Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part I: Basketball School

Notre Dame is a basketball school.

Or at least it used to be.

Alumni and fans of recent vintage probably have a hard time believing that, but it's true. I spent three years of my life proving it.

But history only goes so far, and as the arguments on the Pit the last couple of months have shown, a lot of fans of the basketball program have wandered away over the years since the Fighting Irish were last consistent winners. Whether it was because of never regaining interest after the debacle of the 1990s, or the lack of consistent success since then, the flower of hoops fandom is not flourishing and lacks the strong roots it once had.

There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I'll address in the coming days, but the reason I will fight to my dying breath is the excuse that "we're a football school", which somehow excuses a lack of enthusiasm for basketball on Notre Dame's campus.

I would hope Florida's victory last season in the NCAA tournament would put that lame rationalization to rest. The most football-crazy school in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation won the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and no one cried they couldn't get to games because "we're a football school". That they are now the first school to hold the men's hoops and football titles simultaneously is proof positive success in one area does not preclude success in the other.

In short, "football school" is the result of lazy thinking and half-assed analysis.

In fact, let's take a look at the latest AP polls for hardwood and gridiron and see if we can find some overlap:

Florida (#1 football, #2 basketball)
Ohio State (#2 football, #5 basketball)
LSU (#3 football, #13 basketball)
Wisconsin (#7 football, #3 basketball)
West Virginia (#10 football, #21 basketball)
Texas (#13 football, #25 basketball)
Notre Dame (#17 football, #21 basketball)

And this doesn't count teams that received votes in the hoops poll like USC (#4 football) and Arkansas (#15 football) or teams that received votes in the football poll like Texas A&M (#8 basketball) or even also-rans in both polls like Maryland.

Over a quarter of the poll. That's a significant overlap.

Granted, there are some things ND can't do. For example, all of the other schools on the overlap list are state institutions (some in more ways than one). They have large student bodies and a large alumni base within a reasonable drive. Therefore, it's possible for them to show strong support for midweek games without having to depend on non-alumni fans. There's nothing ND can do about that (but then again, ND has always had that disadvantage, and was able to overcome it before).

But the other thing those schools are doing is supporting their programs with money as well as bodies, and God knows ND and its $3.4 billion endowment can do plenty about that.

The facilities list we had thumbtacked on The Pit prior to the renovation announcements featured most of those schools prominently. In the lead by far is Florida, which has spent $22.5 million in the past 10 years on their basketball facilities. Ohio State and Wisconsin both play in state-of-the-art facilities less than 10 years old. Texas built a new practice facility and renovated their arena in the last five years. LSU has had renovation projects going on for the last three seasons. West Virginia is in the final stages of a capital plan to completely revamp their hoops offerings.

Each of those schools made the decision to have a championship-level basketball program, and each of those school put their money where their mouths are.

ND has announced the renovations project, and that's certainly good. But we're still sitting on the damn funding, and there's still no release of concrete plans months after the project was allegedly kicked off.

And now, we have rumors flying around of a new hockey rink. If (and it's a big "if") that results in the basketball programs getting room in the North Dome for the practice facilities they still need, it's palatable. Not arousing, but palatable. But trust me, gentle readers, nothing is going to push me over the edge faster than a cost-center sport with no tradition getting a fully-funded state-of-the-art arena while a profit-center sport still goes begging.

Because that will lead to some very awkward questions I don't think anyone on Juniper Road is prepared to answer.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home