Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

All that can be said has been said about the non-conference schedule and the upgrade project. Things are where they are.

But where we are right now is less than 18 hours before the season tip-off, so it's time to get fired up for what should be an excellent season on the Irish hardwood. This is a team deserving of good crowds and loud support, and it remains my fervent hope they're going to get it.

Wait a sec, you're saying. Are you now advocating these non-conference games? I thought for sure you'd be advising people to stay away and show the powers that be this kind of scheduling philosophy can't be tolerated.

The thought certainly crossed my mind. But every time it did, I was reminded of what I saw during those practices in the fall.

I saw energy on the court.

I saw a group of players that seems to really like to play together.

I saw hard work on defense and offense.

I saw freshman trying to make it tough for the coaches to not play them, and upperclassmen trying to make it easy for the coaches to ignore the frosh.

I saw a sophomore welcoming a leadership role, and a junior welcoming a challenge to return and make a difference.

I saw a big man who gave up pizza in the off-season so his team could improve.

I saw players throwing their bodies around to make a play, even if that play was through pain.

I saw coaches getting in the players' grills when the effort waned.

I saw fun basketball. And I think you all will want to see fun basketball.

Of course, I'd rather folks be in the seats at the JC. But in a new twist this year, the non-conference games will be webcast on, so everyone will get a chance to check out the product and decide for themselves if a winter trip is warranted (as I think it is). Granted, that puts us at the mercy at the heretofore sketchy availability of the CSTV video interface, but it's certainly a step forward in program marketing.

We spent the offseason dealing with the issues. But the offseason is over, and this season will see a new home-court win streak and ND's greatest player inducted into the College Hoops HOF.

Time to get our hoops schwerve on. Let's light this candle.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


That's what it would cost.

According to Southwest Airlines' website, a single ticket leaving tomorrow morning from Indianapolis to San Diego and then returning on Friday would cost $718, plus taxes and fees.

$718 to resolve this once and for all. $718 to get someone on the record with first-hand information about what Reggie Bush and Southern Cal knew and when they knew it. $718 to get the actual information before Bush shows up with his checkbook and buys yet another person's silence.

Don't wait until Friday. Do it today. Get this done. Show college football the NCAA is a meaningful organization.

As an alumnus of a school that actually makes an effort to follow NCAA regulations, this charade with Bush's family and their hangers-on makes me physically ill. If Mike Michaels' obvious grab for Bush's cash by way of a lawsuit that bordered on extortion wasn't enough evidence of the raging fire behind this smoke, Lloyd Lake's identical ploy this week almost makes it a certainty.

Reggie Bush took cash. Reggie Bush received multiple inducements worth many thousands of dollars that are illegal under NCAA rules. To believe otherwise fails any possible reasonable-person test. The evidence, while in some cases circumstantial, is overwhelming. And yet the Pete Carroll-led Trojan program sits in the corner, hands over its ears, repeatedly screaming, "I can't hear you I can't hear you la la la la la la la la".

The facts are plain. USC cheats. USC lies. The Trojans can't win if they follow the rules, as evidenced by the two decades prior to Carroll's arrival, so they take the path of least resistance. They're a renegade program, no better than Miami of the 1980s or SMU of the 1970s. And as far as I can tell, their administrators and alumni and the Raider-nation band-wagoners that fill the Coliseum these days feel no shame.

Worst yet, nothing will happen of any consequence here. Bush will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at Lake sometime in the next 24 hours or so, and Lake will then close up like a clam. The NCAA will whine about its lack of subpoena power, and SC will go unpunished because "there's no evidence".

It makes one wonder what the point is to following the rules. Those who break them are never truly punished. Abe Lemmon sure knew what side of the bread the butter was on.

As a fan of a program that does comply with the regs, it's incredibly frustrating. Then again, ethical behavior sometimes is. If it was easy to do, it wouldn't be meaningful.

But that doesn't mean the easy path should be taken. How wonderful would it be for the NCAA, for once, to show it has sack and preemptively punish the Trojans? After all, if they have evidence exonerating them from blame, they can certainly present it.

How cool would it be for the Downtown Athletic Club to display an equal level of testicular fortitude and demand Reggie Bush come clean or lose his trophy?

Wouldn't such integrity be wonderful? It'd certainly be a welcome change of pace in this whole sordid affair.

A couple weeks ago, someone suggested on Rock's House that the ND/SC series become a casualty of this Trojan malfeasance. At the time, I dismissed it as ridiculous. But now, I'm not so sure. I realize the law-abiding programs in the NCAA are few and far between, but ND should make it a point to favor them. Say what you want about BC and their fans, for example (and I've said plenty), but they graduate their players and they follow the rules. Maybe they're a better choice here.

I used to respect USC as ND's only rival, but I'm not sure I can do that anymore.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Digging Up the Past

I was as baffled as anyone when it was reported weeks ago that not only had George Gipp's body been exhumed but EsPN was filming the exhumation. Given that the Gipper died almost 90 years ago, I wasn't sure why a desiccated corpse would be of interest to anyone.

Then I started nosing around the 'Net, and I discovered the name Eva Bright. Apparently the granddaughter of Ms. Bright was attempting to establish some kind of paternity for her mother, and since her grandmother had been dating George Gipp at the time of his death and had borne this woman's mother out of wedlock, Gipper was the "prime suspect", so to speak.

Looking at the replies to that message board post, the name "Mike Bynum" jumped out at me. In the post, he claims to be "editing a book for the family of George Gipp", and in the article linked above he describes himself as "a close friend of Gipp's closest living relatives", both of which he may or may not be. But the name seemed familiar, and a little more 'Net digging told me why.

