Sunday, December 31, 2006


For those of you who don't usually read comments, former Irish basketball player Ron Reed responded to my previous article:

If you are putting "Academically Ineligible" in the category of "Foolishness" then I plead guilty as charged. But if you are putting "Academically Ineligible" in the same category as a "D.U.I." and "Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance", which sounds like you are, then you are not nearly as intelligent as you think you are.

Sheff and I were certainly wrong for not keeping our grades up, and by the way it happened to me twice, and it has happened to other athletes at Notre Dame as well. But after two years in the N.B.A. and seventeen years in Major League Baseball I have never had a D.U.I. and I have never been arrested for any illegal substance use or possession.

Attacking someone's ineligibility is an attack on his study habits in and out of the classroom. Attacking someone's use of alcohol and or substance abuse is an attack on his character. Two entirely different subjects.

Ron Reed Notre Dame Basketball 1961-1965
I want to be crystal clear on this -- in no way do I equate academic issues of any kind with illegal substance issues of any kind, and it was not my intention to suggest that players who have problems with grades have the same problems as players who have problems with drugs.

I talked about the 1962-63 season because key players had made a bad off-court decision -- the decision not to study and keep the grades up -- and that off-court decision had an effect on the team's on-court fortunes, much in the same way whatever decisions led to marijuana being found in KMac's car were also bad ones that may lead to a similar seasonal effect for Notre Dame.

I certainly didn't mean to impugn Ron Reed's or Larry Sheffield's character. Their teammates all spoke of them as being high-quality people, and in the limited interaction I've had with Ron, I've found that to be the case as well. I didn't put a fine enough point on my analogy (assuming I should have made it in the first place), and I'm sorry.

(Also as a clarification, I'm not saying KMac has problems with drugs. In fact, the whole entry probably violated my own admonishments to folks to wait until the facts fully come out before commenting on things. Certainly not my best work. I guess I was right -- foolishness is not in short supply these days.)


Saturday, December 30, 2006


Definitely not in short supply today.

First there's the foolishness that led to the pot being in KMac's car in the first place. I don't want ND players using pot, especially during the season, but as hypocritical as this might sound, I understand how it's the "drug of choice" of basketball players in general and, like alcohol, realize there's going to be some use whether I like it or not. So it amends to not wanting pot use to affect the players' lives or the team's performance, and by being indiscreet with the materials in the car, KMac has violated that edict.

Next there's the foolishness that led to some of the reactions (since deleted) on The Pit. Draconian down-from-the-mountain crap isn't the way to go here either. You can be disappointed in the young man's choices without being a dick about it. Fire-and-brimstone punishment might make you feel a little more superior than all the rest, but it does very little for the young man wearing the Fighting Irish uniform.

Will the foolishness continue? That remains to be seen.

It certainly won't be foolish to punish the young man, although there's potential foolishness in the details of that punishment. As I said, I have a low tolerance for players who disrupt the team with bad choices. KMac did something dumb, and he's going to (and should) be punished for it regardless of what it means for the season. It blows that his teammates will suffer, but that's the point of being a team -- what you do affects everyone else, and what everyone else does affects you. But there's punishment that teaches a lesson to the punished and there's punishment that looks or feels good for the punisher. I want plenty of the former and none of the latter.

I think it would be foolish to make more of this than deserves to be made. On the grand scale of crime, I put things like a first-time possession charge pretty low on the totem pole. It doesn't indicate a pattern of behavior (although it can be used later to establish one if the behavior repeats), and, unlike assaulting a kid on a basketball court or driving under the influence, doesn't involve hurting another person either physically, psychologically or emotionally. It certainly doesn't fall under the purview of the NCAA rulebook. ND has a strong track record expecting accountability for its athletes both on and off the court, so I don't doubt they'll do their due diligence.

On The Pit, Kayo asked if we were King of ND, what we would do in response to KMac's situation. If my uneasy head wore the crown, I'd stop the foolishness this way.

First, I'd allow him to remain in school. Suspending him for a semester and putting his academic progress off track doesn't accomplish anything.

Second, I'd suspend him from playing or practicing with the team for one month. He could still work out with them or do whatever training table or other related activities he usually does with his teammates, but nothing on the court. I'd even go so far as to keep him off the bench during games for that month.

Third and finally, I'd require 100 hours of community service, to be completed before the start of the Fall 2007 semester. I'm guessing there are drug treatment centers in the greater South Bend metro area that could use some help.

