Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Return of the Native

You always like it when good things happen to good people. So naturally, I'm very happy Kyle McAlarney will be returning to ND in the summer.

This tells me one or more of a couple things happened in the past 48 hours:
  • KMac was able to look past the hurt and aggravation of the situation and make a mature, reasoned decision. He likes his coach, he likes his teammates. Why rush into a new situation requiring you to rebuild all those relationships?

  • Notre Dame managed to execute some original thinking in an extremely expeditious manner, and altered the punishment towards reasonableness enough to make things more palatable for this young man. Yes, people can take summer classes at ND as "unenrolled students", but remember that students under the kind of "suspension" that KMac is are banned from campus for its duration. So if he's going to be taking summer classes, something changed.

This was a bad situation on all sides. KMac did something stupid, and ND put its foot in it with an over-reactive punishment. That both sides could pull themselves back from the edge and not allow pride or intransigence to make the situation worse probably is the best possible outcome.

Having said that, both sides have some work to do.

This all started with KMac getting caught with marijuana. I'm among those who view marijuana use as a Not Good Thing, and my strong preference would be for him to look at this situation as a potential life lesson for him. This created a major inconvenience in his life, and could have been more costly for him. Assuming he was the one using the weed at some point that day, he needs to ask himself: was it worth all this?

That Notre Dame managed a partial recovery from their gaffe doesn't absolve them from the self-evaluation required to make sure it never happens again. I can understand a strong stance against controlled substances, but a policy of harsh punishments for good-citizen first-time offenders who are not even accused of use doesn't make a lot of sense to me, particularly when a student can drive while drunk and not be banished from campus. I also have a hard time with a system of justice where some offenders avoid ResLife review altogether while others cannot. Notre Dame needs to convene whatever kind of group it convenes for this sort of thing and review duLac from stem to stern to make sure these kinds of inconsistencies are ironed out.

This is a learning moment for both KMac and ND. If they take advantage of it, they'll be better for it.

And lest we forget, kudos to Mike Brey and KMac's teammates for stepping into the breach and helping to work towards a solution. This is just another example of the strong chemistry and camaraderie this squad has shown, which has gone a long way towards the unexpected positive results this season. Regardless of what you may think of coaching decisions, Mike Brey has shown once again he understands ND and what makes the ND family work, and is willing to put that into practice even in the face of the place's questionable decisions.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is There Any Doubt Left?

Well, just in case there is, I want to put it to bed.

This is a list (with thanks to FunkDoctorSpock, who artfully put it together) of seniors and 5th years next season, with their post-2007 eligibility in parentheses:

TOTAL - 16


T. Thomas
Jabbie (1)
Bragg (1)


J. Brown (1)
Crum (1)
Lambert (1)
Ferrine (1)


This is what our good buddy Ty left for Charlie Weis. This is the crackerjack recruiting that was keeping him and his staff off the golf course.

It's not my intention to bag on these young men -- they wear the uniform, they contribute, and they're above reproach, as far as I'm concerned. But there aren't nearly enough of them, especially at positions of need, and that's the cupboard CW had when he arrived.

If that's not enough, the folks at, the Scout site for Ty's current haunts, have this to say about the state of their recruiting


Of all the guys we've been recruiting down the stretch... Smith, Weems, Masafilo, Amajoyi, Bolden, Tomzyck. We've managed to lose all of them. Now we may lose Boyles. It's argued this team needs talent to win. "Let Ty bring in his boys... then we'll see." But he's not bringing in his boys. We're gonna get smacked around with next year's schedule. And no recruiting momentum. And it's not gonna be until we change coaches that this mediocrity ends.I've been on the fence about the value of keeping Ty, about the value of continuity. But I don't see any value in continuity if it doesn't improve our talent. I've followed recruiting religiously this year and all my faith has been answered with a big hurking disappointment. I can't believe how sadly we've fared down the stretch.

I'd say we told them so, but the queue's waaaaaay too long and kicking the down isn't fun.

