Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quid Pro Quo?

24 hours after the high-quality victory over the Boilermakers, the subject du jour on the NDN boards has gone from what happened on the field Saturday to what happened off of it ... specifically, the ever-escalating unreasonable behavior being exhibited by the State of Indiana's Excise Police force before, during, and after the game in the parking lots surrounding the Stadium.

My journalistic partner, SEE, did his usual bang-up job summarizing the issues. The anecdotes shared so far are sobering, pun partially intended. Even more alarming is the seeming acquiescence of Notre Dame's administration towards the practice, even going so far as having the ND po-po start singing from the same hymnal.

Reasons for the new jack-booted philosophy have been tossed around, including the possibility Notre Dame is over-reacting to allegedly having been sued over the actions of a drunken fan at a football game. But there's another possibility I'd like to explore, and it's a familiar theme: money.

ND's single-minded pursuit of the 7-4-1 model is a continuation of their goal on having as many home games as possible. The purpose of 7-4-1 is to give NBC a night game to go up against ABC's juggernaut, which the network desperately wants and the CSC desperately doesn't. But to give the Peacock it's pound of flesh in return for the filthy lucre, we're now playing Washington State deep in the heart of Texas.

It's depressing and senseless. But it also makes me wonder if the greenbacks are beind the ISEP invasion as well.

Last season, we started hearing complaints from the municipalities in South Bend about how much all these home games were costing, particularly for overtime paid to the police in areas such as pre- and post-game traffic control. Granted, the games provide a big financial shot in the arm for the local economy, but not a lot of that goes into South Bend's coffers (or the state of Indiana's, for that matter). That money goes to the businesses, and until they pay taxes or fees or whatever, the city, county and state see none of it. So the $116,000 they spend today they won't necessarily see back quickly.

During all the Excise discussions, a number of folks familiar with how the state (and Excise) works have contended the practice is a cash cow for Indiana. The pre-trial diversion programs bring in around $500 for each person, not to mention the fines paid for tickets issued to underage or overserved consumers.

And that makes me wonder: Is the sudden avalanche of ISEP on and off campus a method of payback?

Think about it. Notre Dame does not want to screw around with special ticket taxes or other fees, and it certainly doesn't want to set the precedent of paying South Bend directly for some of these services. But at the same time, they need the locals to make sure the gridlock doesn't leave people sleeping in their cars, and it's only a matter of time before the push-back from both the city and state government (and applicable police forces) upset that apple cart.

The solution? Give the Excise Police free rein to write their bullshit summonses and haul otherwise law-abiding Notre Dame students and alumni to jail. The state can milk some dollars from those poor schlubs, while Notre Dame keeps its money and still gets the services it wants.

Everyone wins. Except us, of course. But nothing's new under the sun.

Edit: Two viewpoints were shared with me since I posted this, both of which I share without edit or commentary:

1) Consider the possibility ND is trying to "clean up tailgating" so they can have the night games that the fans and NBC want and we won't have to play "depressing games deep in the heart of Texas".

2) If ND isn't complicit in this, why is it you never see Excise cops in the Stadium lot? It's only in Joyce and Tower. I guess they don't want to run the risk of bumping into anyone connected to a really big check at ND. But who told them that's where the big money parties?

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Classroom Contest

There's nothing more useless than a lock with a voiceprint, with the possible exception of sport website online "contests". "Whose quarterback is better?" "Who has better tailgating?" And, of course, the piece de resistance of the genre recently undertaken by the Kiddie Paper, "Whose female fans are hotter?" Yeesh.

Usually the domain of EsPN and its ilk, sites frequently use these ridiculous constructs to pit manic fans against one another, usually for the sole purpose of gathering eyeballs and/or attention. But this attempt, brought to my attention by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Mike Rothstein, has an associated good cause, so I'm eschewing my usual disdain of the things and encouraging you to participate.

SI's Stewart Mandel is a pretty solid writer who at least tries to stay out of the hyperbolic hair-pulling so prevalent in op-ed these days. In his latest weekly mailbag, he challenges college sports fans to put their money where their fandom is and donate money to classroom-related charitable causes through

The user selects his "team" (in our case, FBS independents), and then donates money to an associated effort. The group whose constituents contribute the most will "win", although one would argue the kids in those classrooms win no matter what.

As I said, these kinds of contests are usually worthless. But this is a chance to put some dollars somewhere they can do some good. So dip into your tailgating fund a little bit. You'll be glad you did.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Think System

I've probably devoted more bandwidth to l'affaire Beer Olympics than it deserves. But in the clamor to evaluate the situation (and hope beyond hope it's the proverbial straw on the camel's back for this kind of non-news news), I have yet to see a good critique of the true mistake-maker in the whole thing: The Olympic-class nimrod who not only took the picture but posted it on a public networking site.

I don't know where the picture originated, but for a site like The Big Lead to get their hands on it, they either took it (very doubtful) or were sent it by someone who saw it somewhere (very likely). This means some nitwit took a picture of football players at a party and, for whatever reason, decided to share them.

Now, obviously I have some experience running a website*, so I have a reasonably good idea what led to the posting. Someone had football players at his party and wanted to show his friends at home he was hanging out with them. One of the players' friends wanted to make sure everyone saw the goofy "uniforms" they were wearing. I'd like to think it wasn't because someone wanted to get them into trouble. But any or all could have been the cause.

Unfortunately, as so many in their situation do, the poster didn't think it through and realize what posting something on the Internet does.

So often, people on message boards or social websites or the Internet in general get caught up in the individual conversations or exchanges that take place through the electronic medium and forget the wider audience involved. If you're sending an email to your buddy, Joe, it never occurs to you other people might see it if Joe decides to forward it. If you're participating in a message board thread, you're focused on your discussion with a couple of other posters, not realizing thousands of other people who aren't posting are reading it (and maybe copying it into emails and sending it to even more people). When you put something on MySpace or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn), it goes beyond your 10 friends on the cheerleading squad, and may end up with teachers or parents before it's done.

It happens over and over (as detailed by The Fire). This isn't even the first Notre Dame-related example ... I recall an email written by a recruit's dad that ended up forwarded to thousands of people. In the email, he shared some details about his son's visit to ND, including some exchanges with coaches that were meant to be private. Both the dad and the kid ended up very embarrassed over the entire thing. But again, it wasn't thought through.

I suppose what bothers me the most about it is the response in these situations is never, "Gee, maybe I should think before I post something online", but rather, "Stop harshing our buzz, man, I can post what I want." You should never blame other people because you don't think. Remember the Miranda warning: Anything you say can and will be used against you. Would you walk into your parents' bedrooms and tell them, "Wow, you wouldn't believe how many beers I had last night" as a senior in high school? Would you tell your wife about the hot girl you were flirting with at a bar when you were away on a business trip? Only if you're an idiot. But if you post it online, you're as good as doing that. Idiot.

As I've said many times about NDNation, when you open something up to the public, the public tends to show up and you shouldn't blame them when they do. Unless the medium you're participating in is somehow restricted, like a premium content website, what's said to one is being said to all. To expect people not to read your publicly-available profile or site or post because you have a right to privacy is at best self-contradictory and at worst really really stupid.

So next time you're going to hit the "post message" or "upload photo" buttons, think for a minute: Who is the absolute last person I'd want to see this picture, and what are the chances he or she has Internet access? Then think a little more.

* private joke, relax

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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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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Quiet Men

An Irish story, indeed, except instead of a man fighting for his wife, these men are charting the future of Irish athletics.

I was chatting with a good friend on campus last week, and the first words out of his mouth were, "It's so quiet right now". I guess he had anticipated an inquiry on the search for a new Athletics Director, and obviously I need a new year's resolution to talk to some folks about more than just ND sports happenings.

But he was right. This truly is the radio silence time of year at Notre Dame, regardless of what's happening. Between graduation day and the third week in June, not a lot is happening on campus. The summer sessions haven't begun, and most of the time is spent decompressing from the last school year before the ramp-up for the next begins. So people tend to use their vacation, schedule off-campus meetings, and otherwise scatter far and wide.

But that's what makes the info hard to come by. Though the mice will play when the cat's away, it's also hard to tell what kind of catnip he's buying while he's gone.

That doesn't mean there's no new info. As my dear friend Rock posted yesterday, ND has not been idle during the quiet time. They've retained an executive search firm (unsure of which specific one) and have started the vetting process. Joel Maturi, like Gene Smith, has taken himself out of the running (in a classy and deferential manner, just as Smith did), which is too bad, but at least it gives the new AD a specific first task in calling Maturi and getting that stadium-opening game set up.

From what I've been told, we can expect the search to "heat up" a tad as the month progresses into July, with school starting up again and more campus activity. If I were a betting man (and this is based completely on a gut feel from offhand talks with a couple people, not any specific info), I would put my money on Steve Orsini being named by the end of July with Rick Chryst as the dark horse. Then again, there's a good reason I don't live in Las Vegas.

This whole process got me thinking about a number of things.

The entire concept of executive search firms befuddles me, especially when they're used to search for a coach. It seems to me a lot of the functions they would serve, like vetting candidates and whatnot, used to be part of the job description of the appointed searchers (like an AD or an EVP). I know the ND folks have more on their plate than finding Kevin White's replacement, and there's a lot of administrative bullshit you have to pour through when you're handling this kind of stuff. But it seems like an effort to distance the searchers from the searchees, making the whole thing really impersonal and CYA-governed. It's reassuring Fr. Jenkins has affirmed it'll be his decision and the buck will stop on his desk, so we'll see how it all turns out.

