Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's About Common Sense

If you'll excuse me one (hopefully) final post on the current rule enforcements at ND, I'd like to share some prose with you. As much as I'd like to take credit, it comes courtesy of NDN poster Irish Apache. Posts come and go, but blog entries are forever, and I felt this deserved a wider and more permanent audience.

In September of 2000, I sat in the auditorium of the New York City Police Academy with about 500 other fresh faced rookie cops. After seven and a half months of training, we were only about three weeks from graduating.

The class would be hitting the streets at which time, undoubtedly, the precinct commanders would utilize these fledgling officers to generate a large portion of their measurable activity. This has been the way of things for some time in the NYPD -- new officers are given high demands for summonses and arrests because it is both part of their training and their probationary status dictates increased compliance with the general directives of their supervisors. Precinct Commanders love rookie cops. By leaning on them to churn out summonses and arrests, a Commanding Officer can make himself look good in the eyes of the Department hierarchy.

It was this general policy that was the topic of a stirring lecture in that auditorium eight years ago. However, the presentation was not delivered by the Police Academy staff. All instructors and supervisors had quietly left the room knowing in advance the content of the lecture we were about to receive -- an action which was actually a silent affirmation of the upcoming message. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (the union) was there to address us and one particularly large and portly veteran delegate took the stage.

"I’m here today to talk to you, because at this point everybody in this room has made it through the academy and will be graduating," his voice boomed. "In three weeks, you will be out on the streets ... no more silly gray academy uniform, you will be wearing blue, and with this transition comes an increased responsibility.

"In your actions you will be representing the City of New York, the Department, and your fellow Officers. Particularly, as rookies, there will be a lot asked of you. You are going to be asked to write a lot of summonses and make a lot of arrests. Because of this demand, and because you will now be representing your fellow officers, I came here today to talk to you and teach you the Secret of Law Enforcement.

"It’s simple: It’s about common sense.

"Go out there and write your summonses and make your arrests, but dammit, be smart about it. For better or for worse, the public will associate your actions with not just yourself, but every other cop on this job. One of you screwing up makes the rest of us look bad!

"When you are out there generating your activity, realize that your most powerful tool for public relations is your discretion. You did not come here to be revenue generators or nannies; you came here to be cops. Remember this when targeting your enforcement.

"A good cop does not take the easy road and enforce every violation he sees. Rather, a good cop takes action when he thinks his action will make a positive impact on this city. I’m telling you that there are a lot of good people in this city and you're not there to make their lives more difficult. It’s about common sense.

"Don’t go and write easy parking tickets to the truck drivers, deliverymen, and the contractors who try to do business in the city. They are the working men who make this city move and they deserve better.

"Don’t go and pull a guy or woman over in their car and write them a moving violation when their kids are in the car with them. Parents are heroes in their kids’ eyes, and you are not there to tear them down with a lousy ticket.

"Don’t target the expensive car because you figure the owner can afford to pay a fine. There is a good chance that owner worked very hard for that nice car and he does not deserve to be punished because of it.

"Do find that group of drug dealers on the corner and be merciless with your enforcement. Hit them with every violation you can apply and take back that corner.”

The PBA delegate went on to discuss various “do's and don’ts” that seemed so plainly obvious to so many of us, yet are often forgotten by law enforcement agents that are overly focused on generating activity. It was (and still is) the concern of the PBA that police officers who do not utilize appropriate discretion in their enforcement duties can alienate a portion of the public whose support we could otherwise depend on. Correcting a condition and problem solving need not always be accomplished by the issuance of summonses.

The delegate concluded, “You are now Police Officers in the NYPD, and if your authority is challenged, no matter who it is, you better take charge of the situation and do what needs to be done. We don’t get pushed around. However, keep in mind, we are there to protect and serve the public, not preside over them. We need to respect the good people in this city and by doing so they will return that respect to us. You can do this by getting out there, working hard, generating good summons and arrest activity, and using your discretion. You can make this city a better place by being a good cop. A good cop enforces, but wisely. It’s really not hard. It’s about common sense.”

I have never forgotten the message that was delivered to us in the Academy auditorium that day. I have done my best to both abide by the “do’s and don’ts” and to encourage the young police officers I supervise to operate in a similar fashion. To be honest, I think I probably would have done the same had I never even heard the lecture the PBA delegate delivered eight years ago. It seems a basic fundamental that should be instinctive to anyone interested in being an effective cop: Successful policing requires that in all initiatives a common sense balance must be found between enforcement and the application of discretion. Too little of the former will lead to an increase in crime or unwanted conditions. A lack of the latter will create a resentful public. It is the goal of community policing to strive to achieve this equilibrium.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a current lack of common sense at Notre Dame. A flood of complaints expressed on the ND Nation forums concerning both policy and enforcement justifies this assessment. Although I am quite sure that certain testimonials are tainted with exaggeration, the sheer volume of chronicles detailing negative interactions with authorities and their relative increase should be cause for serious concern.