Bynum apparently has been a Gipper freak for long and long. Back in the 1980s when I was a student at ND, he had a screenplay for a movie on Gipp's life, which may or may not have been written by him, called "Golden Glory", and was all set to make it into a movie. Trouble was, ND, as was its policy at the time, wasn't about to allow a movie focusing on the seamier side of the Gipper to be filmed on campus. Without the ability to include campus scenes, the project fell apart.

Bynum, reportedly, wasn't received too well either before or after that, and apparently has harbored a grudge against Notre Dame ever since. The article I linked above from Irish Legends has plenty to say about him, but I found these quotes interesting:

I've known Mike Bynum for nearly ten years now. In that time, he has been trying to find a way to capitalize on Notre Dame's football fortunes and history. He tried very hard to get me to invest $15,000 in his plan to publish a set of three books on America's three greatest coaches-Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. Mike spent a lot of time with Bryant while he was still alive. He had all the legal documents drawn up, etc., but something told me to back off and I did. He spends a lot of time when he is at Notre Dame with Col. Jack Stephens, former assistant athletic director to "Moose" Krause. Stephens told me a while back that Bynum was sued for plagiarism several years ago. I can't say if that is true. As for the "Rockne Returns" re-enactment of the world premiere, anybody who bought a ticket could attend, and it was the kind of affair a Mike Bynum would want to be in on.

"As for Bynum's advertising a book "Knute Rockne, All American," a book which to my knowledge does not exist, and asking people to send in $17.45, I do not know at this time how that was resolved. Roger Valdiserri, Notre Dame's Sports Information Director, who handles ads in the football programs, wrote to Bynum and said, "I hope we are not going to be embarrassed by a plethora of such letters since I don't think the University deserves to be put in such a position." The University was beginning to receive complaints, as was I from my members. Bynum was trading as Autumn Football, Ltd. The Bethlehem, PA, Globe Times ACTION LINE printed another complaint of identical nature. My monthly "Fighting Irish Sports Reports" has carried two stories on the situation with warnings to members.

"For your sake, I hope Bynum is on the level, but I can't imagine why any wealthy Notre Dame benefactor, particularly the Stepans, would need to go through Mike Bynum to finance a new Rockne movie. They would work through the University.

And then:

I appreciate your "warning" with regard to Mike Bynum. Indeed, he has contacted me. He has represented himself as your friend and as the front for some "very wealthy Notre Dame-Chicago alumnus." In fact, he has given me pretty much the same story he handed Tony DiMarco, apparently.

"Unfortunately by the time your letter arrived, having no particular reason to distrust him, I already had given Mr. Bynum a copy of my screenplay about George Gipp. What he has done with it, at this point, I don't know. He has lead me to believe he likes my version above all others he has read and is pursuing the financing of my screenplay for production.

"Fortunately I have made it very clear to him that Walter Mirisch of Universal City, CA, currently owns my screenplay, and he must deal with Walter if he wants to acquire it.

"I must admit, however, that if it's true he actually put his own name on Tony DiMarco's script at one time, I'm concerned that he now has possession of mine. I haven't spoken with Mr. Bynum since your letter arrived. He has been trying to call me from time to time, but I have been out of town. If and when he reaches me, you can be assured we're going to have a serious discussion."

Well, it looks like Bynum's tripe has found an audience in the new EsPN show "E:60". The purpose of the exhumation was to extract DNA to establish paternity for Ms. Eva Bright, and Bynum plans to unveil those results, along with the rest of his Gipper hatchet job, on EsPN's new "journalistic news show". No word on whether it'll be filmed in Al Capone's Vault.

Notre Dame fans are aware, of course, that the Gipper was no saint. Anyone who has watched "Wake Up The Echoes" knows the Ronald Reagan portrayal in KRAA was, to put it gently, artistic license.

But why people would suddenly care that a player dead for almost a century had fathered a child out of wedlock, I really don't know. And why they would want to hear the story courtesy of someone whose past with regard to Notre Dame is, shall we say, checkered, perplexes me even further.

But what doesn't surprise me is EsPN's interest. All the quotes about E:60 being the "next evolution of the brand" and the hopes it would actually focus on news as opposed to entertainment/sensationalism, in the end, are so much blather. In their haste to sensationalize, I hope they took the time to vet the hand that was feeding them the info. That'd be a refreshing change.

My suggestion to the ND faithful: No reason to watch. Just another example of EsPN trying to make hay off a bad football season by giving a questionable source 15 minutes of fame. Me, I'll be mowing my lawn.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finding Our Virtu

Yesterday, I was part of the problem. Today, I want to be part of the solution.

ND needs a consistent scheduling philosophy for its men's basketball program. It has little control over what the conference will do, and the conference probably will be tough year-in and year-out. But they have full control of the 10 non-conference slots, and they need to make better use of them.

For example, ND has to stop being afraid of an opponent's home court, and the focus on home revenue generation is just as off-putting for basketball as it is for football. Besides, a lot of these schools are getting smart and starting to charge more for one-off contests. So the Irish need to get into a rotation that gives them a quality game away from home every year.

The one "constant", if you want to call it that, is the demise of the two-in-four rule almost guaranteeing Notre Dame's appearance in an early-season exempt tournament every year. Next year, they'll be part of a loaded Maui Invitational with Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, St. Joe's, and Texas. I believe they're also slated for the 2010 Preseason NIT, which is always a quality draw, and they're overdue for an appearance at the Great Alaska Shootout. So in even-numbered years, the schedule will feature quality away-from-home matchups to bolster the schedule.

The key is the odd-numbered years. The tournaments for those years, like the Guardians Classic and the Paradise Jam, are good, but aren't going to offer the marquee games ND needs. So in odd-numbered years, the Fighting Irish need to play somewhere that will test them.