The difference between coverage of a coaching search and coverage of an AD search could not be more stark. Compare the jungle-animal-instinct masteria of Decembers 2001 and 2004 with today. Right now, Michael Rothstein might have a blog blurb about someone either promoting or excusing themselves. But the rest of the media world seemingly couldn't be less interested. The Decembers of our discontent, on the other hand, had multiple articles every day talking about the ND coaching job and its alleged perceived viability in the known universe. I guess sensationalism sells because effort isn't required. Nobody tell Grantland Rice, he'll cry.

I think there's a site out there that makes some ND admin folks more uncomfortable than we do: FlightAware. Back in the post-Willigham daze, some administrati were getting itchy over the number of posts tracking the ND plane -- "Don't your people have anything better to do with their lives?" was a question posed to me. Now ND is back in the human resources business, and we've already had two threads about where N42ND is or is not headed, so I can hear the scratching from here. Of course, the problem could be solved if they flew commercial. As George Carlin once said, see how often the simplest solutions will elude us.

I still believe handling a relatively-high-profile football program is a good prerequisite for the job, which is why Orsini is high on my list. I realize there are commissioner aspects to the ND job, but I don't think Rick Chryst has enough on-the-ground time at a specific school. Besides, the number of irritated voices from the MAC football group gives me too much pause.

Happy Father's Day to one and all.

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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, January 23, 2008

We'we Hunting Wabbits

That's what Elmer Fudd says when he's chasing after Bugs Bunny. But as we all know, when he actually does take a shot, he never hits what he's aiming at and often causes himself more problems.

I'm starting to view EsPN in the same manner.

As I discussed over the weekend, there were some interesting things said by drunken analyst Dana Jacobson at a roast for Golic and Greenberg earlier this month. Two of them were knocks against ND, which, while unoriginal and not entertaining, are the kind of things you may hear at a roast. The third thing was a knock against Jesus, which is none of those things.

To somehow alter Jacobson's career path over her ND comments, I said, would be stupid considering her lack of insightful commentary and hosting ability hasn't done that already. I allowed, however, for the fact some people might get very upset about her alleged comment "F!@# Jesus".

So what does EsPN do? According to the Chicago Trib, they've suspended her for a week ... for the ND comments.

Who is running things over there?

First, why would they believe she deserves suspension over those remarks? If they wanted to suspend her because she was intoxicated at a company event and acted like an ass as a result, fine, do that. But does anyone out there believe she should sit because she rambled "F!@# Notre Dame" and "F!@# Touchdown Jesus"? I hear worse than that said about my school in my own house sometimes.

Second, the action doesn't address the only thing she said with which people may have an issue. Nobody gives a damn she (not allegedly) said things about Notre Dame. They give a lot of a damn she (allegedly) said something about Jesus, and EsPN doesn't address that.

I use the term "allegedly" because there's some dispute whether the third comment was made. Deadspin's source says she did. A poster on our board claims his brother, an EsPN employee, was at the roast and didn't hear her say that. There's still no video of the event.

But I find it odd EsPN wouldn't be in a rush to gainsay the most damning thing in the whole contretemps. They suspended her for the ND statements, which means she said them (and all sources seem to agree on that). But they're mum on the third statement.

I would think it'd be an easy thing to deny ... after all, if she didn't say it, she didn't say it. Since the Catholic League release came out yesterday, I would expect to see something from EsPN immediately, if not sooner.

I guess we'll see what today brings. No word if the network plans to wield its Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why the Long Face?

It should probably go without saying that, being an ND alumnus and all, I'm not a big fan of Deadspin. The poor dears have Irish Issues, and as such, don't draw my interest all that often.

But one of their reports the other day crossed over into one of my favorite topics, EsPN. They got some more info on "First Take" anchor Dana Jacobson's drunken ramblings on stage during the roast of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic a couple weeks ago. To save you actually having to visit the site, according to them, Ms. Jacobson had a few choice words to say for some in attendance, physically and spiritually:

"F!@# Notre dame"
"F!@# Touchdown Jesus"

Not exactly original, but not earth-shattering either. She's Michigan born and (horse)bred, so I imagine her parents were probably teaching her that prenatally with the whole earphones-on-the-tummy thing.

"F!@# Jesus."

Screeeeeeeeeeeech Hold on thar, Baba Looey. That's a horse(face) of a different color.

Now let's get some stuff out of the way quickly. I'm not the type who gets offended by religious slurs. I figure if people are that ignorant, they probably lead a pretty meaningless life anyway. I'm also not the type that takes everything ... hell, anything at all ... Deadspin says as any kind of Gospel (no pun intended), so I'd prefer a report from a reputable news outlet before lighting any torches.

Edit: Just to make sure there's no misunderstanding here, I'm going off what Deadspin said. I realize that's not always the best path, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to assume (and yes, I know what happens) they know what they're talking about.

I am also, however, not a big fan of hypocrisy, as my previous writings have laid out. And if this is what went down, our friends at the World Wide Lushes, er, Leader, are wading in that pool up to their necks.

First off, word is they're trying to suppress any and all video from the event. Granted, according to reports, the roast itself wasn't received all that well, and I can understand not wanting evidence of poor production circulating around. But here we have the lead anchor of one of ESPN's more prominent programs slurring her slurs on the dais at a public event. Jimmy the Greek got pilloried for life for making his remarks in a restaurant after a couple drinks, and that video got more circulation than the Zapruder film. This woman was on the mic in Atlantic City. Should the public not get a chance to hear her in all her (drunken) glory disparaging one of the world's leading religious figures? EsPN is always so quick with the video when someone else is the focus of the tragedy, comedy or perfidy. I guess when the foot's on the other hand, their perspective changes a little.

Second, I realize Catholicism is, along with obesity (and ugliness, for that matter), one of the world's few remaining acceptable intolerances to most. But here we have a sports reporter of the Jewish persuasion allegedly flipping the bird verbally to Christians everywhere at a public event, and the silence about it is deafening. If Charlie Weis had used his time on stage to say "F!@# the Torah", or if I suggested on this blog the Prophet Muhammad do something anatomically impossible, we'd be (rightfully) drawn and quartered on the 11 o'clock news and everyone would be falling all over themselves to decry such hateful bigotry. But this one, no, we're going to keep that quiet. After all, she was drunk (I missed the part where they tied her down and poured vodka down her throat against her will) and it was a roast and people get inappropriate at roasts and blah blah blah. If this isn't a big deal, fine, but then the next time someone says something that offends a different major religion, I expect the same radio silence.

Third and finally, hearing this story, I can't help but hearken back to December of 2004. Notre Dame had just fired an under-performing coach who had proven he couldn't get things done for the program either on or off the field. But EsPN (and their Mouse owners) got it into their little heads that ND was a racist institution because that coach was an African-American. So they led the charge on this vacuous story, even though they had no evidence anyone at the school had a racist agenda, and refused to reconcile that alleged agenda with the high graduation rates for African-American athletes the school has. Now we have one of their anchors engaging in bigoted behavior in public. Where is their outrage? Where are the talking heads calling for Jacobson's termination? The University of Notre Dame was declared guilty as charged for much, much less.

I really don't care whether or not Jacobson is fired. I've watched her show once or twice, and if they weren't willing to fire her for something meaningful like her not being very insightful or entertaining, it'd be dumb to do it now. Allegedly, she's sent a long letter of apology to Charlie Weis, and since he was there and not me, that would probably suffice. But the raging hypocrisy of EsPN's behavior here is yet more evidence of their sizzle-not-steak mentality ... a mentality contributing to the dumbing-down-to-a-sound-byte of American society. The less that network is watched, the better off we'll all be, so anything that makes them uncomfortable is A-OK by me.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If you want something done right...'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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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Institutionalized Dumbness

As predicted, ND's 0-3 start has brought the Weis-to-Willingham wolves out in force. I can only imagine what it'd be like had Washington defeated Ohio State.

Most of the hair-pulling is so much tripe and not worthy of reading, let alone commenting on. And let's be clear: the reason for that is not that I disagree with their point (although I do). The reason for that is those columns don't represent true opinion.

If the authors had covered ND and its football program for a long time, had insight into the situation, and were trying to communicate a closely-held belief on their part, I could respect that. But guys like Pat Forde and Bob Kravitz and most of the ABC/ESPN talking heads don't have closely-held opinions on the subject. They'll write just about anything about just about anyone within the boundaries of legality and (sometimes) taste if it gets them attention, eyeballs glued to their words, and advertising or other revenues for their papers and websites. Their mantra is it doesn't matter if they're saying bad things about you, just so they're saying things about you. Effectively, they've whored out their writing talent, and I really can't respect that.

Writers I do respect like Terence Moore, Malcolm Moran, Jason Kelly, and others have written plenty of critical things about Notre Dame. Some I've agreed with, some I've not, but in all cases, I know they're writing from a position of trying to inform and educate the reader. Therein lies the difference. They're not trying to make their bones at Notre Dame's expense.

I'm more than willing to discuss arguments entered into in good faith. And I read one today that, while I have plenty of issues with its content, at least seems to be coming from that perspective. In today's Rocky Mountain News, Paul Campos discusses Weis' current situation and believes it to be an example of "institutionalized racism" rather than the overt variety. You can read the entire article here.

