Monday, February 26, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'Em ... Suck It Up

Driving home from dropping the kids at school today, I was listening to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. While I still have some residual dissatisfaction with the way Irish alum and program co-host Mike Golic handled himself in the wake of the Tyrone Willingham firing, his son will be wearing the Blue and Gold in a couple of seasons. Given that I also like Mike Greenberg from his days in Chicago sports media, I figured it was time to move on. Besides, given a choice between the WWL and Mike North (the presence of Irish alum Anne Maxfield notwithstanding) and a third run through the morning news, the choice is clear.

During the program, they were discussing the subject of player movement in the pros and how it can create interesting (if not awkward) situations both for players and fans. What do New York Yankee fans do when their team signs someone from the Boston Red Sox? Could Bears fans stomach winning games with Brett Favre at the helm? Can you envision Spike Lee wearing a Bulls jersey?

That got me to thinking -- if you can't beat them, should you really join them? Or is it better to suck it up until you can beat them?

Greenberg seemed much more in tune with my way of thinking on this subject -- I don't want to win with that guy, I want to beat that guy and have him leave my field with his head hanging in shame basking in his looserdom. Grow your own and use them to bludgeon your opponents into submission, I say.

Over the course of the drive, I tried to think of coaches or players I could not stand having on ND's roster, no matter how good it made the Irish.

It was difficult in basketball, because there isn't a lot of hate going around these days. Of course, there are the old standbys like Tom Kleinschmidt, but those are days long past. I did come up with a few -- Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf and Jim Calhoun sprang to mind immediately -- but I'd probably have to give it a lot more prayerful meditation.

In football, however, it was easier. Coaches made the list a lot moreso than players because players tend to be temporary while coaches seem to last forever.

The day Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer are named as coach of Notre Dame, I begin a hiatus from Notre Dame football until they leave, and I don't care if ND wins five MNC's in a row. Carroll is a snake oil salesman who has a maturity less developed than the players he coaches, and I want him at SC for a long long time until we can deliver a couple of well-deserved ass kickings. Meyer is a self-promoting jagbag who has already used ND for his own personal gain once. Karma, for him, will be a bitch and a half, and I want to watch it and enjoy every nanosecond.

Steve Spurrier? I'd take him. Yes, he's arrogant, but most coaches are, and I don't have a particular antipathy for him. Terry Bowden, on the other hand, makes my skin crawl both physically and metaphorically.

Corwin Brown I can handle just fine. Lloyydd Ccarr? Nuh-uh. And Cheaty McSweatervest can take his SUV's and AIDS Awareness curriculum and go scratch.

Did I miss anybody?

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part III: Marketing 101

Marketing, marketing, that's where I belong ... among other places. -- George Carlin

In Part I of this, I talked about the whole football-school philosophy, and in Part II, scheduling do's and don'ts. Time now for Part III -- Getting the Tradition Back. Also known as: Marketing 101.

As a life-long follower of Notre Dame basketball, the current weakness in Irish tradition is frustrating and enraging. When your primary experience of ND basketball was games like this, you have a hard time understanding why students and fans can't get behind this program consistently to the extent they should.

There are solutions, all based in how this program is presented to the fans and how the fans decide (yes, decide) to accept that presentation.


Notre Dame needs better outlets on television for this program than they've had recently. The ESPN aspect of the new Big East contract is great, but chances are a lot of those games are going to end up on ESPNU, which most major cable franchises (including Comcast in South Bend) don't carry. This will have the unfortunate effect of making ND a pawn in the WWL's game of making as much money as possible, which does little for the local appeal.

There's little ND can do about the situation, but that means they need to move heaven and earth to get ND back on local television for non-conference games, even if it means a financial cost. Getting the non-conference games on webcast is an excellent start, but Kevin White, John Heisler, and all the folks in the AD office must work with WNDU or WSBT or one of the other local stations to ensure a package is put together. There's no better way to get back into the hearts and minds of the local fans. IU is on television for almost every game, so you can't tell me it can't be done.

Speaking of television, broadcast tapes exist of many of ND's biggest games, and should be made available to fans on DVD. This DVD has good samples and is a must for any ND hoops fan's library, but it would be great to be able to see all those games in their entirety just as we currently can get ND football games.

The Schedule

I know I talked about it before, but it bears repeating, because the product you're putting out there is part of your marketing strategy. When you want to generate crowd enthusiasm, you can't bring in the load of cupcakes the Irish did this year, and on the heels of two disappointing seasons in a row, it created a perfect storm of apathy.