I've got the perfect place: Los Angeles.

UCLA is a natural for the ND schedule. While not a rivalry on either side, it's a series loaded with tradition. For over a decade, it was an annual home-and-home that brought a lot of national attention. UCLA is a program which, while they may have down periods like any other team, they usually bounce back strong. And with Ben Howland at the helm, they're poised for years of quality basketball.

ND football plays in LA against the Trojans in even-numbered years. What better way to keep a good presence in an area loaded with alums than to have the basketball team visit in odd-numbered years? In fact, I'd like to see the first Saturday in December be "UCLA Saturday" for Notre Dame, with the game alternating between LA and South Bend counter to the football (and primary exempt tournament) rotation. Even better, a 2-2-2 setup, with two games at Pauley, two games at the Joyce, and two neutral-site games (one at Staples Center, one at United Center), and keep that six-game rotation going ad infinitum.

Both ND and UCLA are renovating their hoops facilities in the next couple of years. They could arrange it where the other is the first game in the new digs, just as UCLA was the first big ND game in the then Athletic and Convocation Center.

(every time I type that, I miss Jack Lloyd)

So two of the 10 slots are now taken care of with a tournament and UCLA, and there's at least one quality away-from-home game per year.

But we still need a decent home game in the odd-numbered years, and ND should always play at least one true road game. So two more slots should be set up for intriguing, if not guaranteed quality, matchups, with home / away / neutral rotations matched up as well as possible with the Big Two.

My dislike for the Integer aside, one of those slots should be used to rekindle / start meaningful series with one of their teams. I've said it before and this won't be the last time: It's criminal that Michigan State, ND's fourth-most-played opponent in its history, hasn't been on the schedule since the 1970s. Northwestern is fifth on that list, and it's been forever since they've appeared at the Joyce Center. Illinois is a natural, and Wisconsin would be an intriguing matchup. If we want to look east or are concerned about the schedule being excessive, Penn State has mid-major quality with an Integer name. I have no interest in the Hoosiers, and Michigan has appeared plenty lately. The Integer Slot can rotate opposite UCLA to ensure an attractive home game when the Bruins aren't coming to town, with the game the Wednesday following the Bruin trip/visit.

The other can be used to rotate in some of ND's Catholic brethren. Dayton, Detroit, Creighton, and SLU spring to mind almost by reflex ... schools that share ND's mission and goals, and with whom the Irish have a long and storied history (not to mention the nice RPI push). In fact, an argument can be made to use two slots here, one home and one away.

The remaining five to six slots can be used for the various warm-up / holiday tomato can games that every school plays. But there should be an unofficial rule that only three of those cans come in with an RPI in the previous season above 250. I'd rather have a 15-point win over a #200 team than a 30-point win over a #300 team. Exceptions can always be made for teams or coaches with a special affinity for ND, such as Billy Taylor at Ball State.

So let's work a little elfin magic on this year's slate, applying my changes above. It's an odd-numbered year, so there'd be a game at UCLA the first Saturday in December instead of Eastern Michigan at home. Without looking at the numbers, I'll select Northwestern as the Integer team, and SLU and Detroit as the current saved-slot teams. Since UCLA is on the road, Northwestern would be at home, but since we're in the JVC in early December, I'll put them in Northern Illinois' slot. Flipping a coin, SLU will be at home replacing Colgate, and Detroit away replacing Brown. You know how I love road games over the holidays, after all.

Let's see how the RPI changes:

310 -- LIU
259 -- Monmouth (PJ)
121 -- Baylor (PJ)
52 -- Georgia Tech (PJ)
173 -- Youngstown State
177 -- Northwestern
3 -- at UCLA
56 -- vs. Kansas St. (JVC)
74 -- St. Louis
162 -- San Francisco
191 -- at Detroit
333 -- North Florida

Average RPI: 159, with a 6 - 2 - 4 split, which would be ninth in the conference and just above the 50-percent line overall. Replacing Northwestern with Michigan State (24 RPI) would reduce the average to 147 and push ND up to fifth just ahead of the UConn / Georgetown / Providence bunch, which might be more appropriate in years when ND has a strong team, not to mention put a very attractive home game on the schedule.

Sure, playing at UCLA would be tough, but no tougher than playing at Georgetown is going to be. Northwestern and St. Louis would be stern tests, but not the kind that should scare the kind of ND team we'll have the next two seasons. And playing at Detroit should be very doable for Notre Dame in any season.

This is an older team that shouldn't shy way from challenges, and next year will be even more so. It's time to bulk up a little bit.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Medio Stat Virtu Est

Not sure this blog was going to get to 100 entries, but it has. Thanks to one and all for reading and keeping things interesting.

Now, on to business.

I've posted before about our non-conference SOS. A friend whose hoops acumen I've come to respect greatly and who is on the other side of the argument from me, brought to my attention an article by Mike DeCourcy on teams that, in his opinion, over-schedule.

I read it. And in what may seem on the surface to be a contradiction, I agree with everything it says. Tom Izzo's an outstanding college coach, but what he tried to do a couple seasons ago was insane. Experienced team or not, you don't put together a murderer's row like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Syracuse, and then go play an Integer schedule on top of it. The only thing your team will prove is dead men can indeed tell tales.

But lest you think I'm going to suddenly bless our non-conference slate, hold on thar, Baba Looey. No one is asking for Notre Dame to schedule itself out of the tournament. Rather, I want them to schedule like they think they belong there. There's an awful lot of space between Izzo's overestimation of his team's prowess and what Notre Dame is trying to do this year, and as the actors say, the Fighting Irish should be using that space.