As I said, there are overt errors here with which I don't agree and which have been discussed in this space before. Charlie Weis has beaten plenty of "good opponents" -- it's not like he won 19 games in his first two years against the MAC. There's little mention of his first two seasons in the article, and Campos makes it sound like Weis has been bad since he got to ND, which isn't true. There's also no reference to the marked improvement in recruiting since Weis arrived. And I'd like at least one of the people taking on this subject to at least mention the fact that not only does ND graduate African American players at one of the highest rates in D1 football but also is the only D1 program to have African Americans in both coordinator positions, but I'm not holding my breath.

But this is the meat of what I wanted to discuss -- a portion of the article where Campos quotes a friend of his whom he calls "JJ", referring to Weis' extension in his first season:

"I'm not saying ND's AD and president are sitting there saying, 'Well, Weis sucks, but he's white, let's give him another chance.' Obviously that's not what's happening. But I do think there's plenty of institutional racism, and this is a good case. Weis isn't getting another chance because ND's administration is overtly racist, it's because everyone at ND is just more inclined to think highly of Weis and poorly of Willingham."

I understand where JJ is coming from, and I agree with him there's a problem with racial viewpoint when it comes to coaching in America. But I don't agree with him that Notre Dame is an example.

First, if Weis is getting "another chance", it's because his first two seasons were very good, resulting in BCS bowl bids, something his predecessor playing a similar schedule never achieved. That, as I said last week, buys you goodwill when things don't go well. And it's not like that goodwill isn't being used up, because at some point in the (near) future, the well will run dry and we'll see what we shall see.

Second and more importantly, I don't believe the contract extension Weis received was the result of people at ND being more inclined to view him positively because of his race. I think it was the result of Notre Dame, when it comes to matters of handling coaches, having a very clear track record of being stupid.

Up until the late 1990s, Notre Dame was still operating under the five-and-one model -- a five-year deal to start with, then one-year "handshake agreements" after that -- with all coaches in both football and basketball. It was a horribly antiquated methodology, and I know on the basketball side, at least, it was damaging to recruiting and the stability of the program.

They finally entered the 20th century on this issue just as it was ending, but it was a bad transition. Kevin White, barely into his job himself, gave Bob Davie a contract extension after a nine-win smoke-and-mirrors season, only to watch the team absolutely implode in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State. Supposedly, that extension was necessary because the first contract Davie had signed -- also the first in ND history that wasn't on the five-and-one model -- was so poorly structured it had no termination provisions. They fired Bob Davie, stepped on their cranks with Jon Gruden, and hired George O'Leary and his MadLibs resume for about a week. As a result of that two-week circus, they had to overpay an unspectacular Tyrone Willingham to take the job, who immediately set new standards in lack of effort both on and off the field. Once again, a firing followed by a PR disaster, this time with Urban Meyer, before landing Weis.

So when Weis started out with a high-powered and well-thought-out offense, organization and success on the recruiting trail, and an air of stability around the program, I can understand why White would want to lock him up. But doing it so quickly and for so long was, like so many similar decisions in the last decade, stupid. Weis was already on for six years and had a buyout provision. If he was really the kind of guy who was going to bolt after a season, is that the guy you want at ND anyway, stability notwithstanding? It's much more likely he and his agent decided to shake the tree a little bit to see how much fruit was still there to fall, never dreaming they'd find themselves in the middle of Pete's Produce with a blank check thanks to Kevin's acumen (or lack thereof).

And it's not like the ineptitude has been reserved for football. John MacLeod begged for years for a longer-than-one-year deal to give his staff some stability. Matt Doherty was able to bail for North Carolina in the middle of July recruiting after one year at ND without it costing him a dime. Then there were the travails of replacing baseball coach Paul Mainieri last year. We still don't know what happened with the golf coach that mysteriously resigned.

I can understand why JJ may feel there's a tendency to view white coaches better than black ones because I do believe that's true in some places. The linked article talks about Norv Turner, and I completely agree it's stupefying how he continues to get work when there's a mountain of evidence he can't get the job done. How many times was Rich Kotite hired?

But in ND's case, I think it's more an unfortunately typical attack of dumbness.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Credit Where It's Due

Kevin White's been taking a beating on this blog recently, so fairness dictates he receive the praise due him when so warranted. And now so warrants.

ND announced a 20-year contract extension to ND's football series with the University of Michigan, which means ND and the Wolverines will meet on the gridiron uninterrupted through 2031. According to folks on campus, one of the prime movers in this deal is telling folks that not only will the regular home-and-home schedule continue (meaning White did not acquiesce to Bill Martin's request to switch the order), this deal does not replace the reported series with Oklahoma that will take place in 2012-13.

With all the commentary about 7-4-1 and barnstorming coming out the Joyce Center in the last month, this is a breath of fresh air. This ensures ND will have at least one marquee opponent at home each season and will have at least two overall each year. It also shows a willingness to go beyond the two, although how that will jive with the other announced plans (three Big East squads, Integer responsibilities, 7-4-1) remains to be seen.

As it stands right now, this is a Good Thing, and when people do Good Things, they deserve a pat on the back. So this is mine. Excellent job, Kevin. Keep it up.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Burning Down the Strawmen

Some folks have expressed frustration at the repetitive nature of Rock's House these days. Way too much Kevin White bashing, they say. You've made your point, isn't it time to move on to something more interesting?

All other things equal, I'd be inclined to agree. There's only so much talking one can do on any topic, and it's certainly possible the discussions regarding our Athletic Director have reached critical mass, meaning it's time to either talk about something else or stop talking and take some action. And that's certainly being mulled over.

But last night, I got a lesson in why we need to keep these topics on the front burner when I attended the annual NDNation White Sox outing. Along with the camaraderie and good time had by all, I had a very sobering conversation with one of our regular posters.

He informed me at his place of business is an ND alum who spends a lot of time trying to convince him and the rest of the Subway Alumni there that "those guys are just Internet crazies. They don't know what they're talking about. Things at ND are going just fine; they're just looking for a reason to bitch."

This is the kind of thing we're fighting against. This is the complacency or downright state of denial in which some of these folks live, and they're spreading that condition to people who consider them to be experts merely because they're in possession of a South Bend sheepskin. This is why we have to keep up the fight and keep these topics out there and keep people talking about them.

So in the interest of eliminating some of the hurdles in our path, allow me to burn down a couple of strawmen that this guy (and others) tend to erect when talking about our ilk and our position:

Everything Kevin White / the ND administration does is wrong. Untrue. Notre Dame is like any organization of its size. In the sheer volume of decisions and policies made or set in any given day, some of them will be good and some of them will be poor.

But just as not every decision will be a poor one, not every decision will be a good one either. And when a number of poor decisions seem to be emanating from the same source, logic dictates the suitability of that source be examined. Past targets of this scrutiny have shown themselves to be worthy of it, so don't be quick to dismiss criticisms as being some sort of smear campaign. We have lives, and lack the time to waste on such things. When we analyze problems (such as ND's business dealings with Adidas and the procedures used to hire and fire coaches), we analyze the actual data.

A lot of people love Notre Dame, and the natural feeling for most people is not to criticize things they love to avoid a sense of somehow "devaluing" that thing. People of intelligence should be able to do both and know that it's not to be done frivolously. Those with children have (hopefully) done it all their adult lives.

They won't be satisfied unless ND is playing five top-ten teams every year. Again, patently false. Last week, I did a scheduling analysis that I believe represents, overall, the wishes of the Ilk. That schedule follows a 4-4-4 model: four games against top-tier teams to challenge what should be a talented, well-coached Notre Dame football team (e.g. SC, Michigan, Alabama); four games against what should be token opposition given the schools' comparative abilities to attract coaches and talent (e.g. Duke, Stanford), and four games against traditional "mid-range" schools that, while they should be capable of giving ND a decent game, more often than not will come out on the losing end (e.g. Purdue, Michigan State, Pitt).

A Notre Dame football program operating at its top efficiency should have no problems with a schedule like that. It ensures at least one or two enticing football matchups in South Bend every year, and also ensures any ND team that participates in quality postseason play is not only tempered and ready for that ultimate challenge but has also truly earned the right to be there.

No one is saying the schedule has to be littered with the Top 10 and no other game will do. They're saying limiting ND's quality opponents to two a year, which is what the current plan calls for, is both ill-conceived from a preparation perspective and unbecoming to what Notre Dame has done on the field for more than a century.

To say that ND has to schedule more patsys so they can be assured of winning more games and getting to the BCS championship is unacceptable to me. I don't care if other schools are allegedly doing it, because I believe those schools are going to be looking at a backlash in the near future. Ask Ohio State season ticket holders how they feel about spending top dollar to watch this year's non-conference slate of Youngstown State, Akron, and Kent State. Some of them are quite displeased. I'm also not convinced other schools are doing it, as ShermanOaksND's analysis shows.

There's more to Notre Dame athletics than football, you know. Earth to Farmer Bob, come in Bob. This is the ND Basketball Guy talking. I'm quite well aware there's more to ND athletics than football. That's why Cross and I get into it all the time about his "AD of football" idea (which I still don't advocate).

But let's also remember that football is the straw that stirs the drink. That means it requires special attention to ensure it continues to produce the golden eggs that keep a lot of the other sports going. That doesn't mean trying to wring every dollar out of every orifice, but it does mean accommodating football where it reasonably requires it.

