Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One for the Road

It's a tale of two cities on the Notre Dame scheduling front. Last week, the University of Connecticut backed down from a previous ultimatum, and agreed to sign a six-year deal with Notre Dame for football games that included their home games played at neutral sites. This week, Rutgers went the opposite way and backed out of negotiations because Notre Dame wanted the RU games played at the Meadowlands.

And now Harvey Araton of the New York Times tosses his two pennies into the fray. Good for Rutgers, says he, and fie on the Irish for pushing such unfair terms. What does the Big East need with Notre Dame anyway, since they look down on the conference with such disdain.

Setting aside for the moment the inherent instability of the Big East, it's perceived lack of value in football, and precarious standing in the BCS and bowl system to begin with, all of which Notre Dame salves with various signed agreements and association with the conference, and the pluses Notre Dame brings to the conference in the non-football sports, his overall point is good. I'm long on record with my opposition to 7-4-1. As a scheduling philosophy, it sucks cold diarrhea out of a dead cat's ass. Not only does it make for uninteresting matchups, it fails any litmus test of fairness, which the Notre Dame I grew up watching seemed always to be about. If you're going to play games against any school, you should be willing to play on their home turf at least once.

Just because people are willing to sell themselves to you for money doesn't mean you should take them up on it. I read stories like Ohio State canceling or moving games that were supposed to be played at Cincinnati, and it really rubs me in the similarly wrong way. It smacks of flop sweat and fear. God forbid the powerhouse program in the state test itself away from home. Perhaps if the Bucks weren't playing eight games at home every year, they wouldn't get waxed in bowl games the way they do. Just like ND's basketball scheduling philosophy, the 7-4-1 philosophy is rooted in revenue maximization, and even though "Come Sweet Cash" is an ND joke older than I am, it's still extremely off-putting to see it exhibited in such a bald-faced manner. A pimp dressed in green and carrying a shillelagh is still a pimp.

The only way to fight this tendency, both at Notre Dame and elsewhere, is to let the market speak. On the one hand, Connecticut decided the payday and exposure of a Notre Dame series was worth the PR hit with its fans by not bringing the Irish to Rentschler (which, it should be noted, isn't on UConn's campus either). On the other, we have the Scarlet Knights telling Notre Dame to take its ball and go home, literally. That's the best way to convince ND 7-4-1 is unworkable, although it's going to cost Rutgers in the short term. Maybe then when Alabama calls, Kevin White will find he has room in the schedule.

Having said that, the attitude Araton takes in the article is just as moronic as the 7-4-1 philosophy. It boils down to him criticizing Notre Dame for trying to leverage its prestige in order to gain terms more favorable to it. To try and brand ND as the only sinner in that congregation is a foolish enterprise. There's a reason the New York Times charges $330 to deliver in my neighborhood while I get my village's paper for free. I guess if Araton were running the organization, I'd have the Times on my doorstep every morning gratis, because, after all, it's not fair for the big bully NYT to force people to pay more for its content. I'm sure the folks who write for the Idaho Statesman or the Bangor Daily News would queue up to get Araton's salary --- why should he use his degree or his skill to demand a higher rate? I realize borderline Communism coming from the New York Times is hardly man-bites-dog, but they should keep it out of the sports pages.

When even mopey NYT scribes are hitting the mark on their Notre Dame hair-pulling, it's time for the Fighting Irish to re-examine their priorities. Would it kill them to go to Hartford or Piscataway at least once? Are they so focused on "no more heavyweights" in pursuit of the almighty dollar that we're doomed to slates of MAC teams? God I hope not.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Yes, I made up a word. I do that sometimes. But I think it describes the 2008 Men's Basketball banquet perfectly.

Walking out of men's basketball banquets in the past, I've usually been left with the impression the banquet itself mirrored the personality of the team it celebrated in general and the seniors it honored in particular.