Dismissing these accounts as mere histrionics is inappropriate and irresponsible. There is a building resentment. The alumni, students, and subway alums have too often become the target of strict and costly enforcement championed by the Administration and various supporting law enforcement agencies. Finding a solution requires understanding the root cause of the problem.

How did we reach this tipping point? What is driving the creation of strict policy and the accompanying “zero tolerance” enforcement? It has been suggested by members of these forums that the underlying rationale was born out of the desire for revenue generation or fear that in today’s litigious society the University is at financial risk without such a draconian strategy. Although these may be ancillary motivations for the tactics employed, finding the root cause requires examining a series of events that occurred in 2002.

At that time, Father Malloy was still actively involved in the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He was appointed to this government committee by President George H.W. Bush and was co-chair of the subcommittee responsible for publishing an extensive report calling for a call to action to curb college drinking in April of 2002.

The timing of the NIAAA’s report was unfortunate, however. In late March of 2002, Harvard’s School of Public health released the findings of an eight-year study that identified a rise in binge drinking and particularly noted that institutions structured like Notre Dame were prone to increased alcohol abuse. The Harvard study received media attention prior to the release of the NIAAA’s call to action and resulted in a sense of embarrassment for certain Notre Dame officials. It seemed contradictory that the University’s figurehead was a key member of a committee espousing one course of action, while (according to Harvard) the institution actually operated in a quite different manner. With the release of the NIAAA report, the policy at Notre Dame was rewritten and the drastic and immediate measures taken were well documented.

It was at this point where a more puritanical approach to alcohol consumption was employed. Certain key members of the administration were tasked with implementing policy, and they used every available resource at their disposal to do so. This has been the trend in effect from April of 2002 to present day.

The results and the impact on student life are debatable. Although the University effectively and drastically reduced on-campus binge drinking, a consequence of such action was that students increasingly turned to off-campus venues for social interaction. This has resulted in students being placed in undesirable situations.

Most recently over 40 students were arrested for a variety of petty violations during a raid on a house party by the Indiana Excise Police. There have been numerous reports of students falling victim to robberies as they venture off campus- even a 2003 robbery in which students were held at gunpoint by perpetrators armed with automatic weapons. Also in early 2003 was the tragic incident in which a young freshman who had ventured off campus for a social function was found dead in a nearby river. One can only wonder how many of the cited examples could have been avoided if a more liberal alcohol policy encouraging on-campus socializing had still been in place.

If the impact and results of the revised alcohol policy on student life can be considered debatable, the results of these guidelines on the Notre Dame Football experience can be considered unacceptable. There is a substantial difference. Those students affected by this trend have chosen to attend the school and by doing so elected to abide by the principles outlined in DuLac. The current alcohol policy may be poorly contrived, but all prospective students are now well aware of the high expectations placed upon them and the relative social inadequacies of current day campus existence. Whether or not the vigorous enforcement of the alcohol policy is sound decision making by the administration, the University hierarchy has the absolute right to impose its restrictions on those that choose to dwell there for four years. This same absolute right does not translate into license for authorities to “preside” over those that flock to South Bend to see a football game. Fall football Saturdays are singular social events that draw in a diverse national fan base who are by and large upstanding and established community members (alumni, families, working people, professionals, etc).

The obscene amount of enforcement for minor alcohol related violations committed on game day in the stadium and parking lot facility is analogous to embarking on a course of action that the PBA delegate warned us rookies of years ago -- don’t make the lives of the good people more difficult. Those who attend Notre Dame football games are good people and they deserve to be treated with dignity. There are now numerous examples in these forums of a failure to do so by the various agencies tasked with enforcement, especially the Indiana Excise Police. What remains infuriating about the path the University has chosen to follow is not just that it is bad policy, it is the arrogance employed.

The administration has allowed the Excise Police to take the lead in these enforcement efforts. Representatives of this agency never seemed to have been privy to an appropriate tailoring of the “Do’s and Don’ts” lecture. They apparently need to hear it. Such samples to be included in this instruction might include:

  • Don’t ticket at 20 year old student and his father who are enjoying a beer and a burger together. The young adult is already supervised and the moment does not require police presence to make it special.

  • Don’t be demanding and aggressive if you need to see an ID. You’re at Notre Dame and courtesy is a mandate.

  • Do conduct enforcement at student tailgaters and on large groups of students drinking in the parking lot. People over 30 will appreciate this because we would prefer to enjoy a pleasant tailgate without the awkwardness of being next to groups of drunk and rowdy 17 and 18 year olds.

  • Don’t be so quick to handcuff people and remove them to jail. Good people need not be exposed to this (especially students). Utilize summonses instead.

  • Don’t continue with the videotaping of people and license plates. It’s creepy and unnecessary for such minor violations. Save that kind of tactic for mass protests and riots, not football tailgaters.