I know when you have a young team, you certainly want to build confidence at the outset of the slate. The Big East dragging its feet on how many conference games for next year makes it difficult to entertain multi-year contracts, as does a coach's uncertain status for the following season -- ask John MacLeod what it's like playing out the contract string for your predecessor.

But even with those things said, ND's strength of schedule non-conference this season was galactically bad, and they can't be doing that again, let alone regularly. There are ways around it, as I noted previously, such as a slightly higher class of opponent and at least one or two more trips away from home. If it's done over the Christmas holiday, which makes for a less intimidating venue on the road anyway, it kills both the non-student home game attendance and strength of schedule birds with the same stone.

Having said that, however, the fans both student and otherwise need to realize not every game is going to be Pitt or UCLA or North Carolina. Even a decent home slate is going to have its share of Elons and Rutgerses (or is it Rutgeri?). Showing up only for the "glamorous" tussles isn't being a fan, it's being a front-runner. ND basketball deserves a lot better than front-runners. After all, not every football game is Michigan or Southern Cal -- the Irish play Stanford, too, and to a packed house.

The Gameday Experience

This has been a long-time topic on the Pit. The good news is some steps have been taken here -- fewer stoppage-of-play nonsense like the hamster ball race, better selections for halftime activities. But we remain short of where we need to be.

The NBA-ification of the player intros and the overall game progression is not necessarily a change for the good. I realize players like those intros, but there was something to be said for the simple over-the-Victory-March version. It was college basketball at its finest. Overall, there needs to be less piped-in music and more band, particularly the drum section playing cheers and cadences. Leave the sound effects for the Bulls and Pacers, because a college crowd wants college things.

But both sides have to work at this. For example (and not to pick on them because they're hardly alone in all this, but because I have some experience in the area), if there's going to be more band, there has to be a band in the first place. There should be a Varsity Band at every basketball game when school is in session, exhibition and otherwise. Putting on the crotchety alum hat for a moment, during my band days, that was the policy. If there was a conflict with marching band practice, they still sent a group to the hoops game. That late in the season, there's nothing wrong with recycling shows and charts, so full-on marching band practices should not be required in mid-November. At the very least, they can spare 40 or so kids from the 300+ they have right now. And if the band is going to be there, they should play, particularly the drum section. I realize the old cadences and cheers aren't exactly DCI-quality, but they get the crowd into things. The YouTube link at the top of the article is evidence enough of that. Forego the rudimentary whatevers and give us plenty of "Digger's Rock", "Let's Go" and "Red Eye".


Although they're a national school, ND has thousands of alumni within driving distance of campus, especially in metropolitan centers like Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. ND could take 100 tickets for some games, especially games where the students aren't on campus, and have an event for one or more of those Alumni Clubs -- game, Mass, meal (with maybe one of the coaches and/or players), hotel, the whole thing. Make it an event the Clubs can use for fundraising or family activities. It even makes good financial sense -- spend a little money to bring them back to the fanbase, and you'll make a lot of money when they remain fans or come to other non-event games on their own.

The Clubs, for their part, need to get more active in this. ND basketball, as I said, is an opportunity for them, and they need to take advantage of that opportunity, even if they're not geographically proximate. Call Chuck Lennon and tell him you want to have an event around a basketball game. Call the basketball office and encourage them to play a road game in your neck of the woods. Go after your membership and help sell them on a good time. It helps not only the basketball program but also your club membership -- the more fun family events you have, the more people will want to be part of the club.


Those of us who are a little long in the tooth can remember games like the one I linked above as a semi-regular occurrence. But 10 years of mismanagement has severed the link to the tradition. While supporting the current product, ND needs to do a better job in promoting the past. Ideas, some better than others, include:

  • I know former players are at a lot of games. ND should introduce them to the crowd along with some facts from their playing days. If and when the new scoreboard goes in, video highlights will help.

  • The bi-annual player reunion should be done in-season around a home basketball game so the students and fans can "meet the players". In addition to introducing them at the game, there should be an autograph session or some other public interaction. Perhaps a dinner, much like what was done with the All-Century team, but more comprehensive and less expensive.

  • ND should offer a one-credit-hour class on its basketball history as an elective. If I could get a credit hour A for sign language and SMC orchestra in my time, and my brother could get one for "social issues", I hardly think basketball history is a deal-breaker. One credit hour isn't going to kill anyone. With guest lecturers like AC and John Paxson and Pat Garrity, it'd be a natural. Hell, I'll volunteer to teach it for free.
    You know, that's not a half-bad idea -- watch this space in the offseason for further developments


While Notre Dame needs to work harder to get their product in front of their audience, the audience needs to meet them at least halfway.

