Tuesday, July 15, 2008

100 Days

To: Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Director of Athletics
From: Mike Coffey, ND alumnus and semi-random blogger

Dear Mr. Swarbrick:

Congratulations on your new position. As someone used to inefficient action coming out of South Bend, your hiring has come as a breath of fresh air to me and I hope portends a new methodology under the Dome.

I realize as an alumnus, you probably have a closer understanding of Notre Dame's position on things than an outsider would. But you've had your own life to lead the last couple of years and may not be familiar with how things have been going in ND sports lately. Some things have been good, but other high-profile things have not been.

Presidents often are judged by their first 100 days. Presumptuous as it may be, as someone who has watched ND athletics closely for the past decade, I'd like to suggest some actions you can take in that period which could reverse recent and long-standing problems and get the alumni and fanbase energized.

First, break out the cell phone, because there are a couple calls you might think about making.

The first call is to Joel Maturi, your counterpart at Minnesota. He's a fellow alum and was at least considered for the chair in which you're now sitting, so I imagine you'd have a lot to talk about. But while you're on the phone with him, remind him our name had come up as a potential opponent for the first game at their new stadium on September 5th, 2009, and you'd like to further the discussion, especially if it means a return game by the Gophers to South Bend in a couple seasons.

The second is to Cary Groth, your counterpart at Nevada-Reno. Explain to her the unique opportunity you have to set something up with Minnesota, but the scheduled game we have with them is holding things up. Obviously something can be done, be it a buyout check or a postponement, right? The tail doesn't wag the dog on these things, and there must be a mutually-advantageous resolution here.

Next on the docket is a conference call with Ron Mason and Morgan Burke, the AD's of Michigan State and Purdue, respectively. Jim Delaney, the Integer commish, can sit in if he wants to, provided he keeps his phone on mute. Explain to these fine gentlemen how much Notre Dame values our relationship with them ... in fact, tell Mason he should stay on the line after the call so you can work out a home-and-home basketball contract. But unfortunately, continued dates in September isn't going to work for either of our series long-term. The first one who agrees to move games to late October or early November gets a 16-year home-and-home contract. The one who comes in second will be put in a rotation with some other Tier 2 schools. If both of them agree, by all means, try to accommodate them.

Once you're off the phone, show us the money. As big a reputation as Kevin White had as a moneymaker, it seems a lot of that was done via selling off portions of the schools at which he worked. When it came to relationships with donors, it was a ham-fisted mess. One-off projects benefited from windfall donations, sometimes as a result of tragedy no one would ask for. But the big projects, like the Joyce Center redo and the still-to-be-funded ice rink improvements and hoops practice facilities, either came in horribly late or continue to wither on the vine.

Previous AD's knew how to relate to the folks who had deep pockets and sell them on the importance of athletics to the Notre Dame community. Those bridges must be rebuilt. I don't know you well enough to know if you're a schmoozer by nature, but if you're not, you need to find someone who is and put them in a position in oversight of athletics fund-raising.

But while you're hiring that person, don't be a afraid to trim a little fat. Seems you can't swing a dead cat around the Joyce Center without hitting an assistant athletics director in charge of men's room toilet paper or something. Division I athletics is big business, to be sure, and I don't advocate overworking anyone. But a little multitasking goes a long way. Go through the employee list and start weeding out the duplication. Not everyone who departed in Kevin White's wake needs to be replaced, and a penny saved is a penny earned, after all.

Not all of this is guaranteed to work, but there's no harm in trying. At the very least, it'll be a warm-up to the next NBC and BCS negotiations, where the rubber truly will meet the road.

ND athletics needs a new and bold direction. Your CV indicates you're a good candidate to provide it. Like so many others in ND history, you're being given an opportunity to seize greatness. It would be great if you took advantage. Or at least interesting.

Thanks for your consideration, and welcome home.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

¿Dónde Están los Huevos?

So much for not eulogizing.