This year was no exception, and perhaps was the strongest example of that trend. Rob Kurz has always been a get-it-done, humble person who prefers the accolades to be aimed at his team rather than himself. Although from a technical perspective, this was among the most "advanced" hoops banquets I'd attended (multiple screens, good video production), the atmosphere was that of, for lack of a better phrase, a simple celebration of a group of players who have shown since August they like nothing better than each other's company.

Schedule conflicts meant I'd missed the last two banquets, so it's possible what I saw last night has been done before. But the sense of community on the team was unmistakable, with, as Jimmy Durante might have said, everybody wanting to get into the act. The individual awards were given away by the assistant coaches, including Gene Cross, who got emotional in his goodbye to Irish basketball. Rob Kurz spent his entire speech talking about everyone but himself. It seems everyone's response to a congratulations was "But did you see what [teammate] did?"

All that humility, however, was impregnated with what Sean Kearney described in a player as an "infectious enthusiasm". This "infectiasm", as I've dubbed it, applied to more than that player. Dr. Kevin White was more animated in his remarks than I've ever seen him at an ND function, commending the team for its accomplishments and expressing excitement at what next season may hold. ND president Fr. John Jenkins, who delayed his trip to see the Pontiff to make sure he'd have a chance to address this team, talked about the pride these young men should feel in themselves and we should feel in them, not only for what they've done but for what they're going to do.

This infectiasm is welcomed, because when a team accomplishes as much as this one has, it deserves the enthusiasm of its leaders and fans. Two straight seasons with no home losses, which hasn't happened since the 1940s, and a home court consecutive win record on the verge of falling. The third-most number of wins in a season in Notre Dame history, second in the modern era behind the 26-3 1973-74 squad. 18 Big East home wins in a row, which has only been bested by one team in the 30-year history of the conference, in an era where the Big East is among the (if not the) best conferences in the country. A two-time Big East Coach of the Year, and a sophomore Player of the Year. A second-place finish in the conference, and the best record in the conference since that disastrous 1-8 start two seasons ago.

Humble or not, this team and these coaches have a lot to be proud of, and it was good to see others taking pride in them.


Of course, it wouldn't be a basketball post from me without facilities comments.

I was disappointed last night arriving at the event to see no pictures or other renderings being displayed. Given that we're on the cusp of the nape of the precipice of the edge of getting started on this project, I would think they'd be all about showing off the plans.

My disappointment faded, though, as Associate AD Bill Scholl took to the mic to talk about the plans and what fans can expect.

(As an aside, this was a perfect example of the some-people-can't-joke-about-some-things philosophy. When former player and Monogram Club prez Marc Kelly joked that team orthopod Fred Ferlic had been with Notre Dame "since before we started fixing these seats with duct tape", it got a good laugh. When Bill Scholl talked about duct tape companies going out of business as a result of these renovations, on the other hand, a lot more silence. Players and fans can joke about the tape. Admins, on whose shoulders the responsibility rests to make the tape unnecessary, should not, especially with these upgrades as late as they are)

The presentation had plenty of pictures, including an alternate view of this shot. The new atrium has changed a bit from the original design, and meshes with the football stadium. The new area will be built out to the south of the JC, and seems to include a single entrance. The seats will be brought right to courtside, although Scholl didn't mention if students would be in those seats or not, and every seat will be a navy blue chairback.

My objections to the priorities of this project remain -- I'll happily remain in my bleacher seat if there were more in this effort that directly benefitted the student athletes. But hopefully that's to come, and if the pictures they showed last night come to fruition, Purcell Pavilion certainly will be a cleaner, nicer-looking place to watch a game.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Show Me the Money

My buddy Rock had a post today without comment. Rock is sometimes content to leave things unsaid. I, on the other hand, usually am not. That's a failing, I realize, but it makes me more fun at parties.

As I looked that ad over, skin crawling, I started to think about how the athletic department makes its money these days, and how it compares to days of yore.

When Kevin White arrived at ND, he had a reputation as a budget-balancer and fund-raiser. But we had an idea about the source of such acumen, and the good doctor has proven proficient in this regard. The Blue Gold game is now sponsored. Notre Dame now has "partners" and "teammates", not vendors. Only backlash from the old guard on campus prevents ads (and a video screen on which to show them) from showing up on the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium.

