...you've got to do it yourself. That's the best way to live your life, because if you're not going to look out for you, you can be damn sure no one else will.
Non-Irish fans get hot and bothered when we talk about ND's unique place in college sports, football in particular. But there are some ways in which that uniqueness must be acknowledged, even by the most virulent hater. And one of those ways is the school's relationships with other schools and conferences.
When it comes to football, Notre Dame is a Conference of One. As such, the person in charge of the Notre Dame athletic department must be both an athletic director and a conference commissioner. That person is responsible for protecting Notre Dame's best interests regardless of the situation, and must always take the necessary steps to provide that protection even if it means challenging relationships with friends.
But lately, it seems this vigilance is yet another victim to ND's jones for outsourcing important things.
Case in point: Stanford, and David Grimes' spectacular touchdown catch. I call it a TD catch because that's exactly what it was. It was called that way on the field, and all available video replays at worst showed nothing to contradict that call and at best clearly showed Grimes' hand under the ball as he hit the ground, making it a completely legal reception worth six points.
But in a stunning act of what could most generously be called ineptitude (and least generously something far more sinister), the Pac-10 crew in the video replay booth overturned the call made by the Big East referees. Citing some random video angle, to which the rest of the sports universe apparently lacks access, they decided all by themselves Notre Dame should have six fewer points in the game.
ND ended up winning, so one might be tempted to overlook the "error" as, in the end, not having mattered. I'm not tempted in that manner, however, because in a game won by a touchdown's margin, an error that grievous could have been very influential in determining the game's outcome. At some point, a similar error may cost Notre Dame a game, and it's hard to seek justice in that instance if you haven't sought it before.
So from where should this justice come? An admission of error would be a good start. Last season, when a similar officiating gaffe led to an undeserved victory by Oregon over Oklahoma, the Pac10 officials responsible received a suspension and the conference apologized to the OK program. I think that kind of public responsibility goes a long way towards preventing future problems.
Yes, ND still won the game, but the mistake was still one of high-magnitude and the players cheated out of their accomplishment still deserve the proverbial pound of flesh. Notre Dame's officials should be seeking that justice for their players and show those players that when they're wronged, their school has their back.
Trouble is, neither Kevin White nor anyone else at ND is doing that. Why, you ask? Because all officiating matters of this sort are arbitrated on our behalf by the Big East. You know, that conference we're not a member of in football, and whose interests in areas like bowl bids and national rankings more often than not conflict with what would benefit Notre Dame. They're in charge of determining if we were somehow damaged by officials' errors (or outright misconduct) and what, if anything, is done about it.
Since when is that someone else's job? Since now, I guess. I couldn't believe Notre Dame would be willing to kowtow and yield control over its own interests to that extent. But it was all confirmed for me in an email exchange with the ND athletic department.
I was told Notre Dame has to have a relationship with a league in the interest of getting officials to do its games, and this arrangement was all part of that relationship. Obviously ND found another way to do it for years and years when we didn't use Big East officials for our games, and I don't remember hiding under the skirts of the Integer when we were using (and getting screwed by) their crews.
I asked why, considering how the various conferences have interests and needs that conflict with ours, we didn't use neutral officials in all games. I was told using a neutral conference was "not realistic" because the conferences don't have extra officials "sitting around waiting to be assigned to games", and a neutral conference wouldn't have the incentive to send their best crews to do games outside the conference. Given the lack of consequence should the Big East not protect our interests, I'd rather take my chances of creating that incentive by paying neutral officials well than continue to hope for the Big East to get religion and cover our behinds (not that it should be their job to do that).
Official observers are at every game making sure there's no malfeasance, and ND's official position is our interests are protected. But when I asked what the point was of having this kind of relationship if the Big East wasn't going to bat for us, the response talked about politics and internal processes and how conferences aren't in the business of publicly acknowledging the mistakes of their referees. My position remains if the refs who screwed up so galactically in a potentially game-changing situation knew they'd face scrutiny for it, they'd take a lot more time to consider their decisions to make sure they got it right and a lot less time worrying about what the guys in the conference offices thought of how they "protected the family", so to speak.
Any ND fan worth his salt can point out instances of Pac-10 crews in the Coliseum bending the Irish over and taking away wins. Unfortunately, the Big East can't be trusted any more than the Pac-10 can, as our game against Pittsburgh in 2004 proves. And the next time the Integer goes to bat for us will be the first.
The days of conference affiliation for football officials has to end. They've made that change in basketball, which has a lot more refs participating in a lot more games for a lot more schools, and it's worked out very well. Take away even the hint of impropriety, and let the market and performance of the officials become the determining factor. Have the officials overseen by the NCAA to ensure what's best for the game takes precedent over what's best for the conference or an individual team.
Some program with strong cachet and a national bully pulpit should lead the charge for that reform. Too bad it can't be us -- we've rented our pulpit out.
Labels: college football, kevin white, nd admin, nd athletics, nd football