The local fans need to decide they want to support major college basketball and not walk away at the drop of a hat. Coaches do not own this program, the students and fans do. Walking away from the school because a coach pissed you off or someone associated with him pissed you off or you just flat out don't like him is incredibly lame. It also, more often than not, is an excuse of convenience, because most good coaches have, shall we say, severe social personality deficits. Digger Phelps turned people off his entire 20-year career at ND. Charlie Weis is more than capable of being an asshole. Bob Knight's career speaks for itself, and most South Bend folks worship the ground he walks on. Decide this is your program and come out to support it.

The student body needs to make the same decision, particularly since they're a stronger stakeholder in the program than alumni or locals so more is expected. Some seasons are good, some seasons are bad. I find it difficult to believe the same students who sat through Bob Davie's and Tyrone Willingham's "efforts" in coaching somehow aren't able to stomach Mike Brey, who has done more at ND in his career than both those men (and Gerry Faust, for that matter) combined. Spare me the "football is different" stuff -- it didn't used to be, and it's a function of a choice you make. You need to make a different choice and show the administration you're willing to hold up your end. Educate yourself on Notre Dame's basketball tradition (insert self-serving plug for book here), because it's worth learning about and following. If you don't want to do that, that's up to you, but don't complain then when your ticket allocation is reduced and you're not sitting courtside. At the very least, show the support so the students who come after you have the opportunity to do the same.

Remember, there's no busier man on campus than Charlie Weis, and if he can come out to support the team on a regular basis, so can you.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Down the stretch Mike Brey and the crew come, closing in on 10 Big East wins (which they should get at Rutgers even if things go wrong on Saturday vs. the Golden Gold). They've already passed the 20-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since the Sweet 16 season four years ago. Since no Big East team has ever been left out of the NCAAs with at least 10 conference wins and at least 20 overall wins, the Fighting Irish are a lock, right?

Wrong. It's despicable and senseless, but wrong.

The saying goes one should never speak in absolutes, but I've never been shy about doing so, so here goes: If things stay the way they are, no Notre Dame team even remotely on the bubble will ever make the NCAA tournament. If they can find a way to keep Notre Dame out, they will do so, no matter how the logic twists and turns.

For example, if ND loses two of its last three -- falls to Marquette, beats Rutgers, and loses in the first round of the EWSNBN, for example -- expect to hear a lot about (a) the non-conference SOS and (b) losing to SJU, USF, and [insert BET #12 seed here] as the reasons why they were kept out. Doesn't matter they're the first 10-BE-20-overall team not to make the tournament. It didn't matter they were one of (if not the) first 9-win BE team not to make the tournament four years ago, let alone that it happened to them twice. Whatever rule can apply to keep them out will be applied and all others will be ignored. There'll be furor, but in the end, no accountability. The story will waft away, just like it always does.

Sounds insane? It is, especially when you hear the reason.

Let's go back in time to March of 1990, the last NCAA tournament appearance for the Fighting Irish before the Decade of Dung began. Notre Dame was 16-13 as an Independent, and they were fighting with teams such as DePaul (who had swept ND that season) for a bid. Miracle of miracles, Notre Dame found itself in the tournament, where they got waxed by Virginia.

Jump forward to March of 1992, John MacLeod's first season. ND had faced 11 of the top 25 teams that season, most of them on the road during a 45-day span without a home game. They were just over .500, and were squarely on the bubble, but had a much better resume than they'd had two years before. Then they got screwed by a no-call in the waning moments at DePaul (sound familiar?) and even with an incredibly high SOS, were left out of the NCAA tournament (sound familiar?), getting to the NIT championship game instead (sound familiar?).

And ever since then, the bubble has been trouble. 1997. 2000. 2004. 2005. The list goes on, and it'll keep going on.

"Well, that's all well and good, Mike," you're saying now, "but you haven't told us the reason yet."

In a way, though, I have. And I'll give you a hint.

Between the first two dates we talked about -- March of 1990 and March of 1992 -- something momentous happened at Notre Dame, something that had never happened before at any school and has not happened since. It created incredible upheaval in the landscape of college athletics and affected every other major college athletics program.

The event? Notre Dame signed an exclusive contract with NBC to cover its home games in football.