As we watch the Golden Dome being parceled out in this manner, one could reasonably ask: Where are the donation-driven finances for athletics? Why are we watching the Roman soldiers of commerce cast lots for Touchdown Jesus when ND has never wanted in the past? Back in the day, names like Rolfs, Loftus and Eck were lauded for stepping forward and making improvements to Irish sports possible with their generosity.

Where have all those flowers gone?

It's a lot more difficult to convince people to part with their money for the good feeling it engenders rather than the chance to put a label on something, and Kevin White is proving he's not up to that task. Think about what we've seen during his tenure:

  • The Gug. Built, to be sure, but so far behind schedule they had to break ground or risk losing the leadership gift that made it possible.

  • The Joyce Center. Six years late, even a leadership gift by Philip Purcell hasn't been enough to really get things rolling. They're breaking ground in September, but still a couple hundred thousand short according to reports.

  • The hockey project. An anonymous $15m gift (thanks to Coach Jackson, not AD White), and they're still $5m short of the goal.

  • The softball stadium. Made possible by the legal settlement following the sudden death of a former player. Not exactly standard fundraising fare, although God bless Melissa Cook's parents for their generosity in a time of great pain for them.

And that's it. Granted, you have the completed indoor golf facility and the soon-to-come crew boathouse. But on the grand scale, those are minor (though much-needed) projects rather than T. Boone Pickens-style windfalls.

What does it say about Kevin White's ability to schmooze alumni and friends of the athletic programs that Frank Eck, he of the tennis pavilion and baseball stadium that bear his name, and who seemed to always be there with a helping hand when Notre Dame needed him, gave over $41 million to Notre Dame during White's tenure ... with none of it going to to athletics, even with major projects looming and late?

We have a tardy basketball project that will end up spending more on a commercial Varsity Shop than on the student athletes. A hockey program coming off a title game appearance with the crappiest rink in just about any NCAA division. A championship-level Fencing program that practices in a virtual broom closet. A list of projects for track and field gathering dust on the drawing boards. And sports like tennis and baseball, recipients of previous gifts, whose physical plants are showing their age. All of which calls for a plan and for the solicitation of generous, Irish-minded folks who want to help make those projects happen.

And where is Kevin White, the alleged financial wizard? Putting another piece of Irish tradition on eBay on the cheap. Because when you do that, you don't have to demonstrate you understand Notre Dame as much as you understand how much someone will pay for part of it.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Controlling the Horizontal and the Vertical

We interrupt this scintillating ND-related diatribe to bring you something a little more close-to-home related.

As a public service announcement, if you're not someone who sells to major (or minor) retailers and/or handles logistics / supply chain work for your company, or if you're not someone who does business intelligence technical work or retail sales analysis, or you don't know what the hell either of those things are, chances are you'll find what follows unbelievably boring and probably would be best served to just skip it.

As I mentioned on the boards, on the first of this month, my partners and I successfully purchased majority interest in my firm, Decision Support Services. We provide logistics support for our Fortune 500 clients, helping them to make sure they're spending their money in better places than inventory taking up space on shelves. We currently have offices in South Bend and Bentonville, AR, and have just opened a facility in Mooresville, NC.

We have a solid satisfied client base, a lot of whom have been with us for most of our 10 years of existence, and are always picking up business by way of word of mouth. But now that I'm in an ownership position, I'm focused a little less on the system the clients are using and a little more on the number of clients using it. I'm also looking more at staffing and what our needs will be as we grow.

Considering all this, I'd be a fool to ignore the biggest source of advertising I've got, namely, NftG and NDN. No sense spending a couple hundred hours putting an electronic community together and then ignoring it when something like this comes up. So that's exactly what I'm going to do here, especially considering the strong ND-centric nature of our company. In addition to me, one of my partners is a 1990 grad, and two of the others are South Bend natives and long-time subway alums. We're working my other partner, and anticipate his conversion within a year. We're relentless.