I eagerly await the pontifications of Saunders and Wilbon and their ilk after Washington gets their heinies handed to them next season and The Molder of Men is shown the door. No doubt that'll be Notre Dame's fault too -- we poisoned the well of his coaching greatness and now he's too psychologically damaged to recover. Or something like that. Promises to be riveting.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And so it begins

This article by Gary Parrish is only the tip of the public relations nightmare Notre Dame has unleashed upon itself, yet again.

This is the kind of publicity that is going to give recruiting a kick in the fruitstand, no matter who is coaching here. And for my gridiron-focused readers, rest assured it won't stop with basketball.

For all of the people trumpeting how "he broke the law" and all that, recognize the reality that a blunt in a car is not considered to be a big deal by most people. How players and coaches will interpret this is Notre Dame let a kid who had never been in any kind of trouble dangle in the wind for almost a month and then suspended him for a semester for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal.

Players may not envision themselves as using marijuana, but I'm quite sure they can envision themselves doing relatively harmless things that aren't any big deal. Now Notre Dame has shown they react to those things with very harsh suspensions, no matter how good a person you've been otherwise. Not exactly the most positive environment, especially for 17-year-old kids who are thinking about both their academic and playing futures.

And what do you think if you're Mike Brey? Based on what ND has told you, you've given this kid hope he'd remain in school for the semester. Now not only did ND yank the rug out from under you, they did it an hour before you were supposed to leave for a road trip, leaving you no time to be with a player in your program desperately in need of counsel and advice. Between the renovation delays and now this, I'm amazed he hasn't resigned.

(and for those of you who clap at that possibility, remember other coaching candidates are watching this stuff very carefully, and if you think they'll want to cast their lot with an administration that does this kind of crap for any amount of money, you're crazy)

This has nothing to do with coddling athletes and everything to do with having, as Parrish put it, common sense. This has nothing to do with teaching, which is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about, and everything to do with image, which is what Notre Dame obviously remains obsessed with.

And it needs to be fixed, quickly and publicly, before it does real and permanent damage.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Make Your Voice Heard

There's nothing else to say about the KMac situation that hasn't already been said, other than if you feel the way I do about the draconian and ridiculous measures that have been used by ND's ResLife for far too long and want to make sure the PTB at Notre Dame know it, it's time to get out your pens.

Fr. John Jenkins
President, University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Mr. John Affleck-Graves
Executive Vice President, University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Mr. Patrick McCartan
Chairman, ND Board of Trustees
Senior Partner, Jones Day
North Point
910 Lakeside Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114

Let them know it's time for a change in thinking under the Dome.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part II: Let Me Check My Schedule

In Part I of my rebuild plan (readable here), I talked about changing the attitude regarding basketball at Notre Dame and the innate silliness of the phrase "football school".

Having burned the football bridge, I shall now attempt to cross it by suggesting the basketball program take a page from the gridiron hymnal in this rebuilding effort.

Years upon years ago, Knute Rockne built the ND football brand by barnstorming across the country. This ensured his nascent Fighting Irish program could be seen all over and plant a seed in the minds of fans. Those seeds grew into one of the most rabid fandoms ever seen in sport. Kevin White recently talked about neutral-site football games to recapture that spirit for the alumni and fans.

That used to be the basketball program's plan as well. New Year's games in Chicago against Northwestern. Annual trips to alumni strongholds like Dallas, Los Angeles, and the Northeast. Holiday games in Louisville against Kentucky powerhouses.

OK, that last one was because Adolph Rupp was a coward, but the point remains: Lots of people got to see ND basketball up close and personal. If it wasn't at their local basketball venue, it was on television thanks to Eddie Einhorn and the TVS empire.

A lot changed over the 20 years beteween 1980 and 2000, and when it came to adapting to and dealing with those changes, ND was more on the cliff's edge than the cutting edge. To rebuild their brand, they need to get back there.

The television aspect is already decent, and with the new Big East TV contract, it's going to get better. ND basketball fans will be able to watch every conference game on one of ESPN's outlets. The contract also has non-conference aspects, but we'll have to wait and see there. There's hope the stranglehold ESPN has had on non-conference contests will be relaxed.

