it might be true, I wanted to write and express my reservations about such a plan.

I've interviewed more than a few recruits over the eight years I've been an Internet publisher, and count among my friends many people who make their living knowing what basketball recruits want in a school. If I've learned one thing from them, it's that recruits want to know the schools they attend are serious about having a strong basketball program and care about them as players and how they will develop. Therefore, I want to make sure you're taking the players' needs and welfare into proper consideration and are not approaching the plan to improve Notre Dame's basketball facilities from a revenue standpoint instead.

Across the nation, you can see examples of high-quality programs pouring money into their facilities, and for the most part, they're concentrating on practice venues and other player-centric physical plant options. They know as well as I do a strong program begins with talent and coaching, which beget wins, which in turn beget strong interest from fans, which in turn begets revenue from ticket sales, merchandising, advertising, post-season play compensation, etc. Therefore, they're willing to invest in areas that might not have a strong immediate return on investment in the interest of creating a strong foundation for their teams and enhancing the possibility of long-run success.

Strong national programs like Florida, Kentucky and Duke have chosen to invest in practice facilities more so than their playing venues. There's a reason Duke plays in an older building like Cameron Indoor Stadium while building the Schwartz/Butters Athletic Center for its athletes and planning a new practice facility. Kentucky's current practice facility fundraiser, aimed to raise $30 million, will probably not return a dime on the investment directly. And Florida, a football school if ever there was one, built a practice complex for $10 million because they knew that's what was needed in today's world of college basketball.

In our own conference, last year St. John's opened Taffner Fieldhouse, a beautiful practice and training facility for its basketball programs. They spent $23 million on the project, and none of those dollars were spent on revenue-enhancing endeavors. The few modifications they made to Carnesecca Arena were all geared towards the student athletes: meeting space, AV rooms, etc. This is a school that has no real home arena to speak off; all of their big games are played at Madison Square Garden. They could, if they had chosen, constructed such a venue or upgraded Carnesecca Arena to the extent it could have served for those big games. But they chose not to do that, and invested in their student athletes instead. As a result, St. John's had a top-20 recruiting class last year (as rated by and are working on another one this season, which will benefit them in the long term as their teams improve and the resulting exposure brings revenues both from fans and donating alumni.

Yes, the condition of the Joyce Center is deplorable, and I've never been shy of saying it. The high-school-style bleachers are an anachronism, the duct tape holding down the floor is embarrassing, the padded seats are faded and in disrepair, the press facilities are terrible, and the concessions need an overhaul. All these things should have been fixed long ago and should be fixed as soon as possible.

But people don't come to the Joyce Center because of their cushy seats or to eat nifty food or to marvel at a video screen scoreboard. They come to watch the Irish win, and if the Irish win, the interest (and revenue) from the fans both in South Bend and across the nation will follow. Therefore, although those fixes are needed, they must be prioritized behind the needs of the student athletes, which are even more in need than the Joyce Center crowd.

I know Notre Dame understands the value of good player-centric facilities; after all, we saw the opening of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex for the football team last year. I would hope a similar mindset would apply to a men's basketball program that for many, many years was second only to football in alumni and fan interest at the school, and a women's basketball program that brought home a national championship in the last ten years. The needs of those programs are similar to those of football (and baseball, golf, softball, and all the other sports that have received facilities upgrades recently): build a strong foundation and success follows.

As a conclusion, I offer this quote from Kentucky's web site concerning their planned practice facility upgrades in response to the question of why such a thing is needed when Kentucky already has a history as the winningest basketball team in the country without such facilities:

'Kentucky basketball is the premier program in the country. We must have the vision and commitment to maintain our status as the best. Right now, we are behind with respect to practice facilities. This facility will provide first class space for both basketball programs, including a state-of-the-art training room, weight room, film room and administrative offices."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

With hopes that we can get the programs what they need, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Mike Coffey, '91

cc: Fr. John Jenkins, President, University of Notre Dame
John Affleck-Graves, Executive Vice President, University of Notre Dame
Mike Brey, Head Coach, Men’s Basketball, University of Notre Dame
Muffet McGraw, Head Coach, Women’s Basketball, University of Notre Dame



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