You might be a potential client for us. If you're trying to make the best of your retailer's POS system and wish you could do more or do it better (Walmart, KMart, Lowes, Home Depot, Meijer, Sam's Club, Walgreens, etc.), or think you're spending too much money on your current methodology, chances are we can help you out. If you don't have the analyst power you wish you had, we can provide it. If you've got analysts but wish you could utilize them better, we can give them the tools to make better use of their time. And you'll have ND people doing it to boot.

You also might be a potential employee. We've got a solid group of analysts now, but again, as we grow we want to make sure we have our clients' needs covered. We're a Microsoft shop, using SQL Server 2005 (moving to 2008 as soon as it's feasible) and all its associated components (SSIS, SSAS, SSRS) along with Sharepoint to provide our value to the clients. If you've got experience in one or more of those areas, we might be looking to bring people like you aboard as the year progresses. And there's an advantage to working with a lot of other ND grads / fans.

I've disabled comments to this entry because it's not the kind of entry that invites them. However, if you think there's a potential fit here, drop me an email. Hopefully we can make something work.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Moose Season

It never fails ... I have a day with limited Internet access, and all kinds of stuff goes down with ND basketball.

Each deserves its own entry, so I'll start with Gene Cross, the new head basketball coach at the University of Toledo. I'm sure I'm not alone in congratulating GC on his first head coaching gig and wishing him the best of luck. This opportunity is waaaaay overdue for him. He brought an excellent dynamic to Notre Dame the past two seasons, and we saw the results both on and off the court. I certainly hope we have room on the schedule for a home-and-home for Toledo the next two seasons.

This leaves an opening on the Irish coaching staff. While I wouldn't expect Mike Brey to fill it immediately, news comes from the Trib's Brian Hamilton that current restricted-slot Irish coach and CBO Martin "Moose" Ingelsby will fill Cross' spot, at least temporarily.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. BH's article doesn't mention if this promotion is permanent or not. Mike's quote from the article indicates he'll be looking for a new assistant, but doesn't mention whether it's to fill Cross' vacancy or Moose's. Things are vague, and a lot can still happen.

Let me also be crystal clear that I love Moose, both as a player and as a person and as a potential coach. I think he rose above his limitations, so to speak, as a player, and never doubted he'd give everything he had whenever he was on the floor. He had outstanding leadership skills, and his teammates believed in and followed him. I think he'd bring all of those same qualities to coaching, and look forward to the day when he's running a D1 program.

Having said all of those things, things I believe with all my heart, I think moving him up to permanent assistant right now is a bad move, for a number of reasons.

First, Moose needs to get some non-ND experience. His entire assistant coaching career, other than one year at Wagner, has been under the Dome. As someone who loves ND dearly, I can appreciate that characteristic in others. However, if Moose is to become a well-rounded coach, recruiter, and sideline leader, he needs to have a more diverse palate.

In the business world, getting a bachelor's and master's degree from the same school is considered a negative because it's a potential over-exposure to a single perspective. I believe the same would apply to coaching. At this point in his career, Mike should be gently nudging Moose out of the nest, not tucking him in.

Second, the past few seasons have shown us how important diverging points of view are on a coaching staff. When Anthony Solomon left after the Sweet 16 season, Mike promoted Rod Balanis out of the CBO slot and brought Moose home from Wagner. That proved problematic, as Mike now had an entire staff of coaches like him -- offense- and guard-oriented "players coaches" who were more teachers than ass-kickers. The result was three seasons where the results trended downward and the players lacked discipline.

There's nothing wrong with coaching as a teacher. Every staff needs some of that, and you have to be the coach you are or you won't succeed. But every staff also needs someone to be the drill instructor and go to the whip when things start to lag -- the balance of ying and yang. That keeps the balance and helps move the whole program forward.