Compared to the Standards

DeCourcy cites two schedules in his article, one he believes to be too aggressive (Arizona's) and one he believes to be in proper balance (Louisville). Let's take a look at the RPI numbers for that schedule for the last three years, both a straight-up average and a weighted average (three times last year, two times previous year, one time year before that, total averaged) to balance out one-year fluctuations, and see where they end up.

Northern Arizona (149/117/294) -- 187 straight-up / 163 weighted
Virginia (55/79/80) -- 71 / 67
Mizzou-KC (257/264/171) -- 231 / 245
Adams State (336/336/336) -- 336 / 336
@ Kansas (11/20/1) -- 11 / 12
Cal State Fullerton (148/234/113) -- 165 / 171
Texas A&M (17/44/71) -- 44 / 35
@ Illinois (Chicago) (29/14/2) -- 15 / 20
Fresno State (87/124/153) -- 121 / 110
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
San Diego State (66/56/186) -- 103 / 83
@ Memphis (8/4/109) -- 40 / 24
@ Houston (83/54/83) -- 73 / 73

Last-year RPI: 97
3-year weighted: 107
3-year straight-up: 112

An average RPI in the top 100 is a pretty strong slate. Factor in that four of the 13 games are true road games and a fifth is a neutral-site game in their opponent's alumni stronghold, and I see DeCourcy's point here. This slate won't give the Wildcats much of a breather, and with strong programs in the Pac10 this year, it may be a tough year in Tucson.

Hartford (226/270/300) -- 265 straight-up / 253 weighted
Jackson State (168/247/263) -- 226 / 210
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
vs. BYU (18/67/216) -- 100 / 67
vs. UNC (2/12/6) -- 7 / 6
Miami(OH) (92/84/39) -- 72 / 81
Dayton (75/183/126) -- 128 / 120
@ Purdue (Indy) (42/175/179) -- 132 / 109
Marshall (165/231/235) -- 210 / 199
New Mexico St. (69/97/292) -- 153 / 116
Morehead St. (295/321/290) -- 302 / 303
Iona (326/64/195) -- 195 / 217
@ Kentucky (13/41/11) -- 22 / 22

Last-year RPI: 115
3-year weighted: 135
3-year straight-up: 144

Numerically not as arduous, although still meaty. Two true road games, and Purdue at Indianapolis. This team certainly will be challenged, although not as much as Arizona will.

Now let's compare to the Irish. Note I have Baylor as the second-round opponent in the VI, since the other option, Wichita State, lost their high-profile coach this off-season:

LIU (310/274/236) -- 273 straight-up / 286 weighted
vs. Monmouth (259/144/193) -- 199 / 210
vs. Baylor (121/167/258) -- 182 / 159
vs. Georgia Tech (52/160/27) -- 80 / 84
Youngstown State (173/304/321) -- 266 / 241
Colgate (261/286/238) -- 262 / 266
Eastern Michigan (235/306/266) -- 269 / 264
vs. Kansas St. (NYC) (56/110/97) -- 88 / 81
Northern Illinois (301/127/184) -- 204 / 224
San Francisco (162/185/86) -- 144 / 157
Brown (230/273/229) -- 244 / 244
North Florida (333/332/336) -- 334 / 333

Last-year RPI: 208
3-year weighted: 212
3-year straight-up: 212

Not only is the average way below the center line, there are no true road games and three opponents didn't break the 300 mark last season. The highest-ranked opponent lost the coach that helped get them their lofty ranking last season. Tough as the Big East is, this isn't going to impress anyone in March. Over-challenging a squad may not be a good idea, but neither is under-challenging them.

Compared to the Conference

Although technically ND will compete with the nation for an NCAA bid, their prime competition will come from their conference mates in the Big East. Let's see how the last-year average RPI for the non-conference schedule stacks up with what those opponents are doing, including their home/road/neutral splits. For the purposes of preseason tournaments, I'm assuming the best possible opponent in each round, just as I did for ND above, with the noted Baylor exception.

Turns out well-adjusted Louisville is the best in the Big East bunch:

115 avg RPI last year -- Louisville (8 home, 3 road, 2 neutral)
117 -- Syracuse (10, 1, 2)
139 -- DePaul (6, 3, 3)
141 -- St. John's (7, 3, 2)
148 -- Georgetown (7, 4, 0)
148 -- Providence (7, 2, 3)
149 -- Connecticut (8, 2, 3)
153 -- Villanova (8, 2, 1)
161 -- Cincinnati (8, 4, 0)
166 -- Pittsburgh (9, 3, 1)
191 -- West Virginia (10, 3, 0)
200 -- Marquette (8, 2, 2)
200 -- South Florida (6, 4, 3)
203 -- Rutgers (9, 4, 0)
206 -- Seton Hall (8, 3, 2)
208 -- Notre Dame (8, 0, 3)

That's right, ladies and germs. Not only do we have the lowest average out-of-conference RPI in the entire Big East this season, we're also the only Big East team that will not play a true road game out of conference. At all. You can be guar-on-freaking-teed that's going to come up as the season winds down and the discussion of the NCAA tournament comes up. And God help them if they stumble somewhere in that non-conference slate, because if they don't go into that WVU game at 11-0, there's going to be trouble. ND will have to pray some of these opponents finish better than advertised, because as of right now, the stink pervades.

ND has an outstanding team, and there's no doubt in my mind they'll get that NCAA bid. But they'll also get seeded one (if not two) levels lower than they'd otherwise deserve, and/or get an unfavorable location and draw. Just like they did last year, when they were Big East semifinalists and 11-game winners in conference, but got stuck out in Washington as a #6 seed playing the best #11. It adds up to a tougher road to the Sweet 16 and beyond than they'd otherwise get, and in an event like the NCAA's where sometimes draw can make all the difference (see: Davis, Mike), they're setting themselves up for failure.