To say the other schools were pissed is an understatement. They all lost out on their own television deal, which the networks demanded be re-negotiated since ND games in South Bend would not be included, which meant money came (and continues to come) out of their pockets. That contract means ND can afford to take the high road on moral issues like player suspensions, and doesn't have to crawl hat-in-hand to ESPN to get their games broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights. ND wins, every one else loses.

But what can they do about it? No school is going to turn down a football date with Notre Dame and the guaranteed national television audience (and boost to their season ticket bases if the contract included at least one home game) that comes with it, even if the Irish are in a down cycle. That's just making a bad situation worse, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They were angry, but not stupid.

Outside of football, though? Ah ha. An opportunity to extract the pound (or more) of flesh. And what better sport to hit them where it might hurt (at least a little) financially than men's basketball?

Some of the responses weren't at all subtle, like Kansas pulling out of a planned four-game contract. But much of it was a lot more so, including that from the NCAA Selection Committee, which was (and still is) made up of AD's from schools that (for the most part) got screwed in the NBC deal.

Outlandish? Sour-grape-ish? I thought so too, because I didn't believe it when it was first mentioned to me after the screw job Matt Doherty's team got.

Then, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some folks at the various conferences for reasearch for a book I was considering (but haven't written ... yet). During small talk, I mentioned how I was getting tired of being on the wrong end of the bubble come NCAA time.

The conference person's response, summarized: "Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to get used to that unless that football contract goes away."

I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Are they really that petty? Did Pat Garrity get his title of "best ND player never to play in the NCAA tournament" because of the NBC deal? Is Mike Brey on the hot seat because other schools are pissed we get Hammond and Hayden and (until this season) crappy production value?

Apparently so. And that blows.

So don't quote past performance to me with regard to win totals and RPI or anything like that. It's all meaningless when it comes to Notre Dame. Because anything but a pristine above-reproach resume will have the Irish on the outside looking in every time, integrity of the Selection Committee be damned.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Which stands for the Event Which Shall Not Be Named, also known as the season-ending event for the Big East men's basketball season held in Madison Square Garden.

I've never hid my disdain for the Big East's post-season basketball tournaments. Contrary to popular belief, however, it's not because ND historically has not done well there. Rather, I hold disdain for ALL post-season conference basketball tournaments, Big East or otherwise. I believe they are a blight on the landscape of college basketball.

First, they render the regular season meaningless. The hard work a team has done over 10 or more weeks can be undone by a bad 20 minutes. Teams get postseason rewards they do not deserve, both on the positive side (a team that underperformed for most of the season gets hot for four days and gets a bid) and the negative side (a team losing seeding position, if not their bid itself, because of a bad game in a conference tournament).

Second, they can have an adverse effect outside the scope of their own conference. When a team that otherwise would not have received a bid to the NCAA tournament gets one by virtue of winning one of these abominations (let's call them Team A), that bid is not always given at the expense of another team in that conference (as it should). More often than not, a team in a different conference (let's call them Team B) is deprived of that NCAA berth. Yes, a reasonable argument can be made Team B could have done more in its season overall to ensure the bid. But Team B certainly did more during the season than Team A, because until Team A took their slot, Team B had a much better chance of inclusion due to a better resume.

Third, they exist solely to make money. Spare me the pleas about cool games and appealing matchups. The conferences want to milk the cash cow via the television rights. The school wants their cut by demanding high donations from alumni and fans to get the limited tickets. Ticket brokers have a field day from both sides.

Fourth, they promote unbalanced scheduling in conferences. If the EWSNBN did not exist, the Big East could play 18 conference games instead of 16, which would allow all teams to play each other at least once. Think the teams finishing just behind ND in the conference would have liked to see the Fighting Irish have to take on league-leading Pitt, possibly giving ND one more loss? Granted, the BE is going to 18 games next season anyway, but it's at the cost of two non-conference games that could be used to create compelling matchups. Instead, we'll probably see even fewer quality opponents out of conference while the 18-games-plus-tournament rule remains.

Fifth, they're physically dangerous for the players. I realize they're young, well-conditioned athletes. But they're also at the tail end of a long season. Few, if any, other sports at any level demands its participants play four two-hour high-energy games in four days in this manner. The situation almost begs for serious injuries, and I can't see most college coaches happily accepting a loss of a key player for the meaningful postseason.

I realize the tournaments are unlikely to go away any time soon, but I'm not going to let that stop me from railing against them.