I'd also tell him since this is a first offense and he has a clean record, he's getting off light. A second example of foolishness would result in the sky falling down on him.

Likewise, his teammates would be informed KMac had used up their one mulligan for the season and they should consider themselves on notice. Foolish behavior on their part would put them right underneath that falling sky as well.

Good seasons at ND have been affected by foolishness before. In 1962-63, the team started 11-3 before Ron Reed and Larry Sheffield didn't make grades, and the team barely snuck into the NCAA tournament. Last season on the gridiron, the Irish missed Rashon Powers-Neal after his suspension for a DUI charge.

We'll see how this Irish team reacts. Hopefully they can still make it a magical one.

I'm going to leave the comments open here, and invite response on The Pit as well. But there's one type of comment I won't even bother approving, so you shouldn't bother making it:

"You ripped on Troy Smith for his character issues, and now you're saying it's no big deal for McAlarney."

Yes, I did. I did so because (a) Smith physically assaulted someone and took booster money, which represents (as I said above) both a higher-echelon crime and an NCAA violation, and (b) the reason for the comments was Smith's being in contention for an award that has a character component. If later in his career, KMac is up for a national award and his primary competitor has a better record in this area, I'll point out the difference just as I did with Smith and Quinn.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

70-100 Percent Wrong

Jason Kelly takes up the cause of the JC upgrades today, and as usual, did a bang-up job. He notes the lack of initiative taken by the ND administration in cases of athletic infrastructure needs, illustrated by things like the use of Fiesta Bowl funding (broken out in a previous blog entry here), taking them to task for the financial brinksmanship that seems to be the rule of the road on the east side of Juniper.

The details from Kelly's column are the best evidence yet that the University's 70-100 fundraising commitment is a poor strategy for operating an institute of higher learning in the 21st Century, particularly an institution as financially strong as Notre Dame. The school's athletic programs are cast in a poor light by the miserly attitudes of its administrative leaders, which can have both short- and long-term deleterious effects.

For those unfamiliar with the rule, Notre Dame's 70-100 funding philosophy says no physical plant project can begin until 70 percent of its budgeted cost is in hand via donation and 100 percent of its cost is pledged. For example, if Notre Dame is to spend $25 million on a Joyce Center basketball court upgrade, the project cannot begin until donors have pledged the full $25 million and Notre Dame has received $17.5 million of those promised funds. This means even if the project has $24.9 million promised to it, nothing is going to happen until that last $100,000 is accounted for.

For a school that boasts one of the largest endowments in the world and, thanks to wunderkind Scott Malpass, typically receives one of the best annual returns on investment for that endowment, their reluctance to engage in a much-needed improvement over such a relatively paltry sum is embarassing to me as an alumnus.

According to quotes from Kevin White in Kelly's column, Notre Dame is less than two million dollars short of the needed total for the Joyce Center upgrades. The same school that probably earned in the neighborhood of $300,000 this Spring in interest on its football ticket lottery proceeds is suddenly rooting through the pockets of its laundry in search of forgotten bills to make the JC project go. Never mind that the basketball teams pay for themselves and also return some money to the school coffers ... income that could go up significantly if the teams' performances improve. No risk allowed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dome, Jeff Jackson and his top-five hockey squad await the quality rink that was promised to the coach when he arrived in South Bend two years ago. (Don't hold your breath, Jeff; Mike Brey's been waiting seven and Muffet McGraw longer than that.) That project, according to reports, will run $15 million, and might have an effect on hoops as well, as there's talk of using the other half of the north dome for eagerly-awaited practice facilities for both the men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams. But they, too, must obey the 70-100 directive.

Faint heart never won fair lady. And weak commitment never won basketball games.

I was really jazzed up when the announcement for the JC project was made, and even more encouraged when it was made clear ND wasn't going to ignore the need for things on the practice side. But here we are, two months later, and we're still at Square One. I wasn't expecting the bleachers to be torn out by now, but I was expecting some kind of progress towards the end result. Instead, ND is wringing its hands over an endowment rounding error.

This isn't a community college here, kids. I don't want to read articles canonizing Malpass right next to whining about donation schedules. ND is supposed to be a leader, so let's get to it.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Life comes at you fast

On Friday, December 1st, I discovered that line is a lot more than a commercial tag. That night, my sister called to tell me my aunt, Ann Gardiner, had been killed in an automobile accident at the ripe old age of 56.