Let me start by saying I'm not bogged down by any personal animus towards Kevin White (not that I'm accusing anyone else of it). The few times I met him, he was nothing but cordial and friendly, and I haven't met anyone who has proclaimed him a bad person. He was very accommodating to me when I wrote the book, and we had a very nice discussion at the Austin Carr induction ceremonies. Ergo, I don't feel he was any kind of an ogre or deserving of any personal criticism, and to this very minute, like him personally.

He was, however, a bad fit for Notre Dame. And while we can argue until the cows come home how involved he was or wasn't in the major issues of his tenure, they all carried one common thread that always bugged me:

With Kevin White at the bargaining table, I never got the feeling ND had any balls.

It seems in just about every fracas, discussion or discourse ND engaged in during White's time in office, the Fighting Irish ended up on the short end of the stick. They ended up paying a lot more money to Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham than they were worth, and both men left ND in much better shape financially and professionally than they should have. BCS revenues were cut, with Notre Dame losing $12 million over the last two seasons. NBC seems to have an awful lot of authority in the current contract, with some people on campus saying they're demanding more and more from the school. adidas didn't give Notre Dame the "most favored nation" status Michigan got. Nevada and SDSU were given games in order to move a game with a WAC school. Vendors have more control over ND imagery than they should. The list goes on and on.

Never in any of those situations did I feel Kevin White at least went down swinging. The impression was always we were "being good neighbors" or a similarly conciliatory position. There seemed to be more a concern about the "landscape" or the "game" or (in the case of applicable matters) the "conference" than what Notre Dame needed or wanted. And the minute there was any push-back on issues, Notre Dame seemed to be the side showing their tummy and making concessions.

I don't expect ND's athletic director to be bombastic or caustic, and I certainly understand the value of compromise. But I do expect a better batting average in negotiations than I saw in the last eight years. I also don't claim detailed knowledge of everything Kevin White had to work out in that time. But I'd expect to see more positive results if my position were not correct.

A friend of mine used to say, "You can tell a lot about a guy by the amount of blood on his shirt". I couldn't shake the impression the last eight years that Kevin White was more interested in keeping his jersey clean than he was getting results. At the very least, he seemed to have a pretty light laundry bill.

No one wins every battle, but you never win the battles you don't fight. I might be able to handle the state of affairs better if I had the impression White was fighting to the last man or had at least drawn some blood from the other side in the process. But that's never what it looked like to me. I never believed the other side walked away from the table wishing they hadn't had to give up (A) to get (B). They always looked like they were having their cake and eating it too.

One might argue KW didn't have much to work with. ND football was down, goes the response, so he had to make the best of things. Well, if ND football was down, who was responsible for that? The buck is supposed to stop on the AD's desk. If the poor state of the program was putting him in a disadvantageous position, why not do something to make the position stronger, like make better hires or be more demanding for results? Instead, we got "Sunday through Friday" and multiple examples of a lack of a "list in the drawer".

Accountability is key and results trump all. I can't think of any examples of White holding anyone accountable, nor can I cite any overwhelmingly positive results as a result of his decisions or actions. Instead, it was all about not rocking the boat and keeping everyone happy, be they ND coaches or conference mates or fellow directors.

Well, success sometimes means making people unhappy in the short term. Hopefully, White's successor will see that.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friends, Domers, Countrymen...

While the current momentum of the hoops squad more than bears talking about, sometimes affairs of state must take precedence over affairs of state. This is one of those times.

Last night, WNDU brought us the momentous news that Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White would be leaving that role to take the same position at Duke University. Given that ND has had only five non-coach AD's in its history, turnover in the position is always a big deal. However, this time around, it's an even bigger deal than usual to a good number of folks, because this time, it's a true barometer of where ND is heading.

The discussions of Jumbotrons, 7-4-1, and other schemes seemed to show Notre Dame's focus was on making money rather than maintaining the quality of the brand that had stood so well for so long. Trouble was, it became difficult to determine the source of that mindset. Some people felt it was the brainchild of Fr. Malloy and Fr. Beauchamp, and yet it continued when they were gone from the scene. Others labeled Kevin White as the Svengali of Swag on campus, citing the football scheduling change as the most egregious of offenses on that score.