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The DePaul Blue Demons became the first double-victim in ND's current home win streak. They were the first back on March 4th of last year, and last night became the 19th as the Fighting Irish stayed perfect at home this season. 17 of those 19 have been this season, which sets a new record for the Notre Dame program for home wins in a season.

With 19 straight home wins, ND is now closing on another record -- the 24 wins in a row at the Joyce Center between February 1st, 1973, and December 11th, 1974, encompassing the entire 1973-74 season and parts of those that preceded and succeeded it. That represents the program's high-water mark in this facility. The current streak is good for third, behind the 22 in a row won between January 26, 1977, and February 12, 1978.

A win over Marquette on Saturday will not only put the Irish securely in place for a first-round bye in the EWSNBN, it will also make the Joyce Center win streak record a very reasonable goal for next season. The overall win streak record -- 38 in a row between December 11th, 1943, and February 9th, 1948 in the old Fieldhouse -- beckons after that, but one bridge at a time.

"We shall protect this house", indeed.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Tough Noogies

The minute this season's schedule was released, I knew we would start hearing about things like this post on Marquette's Scout site. I'm reproducing the key paragraphs here only because I'm pretty sure I'm the ND fan he's talking about -- he and I met at the ND club luncheon the last time the Irish and Warriors faced off in Milwaukee -- and I feel welcome to repeat my own thoughts:

A few yrs ago, a ND fan complained to me that ND was on the bubble and went to the NIT...he said that NCAA Tourney Committee did not take into account that ND had played tough opponents like BC, Sir and Pitt in their home and home games while another team that went to the dance had played Prov, Mia and SJ

I thought of this today while listening to ND beat Cinn by 10

Putting a finer point on the SOS discussion, ND's Big East slate this season didn't seem arduous in the preseason analysis and has proven not to be. While ND had no games against UConn, which is struggling to make the EWSNBN, it also did not play league front-runner Pittsburgh. Their two-fer games were against the current 8th, 9th, and 14th place teams in the conference. Of the current top five non-ND teams in the conference, the Irish will have played four games against them by season's end, with three of those four at home.

Yes, that's not the most arduous slate. Yes, ND will benefit from it. Yes, another team that might be on the bubble like Villanova (two-fers vs. 2nd, 4th and 7th, no game vs. 11th or 14th) will probably be hurt by the unbalanced slate especially compared to ND.

My response? Tough noogies.

With all due respect to John Dodds and Jim Ganzer, both of whom I've met and like and respect a lot, I don't want to hear the whining. With all due respect to the Wildcats, whose program I like and respect a lot, I hope they are hurt by the unbalanced schedule. Then they'll all know exactly how ND felt the last three years. Don't talk to me about strength of schedule, because the Irish had that in spades and got screwed twice.

Let's go back in time to 2003-04, with ND coming off their Sweet 16 appearance. In the Big East that season, Notre Dame played eight games against the top five teams in the conference, evenly split home and road. The Fighting Irish finished in seventh place, 9-7 overall, 2-6 against those top-5 teams. For a team whose starting point guard played hurt all year and whose starting center was lost for the year in February, they did pretty well, winning seven of their last 10 games, including a good win against WVU in the EWSNBN. But no bid for the Irish -- bad loss against Central Michigan at home (way back in December with only seven healthy players) said the committee. They were, according to conventional wisdom, the last team left out of the tournament. Sorry for that tough conference slate, ND, but tough noogies.

Now 2004-05, coming off that near-miss for an NCAA bid. This time, nine games for ND against the top five teams (5H, 4R). They finished in sixth place, 9-7 overall, 3-6 against those top-5 teams, with three of the losses being by 5 points or less on the road (65-60 @ Nova, 60-57 @ Cuse, 68-66 @ Pitt). Not only did they not make the tournament, a conference team who finished two places behind them in the standings, played a much easier conference schedule, and lost to ND by 13 at home that season, was given a tournament bid in their place. Granted, that ND team was in meltdown mode down the stretch that season, and an argument can be made if they'd done better in their last 10 games the question would have been moot. The bottom line, though, is ND got the toughest BE slate by a two-game margin. The Big East got the exposure and TV screens a Fighting Irish team always brings. ND got the shaft. Tough noogies for us once again.

So I really don't want to hear about ND's schedule this year. Yes, it could have been tougher, and if the Big East had decided on the number of conference games for next year a little earlier, they might have been able to put together a better slate. If the team didn't have eight freshmen and sophomores, some in key roles, they might have been more aggressive out of conference to start the season instead of wanting a young team to get its legs under them before the conference started. And if the game against Butler had turned out differently, we could replace Lafayette with Indiana on the schedule (and possibly pick up two games in NYC), and the number would be a little higher.