Nuts and bolts? No way. We'll have no one to blame but ourselves. At Notre Dame, it's not enough to just make the tournament.

What's even more disappointing is even the younger teams in the conference seem to be finding ways to challenge themselves. Only one of UConn's true road games is before the conference season starts, but they'll be going to Bloomington during Big East play. One of SJU's road games is Hawaii in the Rainbow Tourney, but they're also going to Duke. One of Marquette's road games is Chaminade in Maui. They only play one other true road game, but it's at #4 Wisconsin.

And the usual poster child for bad scheduling, Syracuse, may only be playing one road game, but it's at #55 Virginia. And with the second-highest-ranked average RPI in the conference, it's not like their home contests are against patsies. I guess they learned their lesson last year when they were left out of the tournament with 10 Big East wins and a victory at the EWSNBN.

I'm praying it's not a lesson we'll have to learn.

Tomorrow: How I'd fix it

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Point of No Return

Yes, BC week is finally over, and I can finally concentrate on ND's true rivalry.

But recent posts on NDN made me think of one final R-word, and I want to throw a question out to the readership.

That word: redemption.

Obviously, the relations between ND and BC are at a pretty low ebb right now, particularly with the fans. But I have yet to hear any of the usual reports of disruptive behavior. The pep rally seems to have gone off unmolested. A lot of BC folks ended up in the tank at ND Stadium, but reports seem to indicate at least some of those folks ended up there as the result of draconian rule enforcement (I know, no-fun assholes dropping the hammer at ND Stadium, what a shock).

I don't believe any relationship should be beyond repair (ooh, another R-word). If their fans are willing to take steps towards congenial behavior and abandon previous immaturity, is that the first step towards better communication? A Catholic school with a high graduation rate is certainly worth good relations, all other things equal.

I'm not encumbered with the visceral dislike of the place some of my younger compatriots have, although I completely understand their position, so I'm definitely not Nixon in this trip to Beijing. So I'll ask those more suited: Is there any possibility of repairing this relationship, or has that ship sailed?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another R-Word

Another word that begins with R is "redux", and apparently this is what I must do for the subject below since there wasn't a fine enough point on it.

My issue is with the use of the word regardless of who the opponent is, which is why I referenced MSU and Air Force in the entry. I might also have mentioned Miami, who generated plenty of hate for ND fans in the late 1980s, but also don't rate the use of the word on that score.

The word gets thrown around during BC week mostly because of the Catholic connection. I would hope BC fans would agree that's a dumb reason to make a comparison. I have no issues with BC as an institution. One of the comment authors below pointed out their current 93 percent grad rate, which is more than sufficient evidence they, unlike most of our fellow D1 institutions, take the education of their student athletes seriously.

As I said in one of the comments below, I don't consider anything I said to be elitist or arrogant or anything else of the kind. Notre Dame football has a strong history and tradition, and that tradition can only be maintained if the people who support it do so. I'm sorry the programs at other schools haven't accomplished as much, but that's a problem for their fans, not me or other ND fans. Decades of accomplishment aren't undone by a couple bad seasons.

ND will most likely come out on the short end on Saturday, but I'm guessing they'll give better than some folks think they will. In future seasons, when the talent starts to mature and Weis' recruiting classes bear fruit on the field, it'll likely swing the other way. But neither of those things, the wins or the losses on either side, will have an effect on history at large. Only long-term performance can do that, and until that performance starts to show itself one way or the other, I'm not about to alter my thinking.


The R-Word

I hate this week.

I haven't missed it for two years, and when the series ends in 2010, I probably won't ever miss it again.

Win or lose, I can't wait for Sunday, because it'll mean this week is over.

It has nothing to do with boorish behavior on the part of BC fans, nor does it have to do with ND's struggles this season. It has everything to do with the freaking R-word.

It's understandable that the BC people would use it without hesitation, because I suppose it is a rivalry to them. But then ND people start using it, and it sets my teeth on edge.

Set aside visits to the dictionary (although I've linked it here if you're sufficiently interested) and whether BC has anything that ND could possibly want from them. My distaste for the word is borne of the disrespect its use in this context shows to decades of ND football history.

A time of prolonged struggle in a program is also a time when its traditions can get lost or muddied. I saw it happen on the basketball side during the 1990s, when neglect of the program resulted in people drifting away from it. They forgot the things that had made the program a great one, and started measuring things differently. It's easy to start recasting roles when your short-term perspective is skewed by a departure from traditional success, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Rivalry implies philosophical equality, and that's just not the case here. No one was about to call Air Force a "rival" in the 1980s when they beat Faust-coached ND teams four years in a row. No one would call Michigan State a "rival" these days, and they've won six straight games in Notre Dame Stadium and have played ND a lot longer than BC has.

I get upset when words like "rival" are thrown around easily because Notre Dame's football tradition is unmatched in the history of the sport. So to say you're Notre Dame's "rival" should be something equally as meaningful because that's based on a significant role in that unmatched tradition, which should take a great deal of time and effort to achieve. To bestow the moniker on schools like Air Force or Michigan State or BC is disrespectful to the programs that have earned their place in Notre Dame's tradition over decades.

Notre Dame has one rival, one friend, and one enemy, and all three have had a strong effect on what Notre Dame has done (or hasn't been able to do) throughout its history.

Southern Cal is Notre Dame's rival. They've won almost as many titles and have almost as many Heisman winners as the Fighting Irish. They've played us almost every year since 1926. The list of meaningful games the teams have played is as long as my arm, and a lot of those games have propelled the winner to a national title or contention for one. Their current ethical troubles notwithstanding, it's a relationship almost a century long based on mutual goals and understanding. Each team has enjoyed win streaks during that time, but the pendulum always swings back around.