But now, we'll know for sure. KW is on his way out the door. Who will Fr. Jenkins, John Affleck-Graves, and the BOT name to succeed him, and, more importantly, what will that person do with regard to football scheduling, revenue generation, and the like? If it's the same-old same-old, we'll know where the truth lies.

Much will likely be made of White's ND tenure in the coming days and weeks, and I plan to leave those eulogies to others for the time being. I'm looking forward, not back, and it's time to think about the next guy in the chair.

I don't necessarily have a list of names. I'm more concerned about a list of qualities, two specifically:

A solid, confident personality. Setting the course for athletics at a place like Notre Dame is a unique position. As I've said previously, in some ways, you need to be an AD, while in others, a conference commissioner, because ND is a conference of one. Notre Dame needs to look out for its own interests while balancing the general good, and that can be a thin tightrope to walk. You're not going to do that well unless you've got the moxie to enforce your will sometimes. Notre Dame's AD needs to pull the strings, not dance to them.

An understanding and appreciation for the Notre Dame family. Among his many unfortunate malaprops, Bob Davie once used the words "people who count" when describing his support on campus. Other ND administrators have been similarly dismissive of the alumni ranks when talking about how the school and its programs operate. That's not the way to get the job done, nor is it a way to get people to support what you're doing. A while ago, having a Notre Dame alumnus in the position was seen as being too insular. Now, it seems insularity might not be the end of the world.

So who's on my list? Not sure. But I know a couple things I don't want:

1) A segregation of responsibility. The "football-only AD" idea has been floated a number of times, and I remain dead-set against it. Separating football into its own fiefdom in the Athletic Department is not a solution, and puts the school on a slippery slope. What football does has to remain in the context of the University as a whole, and vice-versa. Besides, things like scheduling games and negotiating with NBC aren't things that go on every day, every month, or even every year. Paying someone to be a full-time AD for the football program is a waste of money, and cutting Athletic Department bloat is something I hope the new person has on the top of the list on the first day of work.

2) Lou Holtz. I love and respect Lou with my whole body, and will do so until the day we're both dead. But he's a football coach, not an AD. The pining for Lou is borne of dissatisfaction with the performance of the football team in recent years, and while that's a genuine and important concern, it shouldn't lead to bad decisions.

Some names, in no particular order.

Jim Lynch, ND '67. NDN board readers should be well familiar with this name, and it is on that basis I list him first. Certainly lots of pros -- savvy businessman, confident personality, understands and appreciates how ND works, etc. But he's reportedly very happy in KC, and (if you believe the stories) has already turned the job down twice. Go after him, certainly, but it's certainly not a failure if he demurs. At the very least, you want him involved in finding the next guy.

Joel Maturi, ND '67. He certainly got good stuff done, not the least of which was MN's new football stadium, has plenty of experience as an AD, and is certainly decisive, evidenced by letting underperforming coaches go mid-season. His nabbing of Tubby Smith was certainly a coup. He also knows Ara and likely would seek his counsel on important matters. Might be enough for the top of my list, although Minnesota alums might be a little too happy to see him go for my taste.

Steve Orsini, ND '78. Moved up the ladder, with stops at UCF and now SMU. Certainly outreached his grasp when he hired June Jones to coach football there. And Notre Dame would be the next step in a progression upward. Definitely worth the phone call.

John Paxson, ND '83. Running an NBA franchise certainly requires a solid confidence, and he definitely would understand ND. No doubt his hiring would give some football fans the vapors.

Mike Bobinski, ND '79. He's been at Xavier for a while, and has made some quality hires. But Xavier doesn't have a football program, and that's a crucial hole in his resume.

Rick Chryst, ND '83. My only concern would be he's never been an actual AD anywhere, spending his career in conference management. It's a different kettle of fish. And not to be unkind, but the MAC ain't Notre Dame. This would be a multi-rung move up the ladder. Would he be ready?

Not a comprehensive list, but the one off the top of my head. May we live in interesting times, indeed.

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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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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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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If you want something done right...

...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.

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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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