Besides, I have yet to see evidence that any of the recent non-football athletic successes at ND are in any way attributable to the current administration. Women's soccer and women's basketball have won titles, but their coaches' tenures predates Kevin White's arrival on campus. The policy of full scholarship funding was originally Dick Rosenthal's idea, and the implementation of that policy began with him and continued with Mike Wadsworth.

What's wrong with a Jumbotron that will show replays and honor special guests?

(yes, I used the dreaded J-word)

Nothing. Except that kind of 'tron doesn't exist.

Screens of that nature cost tens of millions of dollars to build and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain. Is that money going to fall from the sky? Of course not, which means any screen in Notre Dame Stadium will require advertising or other sponsorship money to run.

It's also not going to show any replays of the things the crowd would really want to see. Controversial plays or anything else that might make the referees look bad will not be shown. They're not shown at any other venue, so it's not likely they'll be shown at ND. Think you would have seen the Bush Push in 2005? Think again.

ND football is a unique experience, with the band, cheerleaders, student section, and crowd all contributing to an atmosphere unmatched in college sports. Why distract and detract from that atmosphere with cheesy graphics, TV spots, and Loud Continuous Noise?

There's no evidence that [insert topic here] is in any danger of happening. Not always publicly, no. You can sometimes get a warning bell or two from public comments folks in South Bend make.

But we're fortunate to have people on campus who are on our side. Those people work in myriad departments, including Athletics. They're appalled at some of the things being discussed, and irritated at the ineptitude they observe. Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves have a lot of hot potatoes in their laps, with four Dean positions to fill and having just finished a search for a new assistant Provost. They can't always be watching this sort of stuff, so we're happy to watch it for them. Does that make us arrogant? Maybe, but it's a fault we'll all cop to gladly.

That's the usual suspects all lined up in a row. I may revisit the topic if I think of more, and I've no doubt our loyal comment-makers will remind me of any I missed.

Edit: And sure enough, I missed the biggest one, which I've discussed here.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

When's Gonna Be My Time??

I don't usually quote Kevin Smith movies in the blog, but the title seemed apropos given the headaches of the last couple of weeks. Again and again, evidence of bad planning simply floods out of the Joyce Center and demands the above question regarding how much patience Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves are willing to show with Kevin White's "leadership" in the Athletic Department.

Scott covered the business end of things well, and if you haven't read that missive, you should. ND is tripping all over its collective cranks with these contracts, and as Scott said, the fact that ND is allowing Adidas to dictate any kind of uniform policy while not protecting ND's position in the Adidas hierarchy is an embarrassment. Coupled with the bad contracts for O'Leary and Willingham, the poor BCS negotiations, the lack of ground-breaking for the Joyce Center, and public comment mis-speaks, ND seems to have lost whatever business sense it had and is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But there's also buffoonery on the logistics side. Info on scheduling contracts is coming out bit by bit, and it's not giving anyone the warm fuzzies.

First, we have Wazzu on the Riverwalk. Exactly whom this matchup is supposed to excite I don't know, because I have yet to talk to anyone either in real life or on NDN who is thrilled by it. Washington State is a decent enough team -- tier 2 at this point, leaning towards 3 -- but I fail to see why having the game in the middle of south Texas, where neither team has a strong following, is in any way logical. I have yet to be presented with a reason why I should attend this game in lieu of any actual road games and/or a bowl game, and I suspect I'll never get it.

Quick on its heels, it's the Baptist Battle in Arlington. Apparently ND will return to the Lone Star State in 2012 to take on the mighty Baylor Bears. At least this time the opponent makes sense and is actually located in the state in which the game is being played, allowing a level of logic the previous matchup lacked. However, I still fail to see why I should feel compelled to attend this game, and I know a decent number of people in Dallas, including my ND roommate.

But then, a potential light at the end of the tunnel: The Sooners are Coming!!. ND and Oklahoma apparently have finalized their deal, with games in 2012 in Norman and 2013 in South Bend. Granted, it would be better if Oklahoma supplemented Michigan on the schedule rather than replacing them, but this is a good thing, right?

Maybe not. If the games are set up as the NewsOK article says, this is what the 2012 schedule will look like so far:

Navy (@ Dublin)
Baylor (@ Dallas)
@ Oklahoma
@ Southern Cal
@ Rutgers (probably the Meadowlands)

Never mind that ND is already traveling as far as Dublin that season, already playing a game in Dallas, and looking for a quality home game with SC on the road. They're going to go to Norman, too. Where's the logic in that? It would have made much much more sense to start the series in South Bend, which would provide a good anchor for the home schedule. But of course, that's not what we're doing. Do they expect me to shell out $1,500 for Sorin Society membership for the privilege of seeing Purdue? Not gonna happen.

But what's more disturbing is the groundwork this possibly lays. The biggest bone of contention with Michigan right now is they want ND to change the home-home rotation around so they'll have ND at home one year and Ohio State home the next. Of course, if ND does that, it'll put Michigan on the same rotation as Southern Cal, giving ND the problem Michigan now has. So the logical response to Bill Martin and the rest of his skunkweasels is to work it out with the Integer and move the Ohio State game if they want to continue playing us.

But now we have this Oklahoma setup, putting that big game and SC on the same rotation. What are the chances when we hear that ND and Michigan have re-upped following their two-year hiatus, that new contract is going to start in Ann Arbor, thereby continuing the odd-year rotation? That would mean that Michigan, a school that has done more to try and undermine ND in the past century than any other program, and whose AD embarrassed us with the publication of their Adidas contract details, actually got major concessions from ND in scheduling.

How long, Lord? How long will we have to put up with this never-ending parade of ineptitude? What is it going to take to make Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves and the Board of Trustees to see the light, and when that final back-breaking mistake is made, how much is it going to cost Notre Dame in money, time and prestige to fix?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Art of Scheduling

We've been hearing a lot about how there's no room at the inn for the Alabamas of the world. That disturbs me, and based on what I'm reading on Rock's House, it disturbs you as well. So since I have too much time on my hands and my medicine keeps me awake, I took it upon myself to try and do Kevin White's job for the next couple of years.

Granted, I'm assuming all these contracts are doable. But given how "everyone is calling us", according to John Heisler, I'd like to think it could be done with little trouble.

I used these guidelines:
  • No more than seven home games in a given year.
  • A minimum of five road games in a given year if the team had seven at home, four if the team had six at home.
  • USC and Navy every year
  • Three Big East teams every year, but not starting right away
  • BCS conferences and Service Academies only, except where already signed
I tried to keep it as close as I could to a four-four-four philosophy, but no fewer than three tier-1 opponents and no more than four tier44 opponents.

I started with the contracts and dates as far as I know ND has without "buying out" anything. I did assume, however, the teams in question wouldn't be tied into specific dates and would, given incentive, be willing to move. These are all per Mike-ND's schedule page:

Purdue, SC and Navy through 2016
Michigan and Michigan State through 2011
Stanford through 2010
Washington 2009
Arizona State 2013/14
Pitt 2008 through 2015
Rutgers 2010-2016
Oklahoma 2013 and 2015
BYU 2010-2013
Nevada in 2009
BC through 2010


I already had five tier-2 opponents scheduled. Since one of the three tier-3s was Nevada, I decided to add a fourth tier-1 rather than a fourth tier-3, which meant I needed one home and one road tier-1 opponent. Since I needed two tier-1s for the 2010 season anyway, that would work out well. The trouble was spacing. I had Michigan up front, as usual, but SC wasn't until October 17th. Although I could go to December 5th if I wanted, most top-flight opponents would be locked into a potential conference championship game on that weekend.

My first call was to Knoxville, and since the Vols are always looking for opportunities to play us, we agreed we'd play in Knoxville on October 31st. I put the bye week on October 24th, and while that's a pretty time of year in SB, I felt we needed the week off between two kick-ass opponents. I put Navy in the November 7th slot. I didn't want to put BC in the October 10th position, since that would make it a trap game. So I called Washington, and offered them an additional home-and-home in 2018 and 2020 if they would be willing to move their game to the 10th. They agreed, and BC moved in to the slot on the 3rd.

Now I needed my tier-1 for November 21st. Trouble is, a lot of top teams are usually playing "rivalry games" that weekend. But the Big XII usually has their big games on or around Thanksgiving, so I made a quick call to Lincoln. The Huskers were very willing to get on the slate.

S05 Nevada (3)
S12 @ Michigan (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 BC (2)
O10 Washington (2)
O17 Southern Cal (1)
O24 off week
O31 @ Tennessee (1)
N07 Navy (3)
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Nebraska (1)
N28 @ Stanford (3)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
1 MW, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 3 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 BE, 1 BigXII


The good news was thanks to my setup for 2009, I had the proper tier balance and home/road balance all set. All I had to do now was arrange them as intelligently as I could. I called West Lafayette and told them I wanted to move the game to September 25th, and they had no problem with that. That enabled me to put Rutgers on the 4th and Michigan on the 11th. So far so good.

We'd traditionally played Tennessee in November, so the 6th seemed like a good date. That meant we'd be going to Nebraska in October, and the 16th looked like it would give us good spacing. I put the bye on October 30th and the trip to BC on October 2nd. Stanford would come to town on the 23rd, and BYU on November 20th -- a dreaded blah-opponent-bad-weather game, but it had to go somewhere. That left the Navy game at the Meadowlands on the 13th.