But for two straight years, ND had their hopes dashed on Selection Sunday while not getting an ounce of credit for taking one for the conference team with their schedule. No one on the selection committee said a word about ND's strength of schedule those two years while relegating the Irish to the Not Invited Tournament and putting Mike Brey's job status in question.

So if they decide this year to worship at the SOS altar, it'll be yet another brick in the ND discrimination wall. And I'll address that topic after the bids come out.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

This One Goes to 11, too

An entry in Tom Noie's Baseline Bits today caught my eye:

A win tonight for Notre Dame would be No. 1,600 in school history. Only 10 schools in Division I, led by Kentucky's 1,944, have won at least 1,600 college basketball games.

In addition to being top 20 in overall winning percentage and wins, Notre Dame's next win will make it the 11th program in Division I to win 1,600 games. Those are pretty impressive accomplishments, especially considering what it went through during the 1990's.

It's milestones like this one that remind us of what Notre Dame basketball was and should always be: considered among the better programs in the country. As I've said before, Notre Dame football will always be in a class by itself, but for long and long, basketball was 1A on campus. They certainly need more postseason success to truly break through into any kind of elite status, but what they've accomplished indicates, to me at least, there's no reason they shouldn't strive to regain that level of excellence.

Hopefully we'll have some evidence of that this spring, with an NCAA bid, a strong showing in that tournament, and the release of the renovation plans and schedule.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An offer we can't refuse ... or can we?

In the latest piece of evidence that there is almost nothing about $outhern Cal that isn't obnoxious these days, a teenager writing for one of the most unfortunately-named newspapers you'll find, the Daily Trojan, thinks $C and ND should play in basketball every year.

On the surface, a good idea. ND has a strong alumni presence in LA, which was one of the reasons the football series started in the first place. A series would have good synergies (although I dislike that word) with things on the football side. Once things settle in with the new 18 game conference slate, logistics on longer-term contracts might be easier to work out.

But I can think of a lot more reasons it would be a bad idea, starting with the fact ND already has a strong basketball relationship with a school in LA, one whose "tradition" is more than a "work in progress" (translated: one year old). If $C wants to get things going with ND in basketball, they (like in so many other things) need to get in line behind the Bruins. Perhaps this is what the article was all about -- $C desperately wanting another thing that UCLA already has. But that's their inferiority complex, not ours.

When ND joined the Big East, a lot of long-time rivalries had to go by the wayside, like Marquette, DePaul, UCLA, and Dayton. Additionally, there were teams like Michigan State that had been opponents for a while that had fallen off. Changes to the conference have brought some of those great series back into the fold, but before ND decides to try and spark a "rivalry" with a johnny-come-lately like $C, tradition dictates they at least make strong attempts to rekindle the sparks of yesteryear that already exist.

Besides, how long will it be before the current cavalier approach to rules that so disappointingly exists in their football program bleeds over into basketball? Between Bush's situation, conference calls, and the general atmosphere of lawlessness, whether real or perceived, hovering over the Trojans, I don't think expanding our relationship right now is a good idea. Maybe, when $C is about honor and respect again, it might be something to consider. Right now, as Andy Cross would say, not so much.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Smell the glove

Jay over at BGS does his usual bang-up job in his story summarizing ZookerGate.

I think what this story illustrates more than anything is Ron Guenther's complete lack of understanding about how the Internet world works.

He seems to be of the mind that because some letter-writer had details about a recruit, the writer must have received those details from another coach recruiting the young man. He fails to realize there are a lot more people who have that kind of information than the recruit in question. Family members, HS coaches, friends, other hangers-on ... all it takes is one email, and the information is spanning the globe in hours, if not minutes.

Does Guenther actually believe the Notre Dame coaching staff asked random Internet people to post on message boards and write letters to him and other IL administrators about the Illini recruiting practices? That's the same brand of black-helicopter thinking that brought us the "Kim Dunbar was laundering money for high-powered ND alumni to pay players" and other detritus from various Mariotti-like minds.

Or is this about coaches negatively recruiting against Illinois? If so, Ron, welcome to D1 athletics. If this is how you react to coaches talking down your program to recruits, your head would explode if you had Kevin White's job. Because unlike the negative recruiting done against ND, where coaches allege we force players to go to Mass or convert to Catholicism or "don't take care of the black athlete" (thanks for that note of hypocrisy, Lloyydd), talking about Zook's questionable coaching and poor Florida career and bad decisions on and off the field (keep him away from the IL frats) is all based in fact.