That's what Anthony Solomon was in Mike's first three seasons, and that's what Gene Cross has been in the last two: the defensive-minded drill sergeant who wasn't afraid to put a foot in someone's ass when required. I don't think it's a coincidence those five years in which the staff had good balance resulted in successful regular seasons and NCAA tournament bids.

If Moose rotates into the assistant coach spot, Mike's back to the same problem he had three seasons ago. He's got a group of coaches whose first thought is offense and who work great with guards. He doesn't have someone to counterbalance his experience and perspective and provide "fresh blood" into recruiting, game prep, etc.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, Mike also needs racial diversity on his staff, especially at a predominantly white school like Notre Dame. It's no secret that the racial makeup of the student body at ND works as a slight negative when trying to recruit African-American student athletes. The football program has had to deal with it for years, and basketball must handle it as well.

Whether it's recruiting African-American players or seeing after their well-being once they arrive on campus, it's important to have someone on the staff who can relate to them on as many levels as possible. I don't believe being a minority on a Caucasian campus isn't the kind of thing a white coach can naturally relate to.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that any of the current assistant coaches or Mike Brey don't have the best interests of all their players, regardless of race, in mind at all times, because it's clear to anyone with a double-digit IQ they do. I'm saying just as you have a broad spectrum of players on your team, you should also have a broad spectrum of coaches. Just as that applies to experience and tendencies, as I addressed above, it also applies to race.

Moose is going to be an excellent coach someday. But if he wants to be the best coach he can be, and ND wants to be the best program it can be, I believe it's best for both sides he continue his growth elsewhere and, just as Cross was two years ago, another batch of "new blood" be injected into the veins of Irish basketball to keep it vital.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Dish Best Served Cold

Almost nine years ago, a frustrated Fighting Irish football fan wallowing in the midst of a 5-7 effort by Bob Davie and crew, vented those frustrations by writing a fake news article for a Usenet newsgroup. In that newsgroup, creating such faux factograms was de rigeur, with participants trying to hook as many fish as possible.

Ironically, the furor that article created helped set me on the path of "legitimate" reporting that brought me to NDNation (via NDHoops) and book authorship and the wonderful community The Pit has become. But at the time, the hassles ended up outnumbering the laughs, and I swore off fake news, seemingly forever.

But that's the problem with lessons learned long ago ... they tend to fade in your head. And you end up in the shower on one April Fool's Day morning with an idea bouncing around in your noggin, and you forget (as many folks do) that a lot more people read posts on the board than the people who respond. Then you read blog entries about your little joke, and realize you got some 'splainin' to do.

Let's be clear: As far as I'm aware, no one from Indiana University has talked or plans to talk to Mike Brey about anything. My impression has always been Mike is happy as a clam at ND and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Just so no one remains confused.

It's hard to determine how to react here.

On the one hand, as I constantly remind people (and should have reminded myself), plenty of people read the Internet and plenty of messages have unintended consequences. Two seasons or so ago, the father of a signed recruit sent an email to some friends where he shared some Ancient Chinese Secrets about how the coaching staff was doing business. The recipients forwarded to two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on, and next thing the poor guy knew, the email was being posted on every ND site and was traveling all over the world. He ended up very embarrassed, as did (I'm sure) his son.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. We here at NDN are certainly blessed with a large and active readership, but that readership comes at a cost. I usually pride myself on verifying info I'm going to share, and when I do things like this, I jeopardize that relationship with the readers.

On the other hand, though, it's freaking April Fool's Day. Part of me thinks the only thing I should be embarrassed about is the joke is so hackneyed a twit like Brendan Loy apparently thought of it too. And if we can read stuff like this about Juli Boeheim, perhaps I should tell people to lighten the !@#$ up about my relatively tame stuff.

But then again, I'm not and don't want to be either of those guys.

I see the points of those who wonder if what I did was a good idea. At various points during the day, I've wondered myself. But it's done, and I gave up second guessing myself for Lent, so onward and upward. Besides, IU seems to have their coach, and I get to watch the Marquette folks get all squirrelly to boot.

Maybe it's a better day than I thought....

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