S04 Rutgers (3)
S11 Michigan (1)
S18 @ Michigan State (2)
S25 Purdue (2)
O02 @ BC (2)
O09 Pittsburgh (2)
O16 @ Nebraska (1)
O23 Stanford (3)
O30 off week
N06 Tennessee (1)
N13 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N20 BYU (3)
N27 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
2 BE, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 MW


Now I had some flexibility. I only had eight games scheduled, and to get to my 4-4-4 model, I needed two tier-1s (home-away split), a tier-2, and a tier-3. It was time to get that third BE team on the schedule, so I signed a four-year home-and-home contract with West Virginia, and since my tier-2s were already on a 1-2 home-road split, I started the contract in South Bend.

Stanford was off the schedule, and I was in no rush to pick them up again. This created an end-of-year opening, which I hoped I could use for an attractive road game. But again, a lot of the premier teams would be tied up with conference championships.

Time to slot. SC is almost always the third Saturday in October when we're in SB, but I wanted a better flow, so they went on the 22nd. Rutgers was a good opening warmup; they went to September 3rd. Michigan and MSU went in their usual slots. This gave me a prime slot on October 1st for a tier-1 home game. I first thought of Texas, but with Oklahoma coming on the schedule in 2013, I wanted some more variety. We already had three Integer games, so Ohio State was out. So with Nick Saban running his mouth, I figured I'd give him what he wanted -- a home-and-home between the Fighting Irish and the Crimison Tide. BYU on the 8th and Purdue on the 15th gave us a nice run-up to Southern Cal, and the top part of the schedule was set.

Now for the bottom half, and back to my tier-1 list for a team possibly looking for a late-season home game. Late November on the road? I was thinking warm. I was thinking quality. I was thinking Hurricanes, who, seeing a chance to grab some attention from Florida/FSU that day, agreed to play on the 26th in Dolphin Stadium.

This, however, left me looking for a home game on November 12th or 19th. Even though I only had three tier-4 teams on the schedule, there was no way I was going to create a crap game in South Bend in November. So I went off the usual beaten path and invited Clemson. Granted, this put two home games during the crappy weather, but I was hoping the fact they were interesting opponents would put butts in the seats.

S03 Rutgers (3)
S10 @ Michigan (1)
S17 Michigan State (2)
S24 @ Pittsburgh (2)
O01 Alabama (1)
O08 @ BYU (3)
O15 @ Purdue (2)
O22 Southern Cal (1)
O29 Navy (3)
N05 off week
N12 Clemson (2)
N19 WVU (2)
N26 @ Miami (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 MW, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 ACC


No crashes yet. Now I had even more flexibility, because Michigan and Michigan State had rolled off. I let the Wolverines go play with themselves, and told MSU we'd be taking a three-year break and sometimes interspersing them with other Integer teams. They were amenable.

I only needed two games this year, one of which would be a tier-1. But flow would be a major concern. With the Navy game in Dublin to start the year, I put the off week on September 8th to avoid any jet lag issues. With Navy and an off week to start, I needed a home powerhouse. Miami was due to come to South Bend, but I figured I'd go with a new face. With Oklahoma coming on the schedule the next year, the Big XII was out, so I went back to the SEC and a team that had expressed interest in a game, Georgia.

Now we were cooking. Pitt was already scheduled for the 22nd, so I wanted to go on the road the next week. Rutgers at the Meadowlands fit the bill, and since I'd heard October in West Virginia was very pretty, their trip came up next. October 13th is prime fall color season in South Bend, so what would be better than a home contest with the Hurricanes? Purdue and BYU following them up gave us a nice little homestand during the good-weather time.

Now November was on the screen. To keep the proper spacing, we gave Bama their return game on November 3rd. I put Clemson off a year for their return game and invited Cal for a home-and-home. With the trip to SC looming and the lack of an off week virtually all season, I dipped into the tier-3 bucket and brought Army in for a one-off home game.

S01 vs. Navy (Dublin) (3)
S08 off week
S15 Georgia (1)
S22 Pittsburgh (2)
S29 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
O06 @ WVU (2)
O13 Miami (1)
O20 BYU (3)
O27 Purdue (2)
N03 @ Alabama (1)
N10 Cal (2)
N17 Army (3)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-3-2
2 IND, 2 SEC, 3 BE, 1 ACC, 1 MW, 1 B10, 2 Pac10


Arizona State and Oklahoma were coming on board. Mike-ND's site didn't mention where the Oklahoma series would start, so that gave me some wiggle room. But I had current contracts going for 12 teams -- a 3-6-3 tier split, and a 2-1 home/road split for the tier-1s (6-6 overall), assuming I started Oklahoma in South Bend. The calendar was my friend -- I could go as early as August 31st and as late as November 30th for games, giving me two bye weeks if I wanted them.

Started with the easy ones. Rutgers was home, so they went on the 31st. Since I wanted to follow up with a powerhouse, Oklahoma would come to town the next week. Road trips to Purdue and BYU followed. WVU at home, following by the scheduled date vs. ASU and an off week, and our first half was set.

Cal was an obvious choice for the end-of-year trip, and we'd go to Georgia on November 16th, but I didn't want the end of the year to be too road-heavy. So I put Clemson off one more year. With a second off week on November 23rd, I needed an opponent for November 2nd. So I signed Vanderbilt to a two-for-one.

A31 Rutgers (3)
S07 Oklahoma (1)
S14 @ Purdue (2)
S21 @ BYU (3)
S28 WVU (2)
O05 Arizona State (2)
O12 off week
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 Navy (3)
N02 Vanderbilt (3)
N09 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N16 @ Georgia (1)
N23 off week
N30 @ Cal (2)

tiers: 3-5-4
location: 6-5-0
3 BE, 1 BigXII, 1 B10, 1 MW, 3 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 SEC


This was shaping up as a year I could clear some of the remaining contracts and start some new ones. Since we were already playing Rutgers on the east coast, the Navy agreed to play in San Diego, which I scheduled for November 15th. We'd open with Rutgers in the Meadowlands. I put Purdue on the 20th, and our long-owed trip to Clemson on the 27th. We'd close out the West Virginia contract in Morgantown on the 11th.

The problem here, though, was I already had six road or neutral-site games, and I still needed at least three tier-1 teams to get back to the 4-4-4 model. September 13th was begging for a quality game, so I got on the phone to Madison and signed up Wisconsin. October 4th was another prime candidate, and Texas would come calling. Finally on November 1st, we'd get Florida State. All three would involve at least one home and one road game, with possibly a neutral-site game mixed in.

S06 @ Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S13 Wisconsin (1)
S20 Purdue (2)
S27 @ Clemson (2)
O04 Texas (1)
O11 Vanderbilt (3)
O18 @ WVU (2)
O25 @ Arizona State (2)
N01 Florida State (1)
N08 Pittsburgh (2)
N15 @ Navy (San Diego) (3)
N22 off week
N29 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 2 B10, 2 ACC, 1 BigXII, 1 SEC, 2 Pac10, 1 IND


Now I had some contracts I had to start filling. Oklahoma was already set for 2015, so I couldn't move that, and I had to give one other of my tier-1s their return game. I decided to make it Wisconsin since we already had Oklahoma on the slate representing the BigXII powers. I also needed another tier-1 for a late-season contest at home, and I had my age-old find-someone-for-the-last-game problem. In what is perhaps a deus-ex-machina solution, I convinced FSU to move their game with Florida up a week and host us on the 28th. I was short a tier-2 for home games, and I was short a BE team, so Louisville got a four-year home-and-home. The tier-3 I rounded out with a two-for-one against Kansas.

S05 Rutgers (3)
S12 @ Oklahoma (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 @ Wisconsin (1)
O10 Kansas (3)
O17 @ Vanderbilt (3)
O24 Southern Cal (1)
O31 Navy (3)
N07 off
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Louisville (2)
N28 @ Florida State (1)

tiers: 4-3-2
l: 4-6-0
3 BE, 2 BigXII, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 1 ACC


2016 was setting up nicely -- I had six road/neutral games under contract with two of each tier. Now I needed corresponding home games. Rutgers was at the Meadowlands, as usual, so I needed a more exotic setting for Navy. They agreed to play in Jacksonville.

With the game at Texas, I had all my tier-1 contracts fulfilled, so it was time for two new ones. I looked over the list and figured it was time to get Penn State back on the schedule. UCLA hadn't been on board in a while, so they made a mid-October trip.

I was a Big East team short, and while I knew I still had one more Rutgers game, the timing was good for the USF home-and-home, so that started this year. That left me with one home games with a tier-2 to round it off, so dipped into the SEC and found Arkansas.

S03 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S10 Penn State (1)
S17 Purdue (2)
S24 @ Michigan State (2)
O01 @ Texas (1)
O08 South Florida (3)
O15 @ Louisville (2)
O22 UCLA (1)
O29 week off
N05 vs. Navy (Jacksonville) (3)
N12 Kansas (3)
N19 Arkansas (2)
N26 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 Ind, 1 SEC


Purdue's contract was up, so I gave them a two-year break to rotate in Iowa. Filling out the existing contracts, I had a pretty good mix. With Rutgers off, I needed a third BE team, so UConn got their home-and-neutral starting in Gillette Stadium.