In any event, Jay's right -- Guenther should want absolutely no part of any legal discovery phase. When all his coaches' cell phone records are reviewed, including the calls to various media outlets to get their story going, and the recruits and their friends are all called in for depositions and every little detail of what Zook and his coaching staff did, both good and bad, are laid bare, there's no way they're going to come out smelling like a rose, even if everything is above-board.

Guenther would be much better served asking Jim Delany about any letters he received from his Integer bretheren about Zook and his practices. I'm led to understand the Skunkbears are having a pretty good laugh over all of this.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Windfall Redux

A few months back, you might remember I got a little miffed at the ND administration for passing up a JACC funding opportunity. In fact, it was so nice I did it twice.

That was actually the second swing and miss. The first was the allocation of the windfall profit from the sale of WNDU completely to the endowment, meaning none was available to fund this long-overdue project. I'm pretty sure I wrote about that at some point, but can't find it at the moment.

But now I, like ND, have a second chance, because another windfall has come ND's way. Thanks to Google's purchase of YouTube (and the prescience of Scott Malpass, I guess), ND has just fallen bass-ackwards into $18.8 million.

No conditions on this income, like the whole "WNDU supported the endowment so the sale proceeds should go there" thing. This is straight-up manna from Heaven. Big time "is that a wallet there in the gutter?" stuff.

Meanwhile, Mike Brey and Jeff Jackson should be wiping the drool from their chins over this. $18.8 mil could not only complete the funding requirements of both the Joyce Center redo and the also-promised hockey upgrades, there'd likely be enough left over to complete the trifecta (or at least get pretty close to it) and give the basketball/volleyball teams the practice facilities in the North Dome they need.

Three birds with one stone, and it won't cost ND a dime in lost fund-raising or other opportunities. The guy from that mortgage company is wrong -- THIS is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth.

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Alanis Morissette on Line One, Coach

Call the Webster folks, their definition of irony is about to get a refresh.

The big story in the post-NLOI day flotsam is poor poor wronged Ron Zook. He just can't understand why people are looking askance at this year's recruiting effort. It baffles him that folks would wonder why highly-ranked prospects would want to play at a school in the middle of nowhere with bad facilities and next to zero fan interest. He wonders why people are raising their eyebrows at the ability of a guy who was mediocre at his previous coaching stop and (so far) downright horrible at this one to sway blue-chip players to cast their lot with the Illini. He's stupefied folks would assume wrongdoing from a school that has a laundry list of recruiting violations in major sports and a recruiting coordinator, Mike Locksley, who was at least proximately involved with at least one high-profile violation at his last port of call.

It's irresponsible, says he. There's no proof, says he. It's not right, says he.

Then in his next breath, he asks for rain on his wedding day.

It's no secret the IL folks think the Notre Dame coaching staff is behind all this. Apparently they're not shy saying it off the record, and the volume of articles in the past two days backs this up, including this one, for which I was interviewed but not quoted.

Never mind that Michigan and Ohio State have more to lose with IL being a recruiting power than ND does. Never mind that both those schools lost players to Zook this season as well. And never mind that Michigan has a history of being quick to tattle on their Illini brethren the minute they get uppity. It's Notre Dame's fault, dammit, because Charlie Weis is just plain terrified of the Coaching Juggernaut that is the Zooker.

Do they have any proof of ND's involvement? Not any more than their recruiting detractors do. But that's not stopping them from going to the media and whining about it and defaming ND just as Zook's critics are allegedly defaming him.

Illinois is just as good as "playing the game" as anyone else. Is it a coincidence the same day the NYT piece appeared, a corresponding puff piece on Arrelious Benn -- a player who had enrolled in December and who hadn't had anything newsworthy happen to him in the month he'd been in Champaign -- was run in the Washington Post? Local paper or no, I'm sure Locksley's connections from his Maryland days had nothing to do with it. After all, in a medium where every cent counts, the Washington Post has plenty of inches to spare on a story with no actual news in it.

The facts of the matter are these: (1) Ron Zook may be a good person and a great salesman, but he's also a horse-manure coach. (2) Illinois may be a great school, but it's a crappy football program with zero tradition or support and a history of not exactly keeping to the letter of the law NCAA-wise. If Zook or Guenther think they're going to pull a top-15 class into that environment after two seasons of 4-19 ball and no one is going to whisper, or if they think college football aficionados would need prompting by coaches to find that whole thing suspicious ... well, in the words of Dan Hawkins, go play intramurals, brother.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What are your intentions?