Sadly, it would be doubtful that such a speech would even be effective given the mission of the agency. A more appropriate moniker for such individuals would be the “Indiana State Excise Code Enforcement”, because as my Captain is fond of saying, “There are those who might be in law enforcement, but they ain’t the POLICE.” This designation should rightly be reserved for those who handle themselves in a more honorable fashion than is being reported. It is hard to rationalize why their very presence is being permitted given the bad publicity they are generating.

The Excise Police are obviously not alone in needing a “do’s and don’ts” speech. The NDSP and Stadium Ushers need to improve their relationship with the game day patrons. At their core, these are both honorable groups of people and are a valuable part of the Notre Dame family. However, the administration’s policies and drive for total enforcement are straining the relations between these groups and the community they serve. The examples recently posted of bad encounters have been difficult to swallow.

There must be an immediate cessation of sending people to jail for public intoxication without good cause. Public intoxication was removed from the law books as a violation in New York and many other states. It seems odd that there would be such fervent (yet seemingly random) enforcement of a violation whose status is so inconsistent nationwide. Violence and disorder can not be tolerated, but can not be confused with enthusiasm and exuberance. This seems to be happening all too often. Additionally, an individual who is incapacitated from intoxication should be removed to a hospital, not a holding pen. This is simple and sound law enforcement.

It is a shame that in recent years so many members of the Notre Dame family have become the targets of a questionable enforcement initiative. The alcohol policy as it pertains to Saturday needs examining and immediate revision. The ND game day experience is already an expensive one. Why make it more costly for the attendees with mounting fines, incarceration, and ill will? These are the good people of the world. They are the donors, the tuition payers, the graduates, the loyal fans, and the faithful. They deserve a safe and comfortable tailgating/stadium environment without the burden of total and excessive enforcement. There will always be summonses and arrests, but such action need only be taken when a positive result for the Notre Dame community seems a guarantee.

Employing discretion and better problem solving techniques is not a hard thing to implement. It’s about common sense.

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Them's The Rules

As a result of all the discussions yesterday and today, I was contacted by a current Usher to clarify some points. The person who shared this with me, obviously, does not want any names or positions used for fear of retribution or other hassles from both the public and the school. But he felt it important to get this info out there, so I volunteered to take the hit on this one.

I’m going to use the pronoun “he” for the purposes of description only, although I believe the vast majority of Ushers are men anyway. I’m also not going to copy the things he sent me verbatim so as to reduce the risk of identification.

This person has really enjoyed the people with whom he’s directly worked on the Usher team, and is concerned based on what he’s read here and elsewhere that the Ushers are getting grouped in with the problems going on outside the Stadium in the tailgating areas.

He, along with a lot of the Ushers with whom he works, believes his first job is to assist visitors, regardless of affiliation, in a way that helps them enjoy their Stadium experience, doing things ranging from helping them find seats to helping them find restrooms to taking pictures and so on. He has escorted fans out of the Stadium for alcohol-related issues, but does not believe that to be his primary mission, so he does not seek them out unless they’re causing trouble or otherwise overtly breaking rules. Nor does he believe people should be kicked out or hassled for standing during a football game unless they were also obviously intoxicated and/or using profanity.

While he believes the Usher Captains are under pressure to seek out and handle rule breakers, there is no direct quota he’s aware of or has been communicated to him by anyone in the hierarchy. He believes the more senior Ushers have noticed an increased desire for “pro-active rule enforcement” from the upper level, but don’t agree with or necessarily enforce that policy as it makes them feel more like police officers than ushers. This makes them uncomfortable, as it’s not in the spirit in which they volunteered for the job in the first place.

In closing, he copied the Alcohol Policy for the Stadium, which I’ll summarize:

ND’s policy of alcohol possession and abuse in the stadium is zero-tolerance.

Fans caught with alcohol in the stadium will have tickets confiscated and then be removed from the stadium through the closest gate, with the violation listed as reason for expulsion. Students will be taken to the Public Safety office, their booklets confiscated by NDSP, who will write a report and “finish the removal” (yes, that’s exactly how it’s termed).

Fans attempting to enter the stadium drunk will lose their ticket and be referred to one of the police officers at the gate in question. Fans in the stadium who appear drunk will lose their ticket and be taken to the Public Safety Office.

Students who appear intoxicated are sent to the Public Safety office. Again, booklets go to the NDSP officer, who writes the report and “finishes the removal”.

I wanted to summarize the final paragraph, but couldn’t find a way to do it justice, so here it is verbatim:

“Occasionally, violators of Stadium rules (e.g. smoking after warnings; profanity after warnings; etc.) will appear to have been drinking. As long as they are not intoxicated, if they are removed it shall be in the same manner as alcohol container removals. Students in this category shall not have their tickets confiscated. An alcohol sticker will describe the violation.”