That left me searching for home games against a tier-2 and a tier-1. We didn't have anyone in the ACC, so Virginia got a home-and-home for now and 2019. The SEC needed representation, so LSU got the same.

S02 @ Kansas (3)
S09 LSU (1)
S16 Virginia (2)
S23 Iowa (2)
S30 @ UCLA (1)
O07 week off
O17 @ UConn (Gillette) (3)
O21 Southern Cal (1)
O28 Michigan State (2)
N04 Navy (3)
N11 Louisville (2)
N18 @ Penn State (1)
N25 vs. USF (Citrus Bowl) (3)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 Pac10, 1 BigXII, 1 Ind, 1 ACC, 1 SEC


Once again, I had all my road games set, so I needed a bunch of home games -- two 1s, two 2s, and a 3. Again, I was a BE team short, so Cincinnati got their shot as the home 3. It had been a while since Miami had appeared, and I was going to need a warm-weather closer next year, so they signed up for a two-year deal. Ohio State was another tier-1 that hadn't appeared yet, so they would be coming to town on the 29th. With no BigXII and lower Pac10 representation, I got two of their tier-2s for home games in Colorado and Washington, who I owed anyway.

S01 UConn (3)
S08 @ LSU (1)
S15 Colorado (2)
S22 @ Iowa (2)
S29 Ohio State (1)
O06 Cincinnati (3)
O13 @ Louisville (2)
O20 @ Michigan State (2)
O27 Miami (1)
N03 week off
N10 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N17 Washington (2)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 6-5-1
3 BE, 1 SEC, 3 B10, 1 IND, 2 Pac10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII


The Louisville contract was up, but with the addition of Syracuse replacing UConn, I had officially rotated through all the BE teams, meaning I could sign Pittsburgh to another 10-year home-and-home. Purdue came back after the Iowa interlude, but I chose to swap out Michigan State for two years in favor of Minnesota. Alabama and Nebraska were my new tier-1s.

Edit: And it seems I went a little overboard, forgetting to put the second off week in there and playing five tier-1 teams. So I took Alabama out and replaced it with a week off.

A31 Syracuse (3)
S07 @ Ohio State (1)
S14 Purdue (2)
S21 @ Virginia (2)
S28 off week
O05 Minnesota (2)
O12 @ Colorado (2)
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 off week
N02 Navy (3)
N09 Nebraska (1)
N16 @ Cincinnati (3)
N23 Pittsburgh (2)
N30 @ Miami (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 ACC, 2 BigXII, 1 Pac10, 1 IND

That's 11 seasons worth of games. Once I got going, I were able to accommodate the 4-4-4 model plus play three Big East teams every year. Granted, I've accumulated a couple of road IOUs here -- in 2020, SC and Navy and Purdue will be on the road, plus we'll owe Syracuse, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Pitt and Nebraska return games. But I had big IOUs along this road before, and I always was able to pay them out with the occasional six-home-game season and by spacing things out carefully.

Provided the ridiculous 7-4-1 model is abandoned and ND is willing to show some flexibility, I think it can be done. And it should be done.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Possible Early Returns

With the impending release of the lottery results this week, ND also released a statement on the tix lottery yesterday.

Lots of "good news" for Irish fans, including promised increased availability for lottery participants overall, which is a good thing.

Lost in the kerfluffle of how demands for certain games ranked, however, was a brief mention of refunds:

Beginning July 16, the Notre Dame ticket office expects to mail refunds worth more than $8.6 million to unsuccessful lottery participants (the second-highest total in history, compared with refunds of $11.7 million a year ago).

On its face, this supports the theme of the release that more people got tickets than last year -- again, a good thing. But let's take a look at the math.

ND has the same number of games as last season, has the same home/away split as last season, received pretty close to (if not exactly) the same number of road game tickets as last season, and didn't add any seats to ND Stadium between last season and this.

This means, statistically speaking, the number of overall tickets available was the same in both 2006 and 2007. Assuming 5,000 seats for each road game (even though we sometimes get only 4,000) and 32,000 for each home game, that's 249,000 tickets going through this process (which I mention for the sake of completeness since the specific overall number isn't relevant to the discussion).

All of the games reached "sellout status", meaning the same number of tickets were won this season as were last. Given this equation...

[tickets won] + [tickets refunded] = total demand

...and knowing [tickets won] is the same for 2006 and 2007, one should be able to determine the overall demand change between seasons by looking at the number of tickets that were lost this season versus last. For the sake of simplicity, I'm assigning the ND home ticket price for all lost games, realizing some of the losses were for road contests that might have different prices.

$11,700,000 in refunds / $58 per ticket = 201,724 tickets in 2006

$8,600,000 in refunds / $62 per ticket = 138,710 tickets in 2007

Difference: 63,014 fewer tickets requested, a 31 percent drop from last year.

Yes, the prospects for ND football are slightly less "juicy" this season than last. There's no Brady Quinn Heisman Watch, and not a lot of people have ND in the National Championship race. So it's understandable people might not take the extra step to get to South Bend this year if there are other pressing things in their lives going on.

But I think it has a lot more to do with the compelling nature (or lack thereof) of the games in question. Instead of home contests against Michigan and Penn State, ND has three snorers in a row in November, including a glorified scrimmage against Duke. I'm anxious to see what kind of demand there was for those games, assuming the statistics are released.

The proponents of the 8-4-1 scheduling concept should take note of this precipitous fall in demand for this year. As the BGS guys so comprehensively covered it here, that model requires multiple body-bag games with teams that won't demand a return date in any contracts. In other words, plenty of Dukes, MAC squads, or other non-BCS-level competition. And as ND fans showed this season, they're not going to get their wallets out for crappy slates or non-compelling "neutral site" (in location only) contests.

I think the demand this year was rescued by grudge matches against SC and BC in South Bend, and 8-4-1 doesn't give you that every year -- heck, probably most years. If ND is going to have three or four compelling games every year, they're going to have to be willing to go on the road, just as they've always done.

Saying "we don't know how good we'll be in 2015" as justification for putting together weak slates ignores the obvious answer: keep hiring quality coaches who will recruit quality players, and ND should be just fine in 2015 and beyond, and capable of playing decent schedules.

The gravy train ain't gonna run for Duke and Ball State, that's for sure.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Buckets of Ducats

It's the beginning of July, and like the swallows returning to Capistrano, complaints about ND's ticket policies return to the various message boards. I had a couple thoughts on the ways ND could handle their various constituencies and ticket policies in general, which I share with you in the interest of fostering discussion.

Embrace Technology

Putting on my Captain Obvious cape for a moment, Notre Dame must join the rest of humanity in the world of portable bar code readers.

At just about every sporting or concert event I've attended in the last five years, be it at Comiskular, PNC, the Rosemont Theater, Heinz Field, the Louisiana Superdome, wherever, I'm greeted by a ticket-taker holding a PDA on steroids in his or her hand. A quick laser swipe over my ticket, sometimes itself merely a sheet of paper printed on my inkjet at home, and I'm good to go.

Ah, but not at Notre Dame Stadium or the Joyce Center. There, my cardboard ticket is still ripped asunder or paper-punched. This throwback to simpler times, while quaint, impedes ND's progress towards not only a more efficient ingress to its events but also better use of data mining to determine how tickets are being used and all the associated benefits of having that knowledge.

It's difficult to enjoy the 21st century when you still have not embraced the 20th. I want to hear those beeps at every arena/stadium entrance.

Save the Trees

Most of the people who end up with Notre Dame tickets on a consistent yearly basis belong to relatively static groups:

  • Students
  • Faculty / Staff
  • Alumni
  • Season-ticket holders
  • University donors

The first two groups already are required to carry a specific identification card indicating their membership in their group. Why not create ID cards for the other two? It's not like someone would stop being an alumnus of the school, and while there's no guarantee someone would retain season tickets or continue to donate to Notre Dame at large levels, there usually isn't a tremendous amount of movement into or out of the group.

Members of those groups would receive bar-coded ID cards corresponding to their typical number of seats for a given event. A season-ticket holder, for example, with four seats would have four cards, each with his or her name on it, which would be used every year for entrance to the stadium. An alumnus would have two or whatever max number of seats he or she could win in the lottery for a given game. Students would use their ID's, while faculty and staff could use ID's plus cards for whatever other ticket(s) they were entitled to. The functionality would exist for card owners to convert their tickets into regular paper versions in specific cases, and lost cards could be replaced just as any other identification cards are.

The card(s) would be read at the stadium gate to indicate the owner had used that ticket for that event. Ushers would be armed with the same bar code reader to check cards in the event they need to determine if a person is in the right seat. In the event the ticket holder needed to exchange the card usage for a paper ticket or wanted to not use his or her ticket to that game, that could be facilitated by contacting the ND ticket office, much the same way that people arrange for the sale of unused tickets today.

I believe this approach can save the school some money. Tickets would be assigned to the cardholder's accounts. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars printing the same tickets for the same people every year on expensive cardstock, ND could print one page on a sheet of regular paper telling the ticket holder where his or her specific seats are for that game. In the case of season ticket holders, this would be moot since they have the same seats every time.

Some paper tickets would still be required, particularly for University guests or the visting team's allocation, but the costs of printing and shipping the tickets would be greatly reduced.

Students of the Games

Right now, students have to track full ticket books and show them at each game. Eliminating the books and tying the tickets to their ID simplifies things greatly.