The Naval Academy is Notre Dame's friend. If it weren't for the Navy opening a training center at ND during World War II, the school might not exist today. ND may have won a lot of games in a row in that series, but the level of respect going both ways in this relationship has not diminished one whit. Navy will always have a protected place on Notre Dame's football schedule, and that's how it should be.

The University of Michigan is Notre Dame's enemy. No school has worked harder since the 1800s to undermine ND's position in college football, and when the schools meet, lofty rankings in all-time wins and win percentages are on the line, not to mention national titles. As much as BC fans may annoy us, it doesn't even approach the level of hate we reserve for the Skunkweasel faithful.

Right now, no other programs need apply for anything. No other program has had that level of effect on Notre Dame's for that amount of time. Schools may put together winning streaks, schools may beat their breasts and claim superiority, but we've heard that song before from a number of other crooners, and all those claimants eventually faded into the mist. The Rival, Friend, and Enemy have stood the test of time, and deserve the consideration they receive.

If you want to talk to me in 15 or 20 years about BC's place in ND football history, I'll be willing to discuss it. But until then, as they say in LCN, the books are closed.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Raison D'Etre

Fred Thompson probably wasn't describing his foreign policy philosophy when he said, "Russians don't take a dump without a plan". But as I've noted previously, it's a good philosophy. Spending money without a well-conceived end in mind is money, as a red-headed friend of mine would say, flushed down the loo.

With the ND Board of Trustees meeting imminent, we probably stand to see some more details revealed about the Joyce Center project. We've already had the timeline announced, which is good progress in that we finally have some dates to work with. According to the article, the final design plans are being completed, which most likely means they're getting ready for admin blessing at either this BOT get-together or the Winter meetings (probably somewhere warm, they tend to trend that way).

With luck, those plans will be pleasing. But from reading what has been released so far, it's more like disconcerting. So I'm taking one last chance to review this hypothetical plan in the hopes of firming it up. If we can find the raison d'etre behind the expenditures, we can figure out the intent.

According to the article, ND is going to spend $26.3 million on this project. That's a significant outlay of cash, and while you could easily argue it's overdue, it's being spent now and probably represents a high water mark, of sorts, of expenditure on the basketball program for the foreseeable future. Logic dictates this money be directed towards the neediest needs of the program, in order of priority in the overall plan. So let's examine what the neediest needs apparently are:

The first phase of the project, to begin next September, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new two-story lobby, the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.

According to this, ND is going to create a huge atrium to house tickets sales and a store to sell things and a club area where people will pay a premium to have dedicated concessions and a view of the game. If logic dictates the important things be done first, all three of these most important things have only one thing in common: revenue generation.

A major ND policy shift is driven by the desire to wring more dollars out of the fans. Color me shocked.

No doubt, the ticket processing areas at ND are more than outdated (just like the rest of the Joyce Center), and Josh Berlo and his outstanding crew have needed extra space and overall upgrades for a long time. But that has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, other than making it slightly easier for people to walk up and buy tickets. Their current space isn't big enough to do anything basketball-related, so vacating it will not benefit the program. In fact, due to its positioning in the JC right next to the Athletic Director's offices, it'll benefit Kevin White most of all by giving him more cubicle space to usurp.

There's already two varsity shops in the Joyce Center, one in the North Dome and one between the domes. I can understand them wanting more space for the one adjacent to the basketball area because it's a little small, and chances are the North Dome one will be affected by the hockey upgrades. But it's not like the lines during basketball events are oppressive. With the plethora of ND home basketball games, combined with the fact ND hoops fans tend to be local, I don't see a huge uptick in tchochke sales simply because the venue is more airy. Of how many of those 20 opportunities to buy a Notre Dame keychain does Kevin think the season ticket holders will avail themselves?

I've wanted to get the fat-cat no-shows out of the gold loge seats for long and long, and if the "new club seating and hospitality area" gets that done, it's probably a good thing. But should it be among the highest priorities? Not when the team practices in a cinder-block basement.

The article doesn't mention how much money is going to be spent on those three endeavors. But right out of the gate, they're going to spend money and time on things that won't benefit basketball in any way, shape, or form. Ticket Sales' physical plant is a cost center. Knick-knack hucksterism is rampant enough at football games, and the local fans are unlikely to make it a consistent stop. And the "club area" will benefit 10 percent of the attendees, most of whom don't make a lot of effort to support the team as it is.

So here we are well into 2008, according to this timeline, and we have yet to spend a dollar on something beneficial to the basketball program. Doesn't sound like a basketball project to me.

Replacement of the Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the men's and women's basketball seasons and the end of the women's volleyball season.

Finally, a basketball benefit, starting 18 months from now, so Gody and his classmates might get to play a game or two there before they graduate. Certainly a key benefit, as permanent seating, while reducing overall capacity, will make the overall fan experience better. The JC doesn't have a bad seat in the house, and now those seats will look and work better. It'll also serve to keep more of the noise in the arena, since the concrete on which the seats will sit will serve as a stronger noise barrier and prevent the sound from escaping out into the concourses.

But so far, that's it. Nothing about practice facilities, floor area improvements (aka Chuck the Duck(tape)), press technology, or relocation of the student seats, all of which should jump in front of ticket offices, club seating, and another on-campus Barnes and Noble when it comes to how $26.3 million should be spent.