We wondered what the policy was, now we know. And as GI Joe would say, knowing is half the battle. Some thoughts, all mine:

First, it really disturbs me there is nothing in that policy to indicate any kind of measuring standard for "intoxication". The exact wording is people who “appear to be intoxicated”, and if you violate that, your ticket is gone and you’re sent right to the tank. It may be defined elsewhere, but if it were, I would expect a reference to that definition somewhere in the regulation. It's not there, so either the regulation is poorly written or that standard doesn't exist. Neither possibility is comforting.

Second, given that lack of definition, why is the first and only move a hand-off to South Bend's or St. Joe County's finest? Those people weren't any less "intoxicated" standing by their cars 15 minutes before they walked into the Stadium, yet people aren't being arrested en masse during pregame. There's also the possibility people could be detained without true cause.

Finally, where does the infamous "campus ban" crap fit in to all this? The regs go so far as to describe the actions of the NDSP people in cases of student infractions. South Bend and St. Joe cops aren't authorized to ban anyone from campus. So where does that little cherry sit on this sundae? Or is that an improvisation on Bill Kirk's part, much like the police badge story reported on the board yesterday?

All of this strikes me as a very poorly put together policy borne of a lack of imagination in the upper echelons. My hope is with the arrival of the new General Counsel for ND this week, such things will be better handled.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to Straddle a 50 Yard Line

I never thought my mortal coil would be subdivided by that magical point on the field in ACross-ian fashion. Yet there I was, lucky duck that I am, watching the Irish throttle (and yes, that's what they did) the Wolverines 35-17 with Cash and JVan and NDOldtown.

Some thoughts from section 110.

Youth is served

Someone pointed out at the end of the game that every touchdown Notre Dame scored yesterday, on both sides of the ball, were scored by sophomores. If that doesn't bode well for the future, I don't know what does.

The most interesting sophomore was Clausen. Not only did he show great touch on the ball, he looked, as NDOldtown was heard to say, in command the entire evening. Yes, he made some mistakes on throws (two of which were picked, one of which wasn't nullified by penalty), and I'm still not convinced he's seeing the entire field, but he's got the rest of this season and then two more to clean that up. The TD pass to Golden Tate was a thing of beauty.

Standardized test

Last week, Notre Dame played a team with a standard offense that didn't execute well. This week, Notre Dame played a team with a non-standard offense (lots of misdirection) that executed competently.

So I'm going to be interested to see our defensive performance next week against Michigan State, an opponent who executes a more standard offense well. Ringer ran for almost 300 yards in a monsoon yesterday, and while I don't expect him to duplicate that feat in East Lansing on Saturday, it does show that Mark Dantonio is going to bread-and-butter you, at least sometimes.

Down goes Frazier

Speaking of defense, my biggest defensive complaint is also my biggest offensive cheer: sacks. On the good news side, Jimmy Clausen has yet to be put down by any defense, and considering MI's front seven (or at least front four) is probably the best ND will see until Thanksgiving weekend, that's a good thing.

On the bad news side, though, none of Jon Tenuta's vaunted blitzes has resulted in an opposing quarterback ending up on his back with the ball in his hands. I'm hoping it's a matter of getting the timing down, but such a defense is high risk - high reward, as evidenced by the two or three times MI ran a big play right into the vacated spot of a blitzer yesterday. I'd hate to see us running the high risk if we're not getting the high reward.

Not offensive at all

As awful as the OL was last year (and even, to an extent, last week), I don't think any other unit on the team made as many strides between week 1 and week 2 than they. Not only has Clausen not been sacked yet, they opened holes for ND backs to the tune of 113 yards yesterday. The last two times ND faced Michigan, they were lucky to get positive net rushing yardage at all.

Now I'd like to see Mike Haywood take more advantage of the line's improvement and get away from the delayed handoff running plays. Slow-developing plays give the defense time to recover from any mistakes they may have made. When you have running backs who can hit the hole like ours can, they should be hitting them, not dancing up to them.

Speaking of Haywood....

...that popping sound you heard in the 3rd quarter was Andy having an aneurysm as Clausen's ill-advised pass on the -and-goal from the 2 was picked off. JC got a mulligan when the Wolverines were called for pass interference, but it indicates there's still a level of excessive cute in the playbook.

While I saw one or two examples yesterday, I'm still looking for an extended drive where the OL (and the offense in general) imposes its will on the defense. Down the stretch, it seemed tough for ND to run the clock out when MI expected it. Sure, as I said, this front seven is probably the best we'll see until SC. Still, the inability to truly pound the ball when needed remains a concern. With the passing game looking good, maybe it's time for the coaches to work on the team's aggression.

Crank it up

Or "crank eeet up", as it sounded like in the Stadium.

I know it's been said before, but I'll say it again: Home-grown chants or traditions are refreshing, especially in light of the Disneyfied crapfest pep rallies have become. When it comes from the students by the students, it's usually of very high quality.

Edit: I've been corrected -- the chant is "Crank me up". Sounds a lot more suggestive, which makes it even better.