The Internet aspect is good and improving. Free audio streams of Jack & Phonz are already available on, and word is they'll be adding even more non-conference game video streams next season. UND also carries audio and video of press conferences as well as the Mike Brey show, so there's no shortage of coverage for the savvy electronic maven.

Unfortunately, media coverage is only (or some might say, less than) half the battle. Most of the people who will watch those games are already fans. Notre Dame needs to reach out and start regrowing its fanbase, and the best way to do that is via its schedule.

The 2006-07 schedule, to be kind, sucked dog meat. Way too many home games against no-name teams. Way too many home games while the students weren't on campus. Way too many uninteresting matchups. As a result, I'm not sure I've seen 11,418 announced as an attendance yet, and while that many tickets may have been sold for a game thus far, I find it unlikely that many fannies were in the seats.

So, how to improve?

First, let's review some facts:
  • Teams are allowed 28 games per season with a 30-game cap
  • Conference tournaments no longer count against the maximum
  • The Big East will go to 18 conference games next season, meaning teams can schedule 10 non-conference games
Within that framework, I have the following suggestions:

Get UCLA back on the schedule. That game was a natural for decades. I can see why the Bruins might not want to travel during the Pac10 season, so let's make it an early-season made-for-television matchup. Play the games in LA Thanksgiving Friday (the night before the football team plays SC there), and play the games in SB the Sunday before Thanksgiving at noon (which will oftentimes be the day after a home football contest, meaning people might stick around). If the games are pinned to specific dates, people will start scheduling around them, making them a stronger event.

Keep Indiana off the schedule. The losing streak and road-loss streak are done, so it's as good a time as any for a break. There's no such thing as a home court advantage when ND plays the Hoosiers at the JC. There are a number of other Integer teams we should be looking to get, including Michigan State (fourth-most played team ever, but haven't played them regular season since 1975 and at all since 1979), Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Home-and-homes or 1-1-1 contracts rotating between those squads makes for captivating schedules.

Utilize invitational tournaments. The "two-in-four" rule, which limited a team to two appearances in exempted preseason tournaments every four seasons, has blowed up real good. Notre Dame is the kind of program that will benefit from the change, because their name recognition will be a big plus to tournaments such as the Guardians Classic (or whatever they're calling it now). They're also advantageous in that they give ND up to three actual games while only dinging them for one against the maximum, and usually at least one of those games is a manageable win and at least one is a quality opponent on a non-home floor.

I feel like I'm cheating suggesting this, because based on future schedule discussions, ND is already looking to go down this road. The Fighting Irish will be playing in the USVI Tournament next season and the Maui Classic the season after that. Word is a return to the PNIT is scheduled four years from now, and the Guardians would like them for the season in between. The Great Alaska Shootout hasn't seen ND in quite a while, and new exempted tournaments are springing up all over the place these days.

Barnstorm. The football team is putting packages together to get itself in front of alumni. No reason the basketball team can't do the same thing. And they should do what they used to do -- travel over the holidays.

As I said, there were too many home games this season overall, and particularly too many while the students were away on break. A student-free Joyce Center doesn't have a good potential for atmosphere, even with the non-student fans getting as involved as they can.

But other strong alumni areas might have better atmospheres. Students are home on break. Families are looking for things to do together. And a hotel is a hotel, so it shouldn't matter much to the team where they are.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is also starting to look at strength of schedule as a determining factor for bids. Loading up on home games, as the Fighting Irish did this season, will start to hurt the team in their efforts to get a high tournament seed, let alone a bid in the first place. Road or neutral site games might help the tournament resume.

Digger used to promise recruits at least one "home game" during their four-year career. Granted, it was easier to do as an independent with 15+ variable games to toss around, but it might be a nice carrot for Mike Brey & company.