The ice storm of 24 hours previously had left her home without power, so she and a friend were going to a local hotel for shelter. She'd always been a careful driver -- probably the most careful in the family -- and that day was no exception. She was waiting to make a right-hand turn at an intersection whose stoplights were darkened due to a power outage. Someone else across the street from her also waited, as another car approached from her left at speed for the four-lane street he was on.

For reasons that escape my understanding, the other stopped driver thought the driver on the four-lane street was going to somehow stop (as he should have), and started into the intersection. The four-lane driver swerved to avoid that car, and his Pontiac Aztec slammed full-force into the driver's door of my aunt's Dodge Neon. If my aunt had been in an SUV or the other driver in a regular-sized car, things might have ended differently. But they weren't, so it didn't.

It's frustrating that my aunt was the only person at the intersection following the Rules of the Road. She and her passenger, who survived with minor bruises, were also the only people injured (at least physically).

Even more frustrating is the sheer random nature of the event itself. Thinking about how many things had to happen just so for the situation to end the way it did makes my brain hurt. The storm, the power, the lack of traffic control.... We live in a world where the fact your phone didn't ring as you're going out the door, delaying you for a few precious seconds, decides whether you live or die. I'd have better luck filling out a lottery ticket via a blindfolded lemur on a caffeine bender smacking numbers with his tail.

But the most frustrating part of all is losing a vibrant person well before her time.

Ann was only 19 when I was born, and while she wasn't all that much older than me to begin with, the gap seemed to shrink every year. She always had a good understanding of what "people my age" went through, no matter what that age was at the time, and being my godmother, felt a special duty to share that understanding with me (a duty I welcomed gladly). My relationship with my parents was (and is) wonderful, and I'm not suggesting my relationship with Ann was better or more meaningful. It was just different, and it was an important difference that helped make me the person I am today.

She lived near St. Louis, and at least once a summer, we'd head down there for a long weekend. I remember fishing in the small lake behind her house, thinking it was the accomplishment of a lifetime landing a bluegill. I remember trips to Six Flags, when she interceded with my parents to make a ride on the Screaming Eagle as a perhaps-not-ready seven-year-old a reality. The only helicopter ride I've ever taken in my life was over downtown St. Louis, the result of her reminding us we might never get that chance again. Although I'm not sure she accompanied us on that experience -- she was all about having us try new things, but that didn't mean she had to share in our lunacy.

She reminded me a lot of my grandfather in that she didn't suffer fools gladly, but had a generous spirit that led her to help all kinds of people in a quiet way. She was a special education teacher who lived in Edwardsville, IL, for over 30 years, and the depth to which she touched others' lives was brought into sharp relief during her wake there, when friends and students and their families all came forward to share stories of her kindness and selflessness we had never heard.

She didn't live to see either of her sons marry, but shared in the joy of her nieces' and nephews' engagements and ceremonies. She'll never know the joy of being a grandmother herself, but showed abundance of love to her great-nieces and great-nephews. Some of them are old enough they'll take memories of her later into life. For those that aren't, my sibs and cousins and I will make sure they do.

The past week has burned events into my brain I'll carry with me for a long time. Going to the auto pound to remove Ann's personal effects from the car, seeing the damage first-hand and picking around the life-saving detritus left by the EMTs for things like the rosary she always kept in the glove box. Attending the wake and seeing the multiple collages of hand-prints and angels created by her preschool and kindergarten students -- simple displays of grief and thankfulness from small people who probably have an even tougher time understanding all of this than I do -- that I can't even type about without getting emotional. Singing "Lady of Knock" during her funeral in a packed church that didn't have a dry eye in the house, including the priest.

But these are only the first steps in what will no doubt be a tough journey for her siblings and sons. There will likely be prosecution of the other people involved in the accident, which will be a long and arduous process. There will be the dissolution of property and the breaking down of the welcoming home Ann always had for all of us. I, myself, will be approaching some members of the Illinois legislature I'm fortunate enough to know to seek a remedy that might spare others the pain my family currently experiences as we face a Christmas with one empty stocking.

We know, however, that Ann will be with us on this journey. Her strength will be our strength. Her laughter will be our laughter. Her compassion will be our compassion, and her resolve will be our resolve, depending on the situation.