Better than the symphony

A lot's been said about the whole "cowbell" thing the ND band did last week, and I'm not a big Bon Jovi fan, so this week (while played and marched well) wasn't spiritually uplifting for me.

But "A tribute to boy bands"?? Holy crap. If the Michigan marching whoevers weren't embarrassed for themselves, I was embarrassed enough for all of them. Those readers who were in the ND band with me during my time will remember "Lovely Ladies of Song", the only marching band show God ever hated. This, I think, was worse.

Down in front

It'd been a year or two since I watched a game in Notre Dame Stadium. I was gratified that, at no time during my game-watching experience, was I asked to sit down. In fact, just about everyone behind me spent as much time standing up as I did.

Maybe it's a function of sitting in (what I still call) the new section of the stadium. I enjoy sitting there much more than I do sitting in the lower bowl, since there's more vertical room and you're not putting your knees into someone's back. But perhaps it's a cooler brand of people sitting up there who aren't going to get bent out of shape because someone dares to cheer.

Scratch one off the bucket list

No, not sitting on the 50 (which was cool, of course). But I've now done three things associated with Notre Dame football that have only enhanced the experience.

First, I've watched a game with Mike Frank. Those of you who know Mike know him to be a gentle soul who remains one of the most popular media figures covering ND because he genuinely is loath to say a bad word about anyone. Then he sits in front of the television to watch Notre Dame football and becomes ... well, the Jeckyl/Hyde analogy is too easy, yet apt. It's gangs of fun to watch.

Second, I've eaten deer at bbdome's tailgater. Once or twice a year, our poster bbdome puts together a huge spread of BBQ and smoked offerings, such as venison, goose, and all kinds of other meats. It has certainly expanded the quality of my palate, let alone the amount of beer I've consumed in my life.

But yesterday, I achieved the trifecta: I watched a Michigan game with NDOldtown. If you thought the written prose (like this and this and this and this and this) was equal parts entertaining and visceral, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen the show live. Wow. The moist weather may have put him slightly off his game, as he had nothing to say to the very loud woman who kept chanting "Sam, Sam, he's my man" a couple rows behind us, but still well worth the price of admission. It was better than Cats. I'm going to see it again and again.

It's like I'm ND football's Bob: Living large and laughing easy.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who do you Trust?

"And now, folks, it's time for, "Who do you trust!" Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust? Me? I'm giving away free money. And where is the Batman? HE'S AT HOME WASHING HIS TIGHTS!"
Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Batman

I know, grammatically it's "Whom do you trust". Nicholson didn't help me out here.

But it's a question I've been wondering as we get down to the nitty gritty in this football season. Prognostications abound, and here at NDN we have our own Heatmiser and Snowmiser with differing views on how the season should/will go.

First kick is just over 48 hours away as I type, so it's time to get off the fence. And for me, it comes down to a question of trust.

Notre Dame wasn't as good as its record last year, which is a scary thought. But it also was better than its record last year, which is cause for optimism. But in the end, as Charlie Weis would say, they were what their record said they were: a 3-9 team.

Did they have the talent to finish 3-9? No. I believe they had the talent to finish 6-6. They had no business losing to Navy under any circumstances, and Air Force and BC should have been wins. I also believe the lopsided scores of some games were also not consistent with the talent ND had on the field, young and raw as it may have been.

ND finished 3-9 instead of 6-6 and got its doors blown off in a couple games because Charlie Weis and his staff did a crappy job last season. He took an inexperienced team and tried to go the cutesy route, playing with personnel and schemes instead of establishing bread-and-butter plays ND could use to its advantage.

So as we look to the next season, it comes down to trust: Do I trust Charlie Weis learned from his mistakes and is going to be a better coach this season?

My answer to that question is yes.

People say it's crazy to expect a 3-win team to win 10 games the next season. It's unprecedented. My reply is so was the drop ND experienced between 2006 and 2007. When unusual circumstances (poor and small senior class, bad coaching decisions) create an unusual down, resolving them can create an unusual up.

CW did a lot of things that surprised me in the offseason, but none more than his 25-person pilgrimage. According to reports on and off campus, Charlie went to 25 people whose opinions he values, including people like Fr. Ted Hesburgh and Ara Parseghian, and asked for a no-holds-barred candid critique of himself and his program. Coming from a "Jersey tough" guy who had a habit of telling you your opinion when he wanted to hear it, this was quite a departure from the norm and told me things weren't business as usual in the Gug these last couple of months.

He also did a number of things people have been clamoring for since he arrived. He adopted a more approachable attitude, with players and staff alike. He made himself more available to alumni. He even decided to trust his staff more, allocating play-calling duties to OC Mike Haywood.

This isn't your father's Charlie Weis. Does this mean he's still not prickly sometimes? No, but it's not all the time now either. And as a result, a couple of people who weren't high on the prospects for his career at Notre Dame have done a 180 on him and now believe, as one of the 25 said after meeting with him, "he's gonna be all right".