Some places the team should consider, based on the size of their alumni clubs:
  • Chicago. Every New Year's Eve, Notre Dame and Northwestern used to play at the old Chicago Stadium. It became an event in and of itself. Playing the Wildcats at the United Center would be a good draw. Perhaps Wisconsin would agree to a 1-1-1 with the third game at the UC or the new Sears Center in the northwest suburbs. Other neutral-site possibilities would be Illinois State or Northern Illinois, both of whom would probably accept a Chicago game in lieu of a home date.

  • Detroit. Notre Dame / Michigan State at Ford Field. Definitely wouldn't be neutral, but it'd be interesting. If not that, I'm sure they could work something out at the Palace and bring in a local school.

  • Los Angeles/San Francisco. I already talked about LA with the Bruins, but USC is another interesting possibility. Plus there's no shortage of candidates from the California college system. Up north, Cal and Stanford are logical choices, as would be long-ago foe San Francisco.

  • Washington, D.C.. While Georgetown games would cover this area, it's not guaranteed Notre Dame would play them in D.C. every year. The occasional matchup with Maryland would be nice, as would George Washington.

  • Boston. BC's departure from the league has left a bit of a void in this area of New England. I'd bet UMass or Holy Cross would love a game at the Garden.

  • Dallas. Texas isn't the most fertile recruiting ground for ND basketball, but Carlton Scott is coming on board and it'd be nice to give him a game in front of the home crowd. Plenty of choices, from Texas to SMU.

  • Atlanta. A matchup with the Bulldogs would draw a lot of attention. Or perhaps Florida would agree to a neutral-site contest
If Notre Dame is going to re-enter the hearts and minds of its fan base in basketball, they have to put themselves out there. 20 games at home per season, most against teams over 250 in the RPI, is not going to get that done. They need to get out of the house and pick on a couple of the big kids if they want the attention.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Come Sweet Cash, Indeed

Like others, I was excited to hear ND was finally going to create a more college-y atmosphere in the areas immediately surrounding campus. In addition to improving town-gown relations, it represented an opportunity to create stability in the Northeast Neighborhood.

I read with interest the plan to develop Eddy Street Commons, a mixed-use area with 85,000 square feet of retail space along with townhouses, condominiums, and a hotel. The location proximate to ND stadium made this development, to me, very attractive. My wife and I discussed trying to get one of the residential slots in a combination usage/investment plan. A chance to get new construction close to campus in a thriving area? With all due respect to those mortgage guys, THAT is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth.

But I should have known better than to believe this project would go off without a hitch, because once again, Notre Dame has proven it can't allow a penny to pass near it without trying to squeeze every last hair follicle from Lincoln's head.

According to some folks in town and on campus, the development is on hold right now because a couple members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees have decided ND should make a certain profit on the sale of the land on which this development will occur. The price they seek, according to these folks, is "unrealistic for the South Bend marketplace". If the project went through for the sale price these Trustees want, the rents required to cover costs would be outside the range that can usually be secured in that area. As a result, the project isn't going anywhere right now and won't until the price is more reasonable.

In other words, S.O.S. from the C.S.C., leaving us all S.O.L.

It's hard to believe a school with a $4.5 billion (thanks for the corrections yesterday, guys) endowment that just upped the donation levels for booster programs and regained its spot as the top money-making athletic department in the universe can't let a project that will better both the community and the campus proceed because they're not wringing every last nickel out of the deal.

But as the commercials say, this is Notre Dame, and the vision of Ebeneezer Scrooge in a leather football helmet has been de rigeur there for decades. And while the already-rich hold out for what is due Caesar, the properties sit abandoned and useless to everyone and the development project slips further and further down the calendar.

If I live to be a thousand years old, I won't understand how ND find so many ways to waste its money, all while crying poor. If it's not postponements of the JC renovations or wild tuition increases or building cost overruns or construction budget foul-ups or poor project planning, it's a dozen other things.

These are the kinds of stupid things I was hoping Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves would have fixed by now. Apparently, they're still a little busy figuring out the Vagina Monologues while the BOT holds out its change purse.

Oh well. Guess we'll look in Granger.

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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.

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