For non-football events, it also makes the system more flexible. If a student decides at the last-minute to attend a basketball game, for example, they can go to a website on ND's network and purchase a seat. The ticket is added to their account, and instead of having to track down or pick up a piece of cardstock, they simply get their ID scanned at the Joyce Center. If another student cannot attend a given game, they can make their ticket available not only to other students but also to walk-up general admission traffic, and the ticket office will know about it in real time. The students could also "trade" tickets for games directly, eliminating the ticket office middleman. This kind of schedule flexibility might improve student attendance at basketball games.

The same would be true for faculty and staff. They could use their ID plus whatever additional card(s) they're entitled to. If they can't make a game or want to attend a game on a whim, the way is smoothed for them to do so.

Scalpers Beware

This system will also help curtail the scalping market, putting more at-cost tickets into the hands of Notre Dame alumni and fans.

A member of a card-holding group is not about to trust a complete stranger with their ticket cards, and the hassles associated with shipping cards around the country makes such a practice undesirable. Therefore, people are less likely to put in for games they or someone they know well will not be using themselves, leaving more available for people who do want to attend the games.

While it would be possible for card owners to convert their seats into regular tickets, they would have to go through the ticket office to do so. If a card owner used this process an excessive number of times, it would give the ticket office the sufficient red flag to check out how the seats were being used. It would also give ushers a list of tickets that had been converted from cardholder to paper, giving them the opportunity to see how those seats were being used. If visiting fans were turning up in those seats every week....

There is no perfect solution to the perceived problems of ND's ticket distribution system. But I have to think something like this would work better than trying to price the less rabid folks out of the market via PSL's, which seems to be the plan du jour. ND needs to use the existing technology to make its ticket processes more efficient before they try beating their constituencies over the head with price increases.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Be the Boy Scout

In a little more than 48 hours, Billy Donovan has gone from a man perfectly content to be in Gainesville to a man perfectly content to be in Orlando, or so a press conference at 11am EDT today will tell us. Such is the speed at which the coaching carousel can move. Life, indeed, comes at you fast.

In this Age of Quickness, preparedness becomes paramount. And if the reports coming out of Gainesville are accurate, Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley isn't letting the grass grow under his feet. Reportedly, he's already asked permission to speak to Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant, a former Donovan assistant, about the job opening, an opening at which Grant is expected to jump with both feet.

This is why I (and others on the NDN boards) harp on the importance of an athletic director being prepared in areas which fall under his purview, such as succession planning. Here you have one of the most currently high-profile basketball programs with a job opening, and thanks to the quick thinking and decisiveness of its school's responsible party, there won't be an opportunity for the jackals to get their jollies. Contrast that with the last two job openings --football and baseball -- at Notre Dame. It's not pretty.

Sure, Grant could turn down the offer, or the reports might be off and Foley could decide to go in another direction. Nothing's done until the signature is on the dotted line.

Grant's also a risky choice. VCU had a great year, to be sure, and 10 years under Donovan as an assistant for the Gators means he's familiar with how things work there. But he's only been the lead dog for one season, and Virginia Commonwealth ain't in the SEC. Matt Doherty showed what can happen when a long-time assistant tries to jump too far too fast, and given how Florida has improved from the time Donovan took the job until today, the jump Grant would attempt is much larger than the one his predecessor made from Marshall way back when. Florida wouldn't have been criticized for looking for a high-profile coach to continue the momentum of the program, and given how much talent is moving on this off-season, Grant will have to get up to speed very quickly.

But Foley has shown an M.O. of confidence and preparedness that, frankly, I envy. Perhaps if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympic bid in 2009 and Kevin White's role with their committee drastically expands in scope, Fr. Jenkins should consider a call down to Gainesville.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Show 'Em How It's Done

This seems to be the Year of the Demotion for Division I coaches ... lots of guys jumping to a lower-tier job before the (inevitable?) push. One-time wunderkind Steve Alford beat feet for New Mexico. Joe Scott bailed out of Princeton to UDenver. And in the highest profile cannonball, Tubby Smith left the Bluegrass of Kentucky for the blue fingers and toes of Minne-soda, eh?

It's doubtful any of these moves will affect ND directly, unless the unleashed dominoes result in an assistant coach moving up in the world. But I found the whole Tubby situation to be very interesting, and possibly educational to the folks in South Bend. While Minnesota is hardly ND when it comes to exposure and leverage, MN athletic director (and 1967 ND grad) Joel Maturi acted in an incredibly decisive and efficient manner in getting rid of an underperforming coach and going after the highest profile candidate he could. As a result, he landed perhaps a bigger fish than his constituents could have expected and showed himself to be a quality candidate for a similar position at ND.

Maturi's been a busy man this year, replacing both his football coach and men's basketball coaches. But both replacements were handled with exquisite precision. When Glen Mason's team lost its bowl game in a terrible performance, showing a distinct lack of preparedness, the already-embattled coach was given his walking papers immediately, even though the team had won three of its last four games to get to that bowl game, and Maturi had a replacement within two weeks. When Dan Monson's squad started out 2-5, Maturi said the program was "not in the position we want it to be in" and asked for (and got) Monson's resignation, leaving him free to conduct an exhaustive (and quiet) search that yielded Smith.

That someone with a Notre Dame pedigree could take such forceful action makes me wonder why the people who are actually on campus can't do the same in some cases. Think about the last two coaching searches under the Dome, with the charlie foxtrots of Urban Meyer and Pat Casey. Where would ND be in football had Kevin White, in the aftermath of the horrific performance of Bob Davie's squad in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, done what his gut should have told him needed to be done and fired Davie outright and immediately? At the very least, would the University's public image have taken the beating it did so many times in the last three years? I think not. And it's frustrating to still be waiting on renovations to the Joyce Center while watching Maturi put together a plan for a $288 million football stadium for a school that hasn't been competitive in football in my lifetime.

There's a Notre Dame alumnus showing us how the job should be done 500 miles west of where he should be doing it. Maybe that should be ND's next search.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Smell the glove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Windfall Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 05, 2007

If you build it...

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And so it begins

This article by Gary Parrish is only the tip of the public relations nightmare Notre Dame has unleashed upon itself, yet again.

This is the kind of publicity that is going to give recruiting a kick in the fruitstand, no matter who is coaching here. And for my gridiron-focused readers, rest assured it won't stop with basketball.

For all of the people trumpeting how "he broke the law" and all that, recognize the reality that a blunt in a car is not considered to be a big deal by most people. How players and coaches will interpret this is Notre Dame let a kid who had never been in any kind of trouble dangle in the wind for almost a month and then suspended him for a semester for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal.

Players may not envision themselves as using marijuana, but I'm quite sure they can envision themselves doing relatively harmless things that aren't any big deal. Now Notre Dame has shown they react to those things with very harsh suspensions, no matter how good a person you've been otherwise. Not exactly the most positive environment, especially for 17-year-old kids who are thinking about both their academic and playing futures.

And what do you think if you're Mike Brey? Based on what ND has told you, you've given this kid hope he'd remain in school for the semester. Now not only did ND yank the rug out from under you, they did it an hour before you were supposed to leave for a road trip, leaving you no time to be with a player in your program desperately in need of counsel and advice. Between the renovation delays and now this, I'm amazed he hasn't resigned.

(and for those of you who clap at that possibility, remember other coaching candidates are watching this stuff very carefully, and if you think they'll want to cast their lot with an administration that does this kind of crap for any amount of money, you're crazy)

This has nothing to do with coddling athletes and everything to do with having, as Parrish put it, common sense. This has nothing to do with teaching, which is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about, and everything to do with image, which is what Notre Dame obviously remains obsessed with.

And it needs to be fixed, quickly and publicly, before it does real and permanent damage.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Come Sweet Cash, Indeed

Like others, I was excited to hear ND was finally going to create a more college-y atmosphere in the areas immediately surrounding campus. In addition to improving town-gown relations, it represented an opportunity to create stability in the Northeast Neighborhood.

I read with interest the plan to develop Eddy Street Commons, a mixed-use area with 85,000 square feet of retail space along with townhouses, condominiums, and a hotel. The location proximate to ND stadium made this development, to me, very attractive. My wife and I discussed trying to get one of the residential slots in a combination usage/investment plan. A chance to get new construction close to campus in a thriving area? With all due respect to those mortgage guys, THAT is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth.

But I should have known better than to believe this project would go off without a hitch, because once again, Notre Dame has proven it can't allow a penny to pass near it without trying to squeeze every last hair follicle from Lincoln's head.

According to some folks in town and on campus, the development is on hold right now because a couple members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees have decided ND should make a certain profit on the sale of the land on which this development will occur. The price they seek, according to these folks, is "unrealistic for the South Bend marketplace". If the project went through for the sale price these Trustees want, the rents required to cover costs would be outside the range that can usually be secured in that area. As a result, the project isn't going anywhere right now and won't until the price is more reasonable.

In other words, S.O.S. from the C.S.C., leaving us all S.O.L.

It's hard to believe a school with a $4.5 billion (thanks for the corrections yesterday, guys) endowment that just upped the donation levels for booster programs and regained its spot as the top money-making athletic department in the universe can't let a project that will better both the community and the campus proceed because they're not wringing every last nickel out of the deal.