And the estimated timeline is squirrelly as well. I believe eight months to be an incredibly ambitious time frame for getting the project done, particularly if they plan to reopen the arena in mid-October and have basketball games there in December and January (which makes the meat of the project a five-month effort). A much better idea would be to ask the Big East to front-load the men's and women's home schedules in the 2008-09 season and start on the project the minute the whistle blows to end the last home game. I understand it would mean relocating Commencement and all its related activities out of the arena for one year, but that's what we have Notre Dame Stadium for. Besides, if they believe they can have basketball games while finishing this project up, why couldn't they suspend construction for Commencement?

I realize practice facilities can now be put on the potential donor list, particularly once they've figured out how much of the North Dome the hockey project will take. But that still means a critical need is stacked behind the alleged dollar generators, which is a bass-ackward methodology. How long is it going to take them to draw the line bisecting the dome? I'd like to think it'd be done by May of 2009.

What we've seen of the plan so far makes it abundantly clear its author is not focused on what will make Notre Dame basketball better but rather on trying to wring as much money out of the program as he can. Recruits who come on visits will not be impressed by a ticket office. Coaches who ND wants to employ really don't give a damn about T-shirt sales. They want to know they'll be spending their time, both in games and outside them, with quality places to meet, watch film, train, practice, and become top-flight participants in a top-flight program.

ND basketball's physical plant has been overdue for an upgrade for decades. They get $26 million dollars, and the results, seemingly, will be a store, a cool ticket window, and a place for rich guys to sip lattes. There's much wrong with that picture.

I read a lot of interviews of Kevin White on various topics in various media outlets. Next time one of the media creatures has a chance, perhaps at Basketball Media Day on Wednesday, I hope one of them has the chance to ask him about this basketball master plan and why he decided these revenue-centric boondoggles were more important to the program than the things players and coaches care about.

I doubt I'll like the answer, but hope springs eternal.

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Stormy Weather

In perhaps one of the biggest examples of putting the cart before the horse the site has ever seen, the topic du jour on NDN these days is field-storming after a victory by 1-5 Notre Dame over 6-0 Boston College. The debate has spread to an opening salvo in The Observer, which no doubt will lead to a couple days' worth of responses.

Let me kick my field-storming credentials up front so folks know from whence I come: I think field-storming, in general, is a bad idea, and I think premeditated field-storming is pretentious and queer. Although it's not an optimal activity in my eyes, field-storming is supposed to be borne of spontaneity and enthusiasm, not a meeting of the Spirit Committee. It smacks of high school student government antics.

I was in the marching band in 1988 when ND took down Miami, which was the first field-storm I remember. Obviously a huge win, and I can understand the enthusiastic response. But as someone carrying a 50-pound drum on his back, my concern was getting run into and/or knocked over, which could have been a rather injurious experience for both me and, perhaps more so, the unfortunate party of the second part.

Additionally, there are 50+ members of the team that, hypothetically, just got beaten on that field wandering about as well. They probably won't take kindly to the enthusiasm of the ND faithful. While my distaste for field-storming is not opponent-specific, let's also remember in this scenario, the opponents involved have a history at ND Stadium of not being the classiest of guests, even in victory. Defeat, most likely, will make even more manifest their trailer-trash aspects, increasing the probability of injury to the stormers at the hands of the stormees. That kind of melee doesn't do ND any good.

I'm loath to play the fuddy-duddy role here, and I don't want to go so far as to tell people not to do it. But the fact they're already talking about it means the action has become, like so many other things at ND home games these days, a contrived event with a lot more sizzle than steak. When you have to plan how you're going to react to a win, it becomes a lot less about what the win means and a lot more about what people think is the "proper" response to that win.

The path between that and spirit banners is depressingly short. Let's not walk it.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

I Don't Care

Yes, he was a walk-on.

I don't care. Dorrell decided to save a redshirt year for one of his QB's rather than win today at home. That's all part of the game.

Yes, ND had less than 150 yards of total offense.

I don't care. UCLA had nine starters back from a very good defense last year.

The quarterback could have been a fifth grader and he could have been throwing to my daughter's ballet class.




A win is a win is a win is a win is a win.

Yes, UCLA was at a disadvantage. But teams facing an advantage are supposed to take that advantage and win. ND did just that.

Sometimes the smallest things can tilt a season the right way, and a win by the Fighting Irish tonight in Los Angeles was anything but small.

No more stories about the longest losing streak in ND history.

No more prognosis of 0-8.

An extremely good game by the defense, even before the walk-on with three last names was forced into the game -- a good game the defense sorely needed.

Now they're looking at a top-10 BC team who hasn't played anyone of consequence, followed by an SC team that just got knocked off by Stanford at home, both games in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. Then comes four very winnable games, including that same Stanford Cardinal in CA to close out the season.

Nothing is out of the question when you win. And getting off the schnied prior to the last four games means everything in the world.

Let's do this thing.


Thursday, October 04, 2007


In my neighborhood, we were never stupid enough to let someone know we were going to hit them. We just hit them.

Apparently, Jason Whitlock didn't grow up in a neighborhood like mine, because he prefers to telegraph his punches. Right in the middle of what he bills as 10 NFL Truths, he tosses in this gem:

For you Notre Dame fans wondering at home, I'm a week or two away from writing a gloating/scathing column about Charlie Weis and the grossly premature contract extension Notre Dame gave him. Oh, I haven't forgotten all the nasty e-mails I received two years ago after pointing out that ND had no business giving The Great Weis Hope a 10-year contract extension for doing far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight at Notre Dame. But before I strike I'm waiting on additional information to trickle in, such as I want it to be crystal clear that the Irish are the fourth-best Division I football team in Indiana -- after Purdue, Indiana and my Ball State Cardinals.

I had hoped no longer working for EsPN might put Whitlock's race-baiting and immaturity into remission. Apparently signing up to write for another media behemoth provoked a relapse. Too bad, because most of his recent stuff at the Star had been good.