I've disabled comments for this entry because my purpose here, beyond a personal catharsis, is not to elicit sympathy from the readership. Rather, I remind all of you that when you wake up in the morning, you have no way of knowing what the day is going to bring you. A truism, I know, but we have a tendency to forget such things as the relatively mundane events of life create their own space and momentum in our minds.

Never forget to let the people you care about know it, and never miss any opportunity to let them know. It can make all the difference in the world. It shouldn't take a sudden catastrophe like this to bring it to the front of your mind. Put it there, and keep it there.


Looking for angst in all the wrong places

With all due respect to my compatriots who have chimed in on the subject (including ndoldtown, who, as usual, is clear and concise on the subject), I'm not all that upset right now over the outcome of the Heisman award ceremony.

Disappointment in this case, to me, is not applicable. It's not like we went in thinking Quinn was going to win the award. As disappointed as I am that Smith's poor performances this season were glossed over because his team won in spite of them, it's par for the course. The Heisman race has its "perceived value" component, and when you're in the ND fishbowl, everything you do will be magnified, both good and bad. This isn't the Man trying to keep Brady Quinn down, it's (biased) voters plying their craft, such as it is.

I'm also having trouble getting upset at the third-place finish because I really don't give a damn who comes in anything other than first in that race. I don't think a one-place difference illustrates a strong effort to screw anybody.

I agree, by and large, ESPN has a vested interest in bringing ND down. But let's remember everything ESPN does is orchestrated schtick, no matter what team they're pimping or denigrating. They're all circus monkeys dancing with cups in their hands, and deserve about as much attention. If I was an actual journalist working for that organization, my tear ducts would be infected from my copious weeping for the state of my career. When ESPN finally has meaningful influence on something of true substance, let me know, because until then, they're on the pay-no-mind list.

I agree, by and large, the criteria for the Heisman has changed, and not necessarily for the better. But until a Notre Dame player fits the new criteria and is somehow excluded from or marginalized in the award process, I'm hesitant to talk about biases. If things go the way we want them to the next couple of seasons (after what is sure to be a learning experience next year), ND will have strong players on highly-ranked teams. Then we'll see what we shall see.

This all isn't to say I'm pleased overall with the situation. I think, as usual, NBC's marketing of ND's program and players leaves a lot to be desired. While things may improve now that NBC has an NFL product to go along with ND (and have, a little, on the graphics side), more improvement can't come soon enough. The announcing team blows and has for a while. I don't want to hear the team talked down by the guys in the booth when it's not warranted. This is our television contract, after all, and if there's a little pro-ND bias in there, tough noogies.

A tough loss for Brady Quinn, made even tougher by the fact that Minter's D (MI) and McKnight's dropsies (SC) probably factored in a lot more than they should have. But BQ will be fine without the Heisman. He's poised for a good career in the NFL that will make him a very rich young man, and if something doesn't work out there, he's got a quality education on which he can fall back. Everything else is gravy.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Still Interesting

Been away a lot this very tough week, glad to have had two excellent performances by the team to boost the spirits.

A lot to like tonight vs. the Tide....

Giving a quality performance on national TV. Those haven't been too prevalent the last couple of seasons, but tonight the team put together an excellent performance under the lights.

Keeping a late lead. When the margin dwindled from 10 to three in a matter of 60 seconds, I had bad visions running through my head. But Russell Carter took the bull by the horns and hit that critical trey. That woke the team up and fueled the game-ending run.

Holding the #4 team in the nation to an A/TO ratio below 1.0 while keeping their ratio close to 2.0, giving up 42 percent shooting, and weathering 21 foul calls.

Most importantly, the minutes. Eight players in double figures. Yes, there were four of them over 34, but given the 81 points they scored, I'm willing to overlook it for now. MB stayed with the bench even though the opponent was tough, the game was close, and some of the guys didn't have eye-catching stat lines. Learning is a gradual process, and one hopes the bench usage is part of that process. Still need to work on the late-game slowdown, but one battle at a time.

Almost as importantly, in the words of Mr. Roarke, smiles everyone, smiles. It's been a couple seasons since I saw an ND basketball team enjoying itself on the court, and there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy tonight.

Speaking of energy, kudos to the student body and GA's for a strong turnout. How ... about ... a loud ... shout!

Going into the holiday lull, a good performance by everyone involved was critical to set a good tone for the NCAA resume. That tone has been set, and what will probably turn out to be a relatively weak SOS has been offset strongly by these two performances.

As I said in the preseason, if nothing else, this team is going to be interesting to watch. Color me interested.