Usually that's a phrase you see in bodice-ripper novels ... austere Southern plantation owners determining the plans of suitors while their daughters swoon in the corner and whatnot.

But it seems such a question has found its way into recruiting. Plenty of movement both to and from ND and other places in the closing weeks of the recruiting "season" has led to questions about what a verbal commitment does or should mean.

The lack of an early signing date in college football makes the jobs of coaches much more difficult. Not only do you have to continue to pursue the undecided guys you're after, you also have to watch over your own henhouse to keep the other foxes away, oftentimes for six months or more.

That doesn't seem to be an efficient use of coaches' time to me. So bearing in mind how much I despise the process and believe it to be beyond repair, I give you my Personal Rules of Ethics regarding recruiting. You're welcome to accept them as axiom or not, but this is how I roll.

If a recruit is verbally committed to a school, he should not accept solicitations from other schools.

This should be the overall idea. In an ideal world, recruits should not verbally commit until they're sure of their choice. Players shouldn't commit just to reserve a spot. When you commit, you're asking coaches to adjust their plans based on your choices. When you change your mind on those choices, you've inconvenienced people to an extent jobs may be lost as a result. Be sure when you give your word.

A school should be able to offer solicitations to recruits already committed to other schools, and should be able to respond to solicitations from committed recruits, subject to two conditions: (1) If that recruit asks the other school to cease and desist, that school should no longer contact the recruit in question, and (2) If communication is to continue, the new school should demand the recruit notify the school to which he is currently committed that the communication is taking place.

Again, in an ideal world, the new school's staff should be open about their intentions with the current school's staff, but I stopped believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy a long time ago. But they should demand the recruit be honest, as honest players make good teammates no matter what program lands them.

It doesn't bother me that ND took another shot at Martez Wilson. At one time, he was considering ND strongly, and ND made a defensive change that could have had an effect on his choice. The young man responded he wasn't interested, so that was that.

It also doesn't bother me that ND came back to Brian Smith. Again, he had strong interest, and the change in coaches made him more attractive to ND. He accepted the contact, so it was right for ND to continue it. He was also above board with Iowa, letting them know that ND had talked to him and he intended on talking to them further, leaving Iowa free to make whatever decision it felt was best.

By that same token, FL was not in the wrong to contact Justin Trattou. They asked, he responded, so fine. The problem was in the secrecy -- the FL coaches allegedly asking Trattou to keep their conversations private. If you're going to open up your recruiting, you owe it to the school to which you're committed to let them know. And if you're going to go after a committed recruit, one would hope you have the honesty (if not bravery) to be up front about it and not ask them to sneak out of the house like a 15-year-old going to her first kegger.

Ditto Greg Little. I highly doubt he had an epiphany this morning that UNC was the place for him. He had been assuring people for weeks he was ND-bound. If you're going to alter your decision, be a man about it and tell the people involved how they stand. Waiting until the last minute and figuring it's easier to apologize than ask permission is something my nine-year-old does. If you're so unsure on your decision that you can make a signing day change, you shouldn't have committed in the first place.

If a committed recruit is communicating with other schools, the school to which that recruit is committed is within its rights to no longer consider him committed and no longer consider its scholarship offer valid.

I have no problem with Iowa pulling the scholarship offer from Brian Smith. They didn't feel he was committed to them, so they acted accordingly. If ND had pulled Trattou's or Little's scholarship offers in response to movement by them, they would have been within their rights as well. You have to do what you have to do to fill out your class, and sometimes a relationship doesn't work out.

I'm not sure how CW and company are going to move in the Brave New World of recruiting we seem to be in, but it's obviously time to take the gloves off. I've got no problems with that, as long as they don't start sucker punching.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

If you build it...

Looks like things are moving forward on the Eddy St. development after all. In a press release this morning, Kite Realty Group Trust announced they would be developing the 26 acres.

Hopefully this means some folks at ND softened their stance and allowed things to move forward.

Creating a more seamless transition from town to gown is a goal that should have been realized a long time ago. Hopefully this is the first in many steps to get it done.

Between this and ND backing off on the two-semester suspension, I may have to take down my ND admin effigy. Is there truly a new day under the Dome? We'll see.

p.s. In case you need a refresher as to what the plans are, a PDF is available here. Keep in mind this may not represent the actual finished product, but it'll probably be along these lines.

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