This is a classic example of writing without writing. He doesn't want to write the article now, because ND has started showing improvement, and should Weis' crew carve out a win or two in the next three games before the cupcake parade, the storyline would get swallowed up and he'd look like an idiot. So he covers his bases by tossing that throwaway paragraph into an NFL story. He gets his digs in to the "nasty emailers" and manages to get the crux of what he'd write about into the electronic ether to float just like any other kind of turd would.

Of course, it goes without saying if and when that article is written, the best response by ND folks would be to ignore it by not linking or not reading it. But having said that, I'm going to ignore my own advice. What can I say, it's been a slow day and I can sometimes be a slow guy.

The original position that Charlie Weis "did far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight" was off-base and unsupported by data, which is why it most likely provoked "nasty emails". Tyrone Willingham's team won its first eight games because the defense created an unsustainable takeaway margin for those games. When the defense got figured out by BC, so did Willingham, who then did nothing for the next two and a half seasons to change the situation. Charlie Weis's offense produced consistent point differential improvement for his first two seasons, and when the defense proved suspect, he dealt with it by changing coordinators.

Let's compare some totals, shall we:

Number of BCS bids achieved:
Weis 2, Willingham 0

Number of wins in first two seasons:
Weis 19, Willingham 15

Number of top 10 recruiting classes:
Weis 2 (one more on the way), Willingham 0

Number of recruiting classes outside the top 30:
Weis 0, Willingham 2

A reasonable person could conclude potential, if not actual, interest in Weis from NFL programs, something ND never had to worry about with Willingham (or any of his assistants, some of whom have not managed to be hired away from him in over seven seasons). Was it a level of interest that warranted a 10-year extension so early? Of course not. But as I talked about a couple weeks ago, the contract extension was dumb in the same way ND has been dumb about many coaches in many sports for the better part of 20 years, not due to some kind of racial vendetta against an underperforming coach. In fact, ND probably did Willingham a favor cutting him loose when they did -- one or two more terrible seasons and he wouldn't have been able to get a job at the high school level.

Weis is just as culpable as Willingham is for ND's current situation. But that doesn't mean Willingham's performance can suddenly be judged as capable, nor does it make the positive results of the last two seasons go away.

Weis has already shown in two seasons of being a head coach he's more able than his predecessor to detect and take action on problems. We'll see what happens the rest of this season and into next before we evaluate the success of those actions. Meanwhile, Willingham seems to be much happier where he is.

From my viewpoint, everyone's happy. Except the muckrakers, of course.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

One Should Be Done

"One-and-done" is a familiar term to basketball fans these days. It refers to a player who completes one year in a college basketball program before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft, a phenomenon made possible by the rules governing draft eligibility requiring a player to be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class before he can declare.

One-and-dones are a hot topic in college hoops. Some coaches embrace them, while others reject them, citing concerns about team chemistry. CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish seems to reject that philosophy, and talks about how they benefit a program.

There's no denying one-and-dones have an effect, and Parrish's list is comprehensive, if not elaborate. Greg Oden and his collective of fellow single-year players got Ohio State to the title game for the first time in my lifetime, which becomes a more depressingly-long time by the season. Carmelo Anthony got Jim Boeheim the title that was the bugaboo of his coaching career synopsis. And now "Melo" has turned around and donated $3 million towards the construction of a $19m practice facility for the Orange, as well he should since no one knows better than a former athlete what his fellow athletes need to succeed.

So sure, one-and-dones can benefit a program.

But what about a school? You know, those buildings outside of the athletic part of the campus where classes allegedly go on?

As familiar with the Syracuse's athletes' needs as 'Melo might be, a lot of folks wonder how familiar he was with that non-athletic part of Syracuse. If you ask some of them, he didn't see the inside of a classroom after the Christmas holidays. "History of Rock And Roll" may have edified Mr. Oden culturally, but it's not clear how it advanced him towards any kind of meaningful degree. And since eligibility for the second semester of the season isn't determined retroactively, no rules were broken in either case because they went into that season fully "eligible".

That's the part of the one-and-done trade-off Parrish doesn't talk about.

What is a school saying when they admit a student who has absolutely no intention of following through on his studies for one year let alone one degree? How do you measure the academic integrity of a place that agrees to look the other way on classroom attendance if it gets them a few more victories on the hardwood? I know the phrase "student-athlete" is a laugh in a lot of places these days, but does the hypocrisy have to be so blatant? And when you look at the list and see respected centers of learning like North Carolina turning them out almost yearly, it almost makes you want to throw up.

The NCAA got a nice boost from the league with that one-year requirement. It enabled them to "showcase" some of the famous players they were losing to the draft, and no doubt make themselves a pretty penny in the bargain. So now is the time for them to step up to the plate and address the rampant academic fraud taking place as a result. Require schools to produce academic progress reports at least twice a month for all student athletes during a season. If an athlete fails on any of those reports, revoke his eligibility until the next report. If an athlete fails to complete a semester of work, revoke his eligibility retroactively.

I realize "normal students" can drop classes whenever they want. But "normal students" aren't on full scholarship and participating in a multi-million dollar activity in which they are ambassadors for their school. The mercenary nature of college basketball is becoming an affront to scholarship and sportsmanship. The NCAA either needs to drop the pretense or start practicing what it preaches.

And to head off the obvious first question, no, I wouldn't like ND to utilize one-and-done players. Notre Dame got to the top 20 in wins and win percentage without using mercenaries, and they should continue to do so. Scholarship means something in South Bend, as evidenced by a 100 percent graduation rate for players who use all of their eligibility. If it stops meaning something, I'd rather they just walk away.

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