But as the commercials say, this is Notre Dame, and the vision of Ebeneezer Scrooge in a leather football helmet has been de rigeur there for decades. And while the already-rich hold out for what is due Caesar, the properties sit abandoned and useless to everyone and the development project slips further and further down the calendar.

If I live to be a thousand years old, I won't understand how ND find so many ways to waste its money, all while crying poor. If it's not postponements of the JC renovations or wild tuition increases or building cost overruns or construction budget foul-ups or poor project planning, it's a dozen other things.

These are the kinds of stupid things I was hoping Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves would have fixed by now. Apparently, they're still a little busy figuring out the Vagina Monologues while the BOT holds out its change purse.

Oh well. Guess we'll look in Granger.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part I: Basketball School

Notre Dame is a basketball school.

Or at least it used to be.

Alumni and fans of recent vintage probably have a hard time believing that, but it's true. I spent three years of my life proving it.

But history only goes so far, and as the arguments on the Pit the last couple of months have shown, a lot of fans of the basketball program have wandered away over the years since the Fighting Irish were last consistent winners. Whether it was because of never regaining interest after the debacle of the 1990s, or the lack of consistent success since then, the flower of hoops fandom is not flourishing and lacks the strong roots it once had.

There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I'll address in the coming days, but the reason I will fight to my dying breath is the excuse that "we're a football school", which somehow excuses a lack of enthusiasm for basketball on Notre Dame's campus.

I would hope Florida's victory last season in the NCAA tournament would put that lame rationalization to rest. The most football-crazy school in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation won the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and no one cried they couldn't get to games because "we're a football school". That they are now the first school to hold the men's hoops and football titles simultaneously is proof positive success in one area does not preclude success in the other.

In short, "football school" is the result of lazy thinking and half-assed analysis.

In fact, let's take a look at the latest AP polls for hardwood and gridiron and see if we can find some overlap:

Florida (#1 football, #2 basketball)
Ohio State (#2 football, #5 basketball)
LSU (#3 football, #13 basketball)
Wisconsin (#7 football, #3 basketball)
West Virginia (#10 football, #21 basketball)
Texas (#13 football, #25 basketball)
Notre Dame (#17 football, #21 basketball)

And this doesn't count teams that received votes in the hoops poll like USC (#4 football) and Arkansas (#15 football) or teams that received votes in the football poll like Texas A&M (#8 basketball) or even also-rans in both polls like Maryland.

Over a quarter of the poll. That's a significant overlap.

Granted, there are some things ND can't do. For example, all of the other schools on the overlap list are state institutions (some in more ways than one). They have large student bodies and a large alumni base within a reasonable drive. Therefore, it's possible for them to show strong support for midweek games without having to depend on non-alumni fans. There's nothing ND can do about that (but then again, ND has always had that disadvantage, and was able to overcome it before).

But the other thing those schools are doing is supporting their programs with money as well as bodies, and God knows ND and its $3.4 billion endowment can do plenty about that.

The facilities list we had thumbtacked on The Pit prior to the renovation announcements featured most of those schools prominently. In the lead by far is Florida, which has spent $22.5 million in the past 10 years on their basketball facilities. Ohio State and Wisconsin both play in state-of-the-art facilities less than 10 years old. Texas built a new practice facility and renovated their arena in the last five years. LSU has had renovation projects going on for the last three seasons. West Virginia is in the final stages of a capital plan to completely revamp their hoops offerings.

Each of those schools made the decision to have a championship-level basketball program, and each of those school put their money where their mouths are.

ND has announced the renovations project, and that's certainly good. But we're still sitting on the damn funding, and there's still no release of concrete plans months after the project was allegedly kicked off.

And now, we have rumors flying around of a new hockey rink. If (and it's a big "if") that results in the basketball programs getting room in the North Dome for the practice facilities they still need, it's palatable. Not arousing, but palatable. But trust me, gentle readers, nothing is going to push me over the edge faster than a cost-center sport with no tradition getting a fully-funded state-of-the-art arena while a profit-center sport still goes begging.

Because that will lead to some very awkward questions I don't think anyone on Juniper Road is prepared to answer.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

70-100 Percent Wrong

Jason Kelly takes up the cause of the JC upgrades today, and as usual, did a bang-up job. He notes the lack of initiative taken by the ND administration in cases of athletic infrastructure needs, illustrated by things like the use of Fiesta Bowl funding (broken out in a previous blog entry here), taking them to task for the financial brinksmanship that seems to be the rule of the road on the east side of Juniper.

The details from Kelly's column are the best evidence yet that the University's 70-100 fundraising commitment is a poor strategy for operating an institute of higher learning in the 21st Century, particularly an institution as financially strong as Notre Dame. The school's athletic programs are cast in a poor light by the miserly attitudes of its administrative leaders, which can have both short- and long-term deleterious effects.

For those unfamiliar with the rule, Notre Dame's 70-100 funding philosophy says no physical plant project can begin until 70 percent of its budgeted cost is in hand via donation and 100 percent of its cost is pledged. For example, if Notre Dame is to spend $25 million on a Joyce Center basketball court upgrade, the project cannot begin until donors have pledged the full $25 million and Notre Dame has received $17.5 million of those promised funds. This means even if the project has $24.9 million promised to it, nothing is going to happen until that last $100,000 is accounted for.

For a school that boasts one of the largest endowments in the world and, thanks to wunderkind Scott Malpass, typically receives one of the best annual returns on investment for that endowment, their reluctance to engage in a much-needed improvement over such a relatively paltry sum is embarassing to me as an alumnus.

According to quotes from Kevin White in Kelly's column, Notre Dame is less than two million dollars short of the needed total for the Joyce Center upgrades. The same school that probably earned in the neighborhood of $300,000 this Spring in interest on its football ticket lottery proceeds is suddenly rooting through the pockets of its laundry in search of forgotten bills to make the JC project go. Never mind that the basketball teams pay for themselves and also return some money to the school coffers ... income that could go up significantly if the teams' performances improve. No risk allowed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dome, Jeff Jackson and his top-five hockey squad await the quality rink that was promised to the coach when he arrived in South Bend two years ago. (Don't hold your breath, Jeff; Mike Brey's been waiting seven and Muffet McGraw longer than that.) That project, according to reports, will run $15 million, and might have an effect on hoops as well, as there's talk of using the other half of the north dome for eagerly-awaited practice facilities for both the men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams. But they, too, must obey the 70-100 directive.

Faint heart never won fair lady. And weak commitment never won basketball games.

I was really jazzed up when the announcement for the JC project was made, and even more encouraged when it was made clear ND wasn't going to ignore the need for things on the practice side. But here we are, two months later, and we're still at Square One. I wasn't expecting the bleachers to be torn out by now, but I was expecting some kind of progress towards the end result. Instead, ND is wringing its hands over an endowment rounding error.

This isn't a community college here, kids. I don't want to read articles canonizing Malpass right next to whining about donation schedules. ND is supposed to be a leader, so let's get to it.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Son of Notre Dame Indeed

Book reviews are off my usual beaten path, but my mantra has always been to pass info on to folks when I have it. So when I encounter an excellent book, I tend not to keep quiet, which is what leads me to recommend A Son of Notre Dame: My Life in Baseball, the FBI and Radio by James Gillis.

Gillis was graduated from Notre Dame in 1951. He was an exceptional baseball player from California, and had two academic stops before war and fate intervened to send him to in South Bend and Jake Kline. Deciding not to make a pro career after one season as baseball player with the Philadelphia Phillies, Gillis distinguished himself as an officer in the FBI before getting into broadcasting. His success in sports marketing and chartiable work made him the recipient of Notre Dame's Harvey G. Foster award in 2003 ... a special day for Gillis, as Harvey Foster had been his supervisor in the FBI.

But the best way I would describe Mr. Gillis is a man who was ahead of his time. In a society where lots of men spent their entire working lives in the same career, Mr. Gillis moved between baseball, law enforcement, broadcasting, and philanthropy as deftly as he handled quick throws across the infield. He utilized his Notre Dame education whenever and however he could to the benefit of his family and his fellow human beings. Along the way, he got the opportunity to meet people like J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Kennedy, Earl Warren, James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Dick Enberg, and many others.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the book when I got it. Mike Frank's much more of a baseball guy than I am, and while I knew of Mr. Gillis from his recent award, I didn't believe I was the right guy to review it. But that all changed once I got into it. Starting with his difficult childhood and family life, moving through his Notre Dame career and on to his post-graduate exploits, Gillis keeps the story moving and the reader entertained. His descriptions of work on FBI cases that were very much in the public eye gives depth to stories one would previously only have read in newspapers. The struggles to get his media company off the ground leave you rooting for him to succeed, even though you probably already guessed he would.

In fact, the only complaint I have about the book is he didn't talk about his charitable work enough. When the story comes to the Foster Award ceremony, you're almost taken by surprise because you've forgotten that in addition to a colorful professional life, Gillis has always been about helping others, both within the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles and without.

I can't recommend this book enough. Although it's not available at the Bookstore (a hassle with which I can certainly identify), I'm investigating other avenues. The proceeds for the book are going to fund the Gillis' ND baseball scholarship they've established.

For those of you headed to campus for UCLA, Mr. Gillis will be having a book signing on Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st at the Eck Center. I encourage you to take the opportunity to meet a fine Notre Dame man and learn about an interesting life led in the spirit of the best of the school's teachings.

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