So my prediction for the season? We're gonna be all right. To wit:

SDSU -- BIG WIN. Please. If this one's wrong, we're doomed.

MICHIGAN -- NARROW WIN. Even when the Wolverines are down, they're dangerous to ND.

at MICHIGAN STATE -- NARROW WIN. The road-team streak in the series continues.

PURDUE -- COMFORTABLE WIN. Wilford goes out on a sour note.

STANFORD -- NARROW WIN. The Cardinal are better than you think under Jim Harbaugh, who Michigan should have hired instead of Rodriguez (and may yet after he flames out).

at NORTH CAROLINA -- NARROW LOSS. Butch Davis starts to make his presence felt in Chapel Hill.

at WASHINGTON -- BIG WIN. I've got $10 that says Tyrone Willingham won't be the head coach at WA when this game is played.

PITTSBURGH -- BIG WIN. Another $10 says Wannie won't be there either.

at BC -- COMFORTABLE WIN. The Eagles don't have the horses this year, and the Irish are pissed.

at NAVY -- BIG WIN. This isn't Paul Johnson's Midshipmen anymore.

SYRACUSE -- BIG WIN. $10 here too. It says something about ND's schedule this year that three of its opponents' head coaches might be fired by the time the Fighting Irish play them.

at SOUTHERN CAL -- NARROW LOSS. Can't quite get it done this year. Next year in South Bend ... look out, Snoopy.

10-2 will be enough for the Cotton Bowl, where the Irish will break their bowl losing streak and be among the favorites to win a national title in 2009.


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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gladiator Games

Normally, SEE and I are pretty close on our viewpoints, which is what enables us to work together so smoothly.

This time, however, I'm going to depart from his conventional wisdom a bit. Devil's Advocate? Perhaps, but I don't think the situation is as black-and-white as he does.

Before I get started, in the interest of full disclosure, I have some connection to the Chicago Trib. Aside from it being my home-town paper and my having a subscription to it daily, my cousin (and writing mentor) not only works there but is Brian Hamilton's boss. For the record, this article is written from the random thoughts emitting from my own overworked noggin and not as a result of contact with or suggestion from him (although I'm guessing I may hear about it later).

And before you ask, yes, members of my family routinely ride him for hiring David Haugh. It's an agree-to-disagree kind of thing. Moving on.

I agree with SEE that this whole thing is not news. A college student possibly drinking a beer, possibly before reaching the age of 21? If we reserved inches in the print media every time that happened, everyone would wake in the morning with a phone book on their front porch. I drank when I was in college, and so did 99 percent of the people I knew then and know now. I don't know if Clausen, Aldridge, et al, were imbibing (although a reasonable-person test indicates they probably were), but frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn whether he was or not.

Now, if he'd gotten into a car after drinking, that would be news. If he'd gotten hurt after drinking, again, news. If he'd hurt someone else after drinking, definitely news. Any of the three would be news I want to hear, because I don't like things like that happening anywhere, let alone at my alma mater. I also realize any or all of those three things could happen when someone decides to drink alcohol. But in this case, just as my my sister's lack of testicles means she's not my brother, it ain't news because none of that happened.

I'll take it a step further and say I don't think the majority of ND fans believe it's news either, nor do they (or any other rational person) believe it would reflect poorly on either Notre Dame as a whole or Jimmy Clausen and his teammates in particular if the school were to shrug its shoulders and respond, "So?" If there is any source of angst associated with this, it's that rational reactions for things like this have been in short supply in South Bend lately, and the fear is that Notre Dame will overreact because, history being our guide, that's what they do. The coming days will tell us whether or not the worry is worthwhile.

But even though I don't believe it's news, I understand why Brian Hamilton wrote the story. Dan Wiederer covered the concept nicely, but I'll build on it: In a society as influenced by reality television and its ilk as ours is, the definition of what people consider news has shifted and some media outlets are merely trying to keep up.

Sites like Deadspin, The Big Lead, WWTDD, et al, exist because we've become a society of voyeurs. It's gladiator games in the Coliseum all over again, except now you don't have to get off your ass to watch unless your TV remote isn't working. People seek out this minutiae, so providers move to fill the niche and satiate the need.

While I don't consider the Clausen thing news, unfortunately, there's a subset of mammals out there in Billy Joel's No-Man's Land who do. And they're going to go to the place that gives it to them first. If Hamilton didn't write the article, someone else would have, and that person would have his name repeated "as reported by" a couple hundred times.

Is it right? I don't believe so. But it's what is, so either the reality or the perception must change. I'd deal with the latter while working on the former, but we're not there yet. I can't wait until we are.

Edit, since I didn't do a good job of summarizing my point: Some people are acting like this is all Brian Hamilton's fault and if he wouldn't have written the story, it'd all be fine. That's not the case. BH bears some of the blame for writing a non-story, but an equal part of the problem is the public jones for stories like this. BH could leave the Tribune tomorrow, and we'd still see these kinds of stories. The only way to truly combat them is to not read them and let people know they're not necessary.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Voting With Their Checkbooks

My wife and I both had early mornings today, so no one was home just after 8am when the phone rang. Turns out we missed a very interesting phone call.

When I got home, the caller ID said area code 574 with a 631 prefix. More often than not, that's someone calling from a campus office to scold me about something posted here or on NDN, so it was not without a certain amount of fatalism I dialed into voicemail.

Turns out it was the ND ticket office, calling for Mrs. Kabong. Preliminary lottery results, said they, showed she didn't get any of the games she put in for (meaning, as of now, nothing for Michigan or Stanford and my dad's friend will not get as many Navy tix as he was looking for). However, followed up they, the ticket lottery for Syracuse had resulted in tickets being left over, and she was welcome to put in for up to four tickets for that game.

Well well well. A crappy late-November game not selling out via the lottery. Quelle surprise.

This is what 7-4-1 hath wrought, kids. People are looking at $65 tickets for these "buy" games and saying, "Nuh uh". And if you think MAC schools or non-descript Mountain West opponents are going to draw any better to an ice-cold Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the season, think again.

(Yes, I realize this isn't a buy game, but the current quality of Syracuse is equivalent to the kind of school ND is looking for for these buy games)

No one demands every game be against a top-10 opponent, as some not-so-bright critics have alleged. No one demands every game be of top interest. But people do demand the overall quality of the schedule be proper, and if Syracuse is any indication, those demands are not being met.

I bring you again a typical 4-4-4 schedule:

Stanford (tier 3)
Michigan (tier 1)
at Michigan State (tier 2)
at Navy (tier 3)
UCLA (tier 1)
at GaTech (tier 2)
Purdue (tier 2)
UNC (tier 3)
at Penn State (tier 1)
Air Force (tier 2)
vs Army (Orlando) (tier 3)
at USC (tier 1)

For those of you a little slow on the uptake, that's the 2006 schedule slightly rearranged. Quality games scattered throughout the season, two at home, two on the road. Not a lot of home games at the end of the season when it's crappy out. And gee, I think ND did pretty well against that slate, don't you?

As disappointing as the announcement regarding the NBC renewal (and its apparent codification of 7-4-1) was, it's not too late to fix it. And it needs to be fixed.

By the way, the conversation that ensued when I passed the phone message along to my wife:

SHE -- When is the Syracuse game?
ME -- November 22nd
SHE -- To hell with that.

I wish I could marry her all over again.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

It's hard to get away from Spygate these days, but given my lack of predilection for New England Patriots news, I've been pretty successful thus far.

That is, until today, when the Trib's Brian Hamilton brought it up. He doesn't accuse Weis of wrong-doing, but wonders why he's been so silent on the subject. He was on the Patriots' coaching staff during that time, wasn't he? Why isn't he explaining himself, and why aren't the fans pressing for an explanation? What does all that say about Notre Dame's integrity?

Well, allow me to answer on behalf of the queried: It doesn't say a damn thing. In no particular order of importance, here are my reasons as a Notre Dame alumnus and fan why I really don't care about Spygate:

It's not a Notre Dame matter. I realize that phrase is giving some pundits a facial tic, but that's the crux of it. Much as it might run better if we did, Notre Dame alumni don't rule the world. I can't control what people do in external positions, and as long as what they do doesn't affect ND, I don't have room in my brain to care.

I've talked in the past about ND accountability in the media. I'm not looking for a snowjob. If there's wrong-doing in South Bend, let me know, because I want it rooted out at all costs. And with this, there was no wrong-doing in South Bend. This was something that happened years ago in New England. I don't see the relevance.

No one is perfect. While I expect coaches to come as close as possible to that standard when they're employed by ND, the before and after really aren't worthy of my attention. Granted, I don't want someone like Kelvin Sampson or Dennis Erickson getting a job on campus, and we likely dodged an ethical bullet with Meyer, but those represent the extremes of thought. As George Carlin once said, somewhere between "Live Free or Die" and "Famous Potatoes", the truth lies.

Next, Weis is not a Patriots employee anymore. This one may not seem intuitive, so I'll explain.

There's nothing I hate more than when a former Notre Dame coach pontificates about the state of the various programs. Yes, they have a unique perspective on the position, and there's a value to that perspective when discussing how things are going. But by the same token, the state of both Notre Dame and the various sports it fields changes over time, and things like scholarship limits and scheduling concerns and scholastic standards may not be the same as they were when the coach in question is under the Dome. They didn't like being second-guessed during their tenure, so why put the shoe on the other hand now?

I can handle it when someone like Lou or Ara or Tom Pagna or Digger does it, because those men contributed a lot to Notre Dame in their lives and Notre Dame had great success as a result. So if they want to share their thoughts, I'm willing to listen to them. But when nitwits like Bob Davie or (even worse) Tyrone Willingham go off the reservation, I need to break out the calamine lotion. Gerry Faust gets a five-minute window per year to prairie-dog his philosophies, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So I can understand why Weis wants to stay out of it. He's not part of that organization anymore. The Patriots are dealing with the situation as they see fit, and for a former employee to suddenly start chiming in is disrespectful. If I were a Pats fan, I would give less than a damn about what he thought about Spygate, particularly since....

Weis wasn't the head coach at the time. If the entire thing was Weis' brainchild or he put together the initiative, I'd probably be more concerned. But the responsibility for wrong-doing, such as it was, has been laid by the NFL at the feet of Pats' management in general and Bill Belichick in particular. The buck stops with him. I find it odd that Weis gets singled out here, yet as far as I know, Romeo Crennel -- who is still in the NFL and has had a much poorer performance as a coach since leaving the Pats than Weis has -- has not been pursued in this manner. Considering offensive signals were taped as well as defensive, I'm guessing that means the NFL sees Crennel as a soldier who was doing what he was told, much as Weis would be were he still there.

This is why the analogy of George "By God, It's" O'Leary breaks down. O'Leary wrote his own resume, and had ample time over the years to fix it. By submitting that resume to Notre Dame, he directly lied to the people who hired him. I don't know what Weis has been asked about Spygate, but knowing Notre Dame as I do, I'm pretty confident questions have been asked and I'd imagine whatever answers were received were to Kevin White's, Fr. Jenkins', and John Affleck-Graves' satisfaction. If it comes out later that Weis was not truthful in that case, I'm sure that will be evaluated just as O'Leary's situation was, and if that ever happens, wake me and let me know because I won't be interested until then.

And finally, I don't see what the big deal is. The contests they taped were part of public record. It's not like they were sneaking into practices. Had the allegation they had taped a walk-through been proven correct, that'd be a horse of a different color. But now we have a major metropolitan newspaper apologizing for suggesting it happened.

Sign-stealing happens in every team sport that uses them. Catchers change them up when there's a man on second, and no one bats an eye. Sure, it's on the unseemly side, and my preference would be that it not happen. But I'm not that naive.

Besides, how much did it really help? You're asking someone on the sidelines to read the opponents' signals, get them to the applicable coach, who then has to call a play quickly and relay that to the captain before the play clock runs out. I think it's interesting that the game so much of being made of was a Patriots loss. If you only score 16 points and you allegedly know the plays your opponents' D is running, the guys from the Jewish house are telling you all the answers you had were wrong.

I think obsession with Weis on this is more than a little goofy. Are we so desperate these days to keep salacious commentary in the news that we continue to beat Eight Belles long after the fact? Notre Dame's integrity is rooted in the fact it follows the rules of college sports and holds its people accountable on the field, in the classroom, and everywhere else, not the degree to which an assistant coach participated in a resolved matter from the NFL five years ago. Those Haughian nit-picks tend to skew gratuitous.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Three Amigos

The pimpitude of Notes lately has risen to an alarming level, and I promise we're going to get back to strict ND-sports-related stuff shortly. But not before I bend your ear one last time to tell you about an event that touches both my ND and non-ND selves.

My daughter was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder a number of years ago. With the help of our pediatrician, our psychologist and our school district, and the efforts of family and friends, she's now very high-functioning and completely mainstreamed in school, although not without occasional reminders of the challenges she faces socially.

But getting her there was a long and sometimes arduous journey, and my wife and I remember well those initial weeks and months when we knew something was wrong with her but didn't know what and didn't know what to do. In those days, we were lucky to get good help, not only from the aforementioned folks but also from various support and advocacy groups, who came ready with suggestions and warnings that made the whole thing easier than it could have been.

I'm not in a position where I can volunteer for groups of that kind. I found sharing my story with other parents tended to depress as much as encourage, especially if their children were deeper on the spectrum than my daughter and/or had a less rosy prognosis. Given how my schedule gets, volunteering time was difficult as well. So in order to try and repay the help we received in those dark days, my wife and I decided to be as generous with our checkbooks as we could to support financially the kind of groups providing such crucial aid. This is what led me to donate proceeds from EotH to the Autism Society of Illinois.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard about Hannah and Friends. An opportunity to fulfill my pledge to help organizations that focus on the developmentally disabled by donating to an organization that has a tertiary connection to Notre Dame? Bonus. Ever since, I've contributed annually to H&F and encouraged people I know to do the same, not because of any connection to Charlie Weis (who, I'm sure, wouldn't know who I was if I walked into his office and kicked him in the shins -- although I'm sure he'd know me after that) but rather through my efforts to ensure other parents whose children have autism can get the same kind of help my wife and I received.

Then came an opportunity to take it a step further, and that's the reason for my missive today.

On July 31st of this year, H&F will be co-sponsoring the third (and final) Notre Dame Coaches Kickoff for Charity. Charlie Weis, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseighian will all speak, and the proceeds from the event will be split evenly between their three charities. The first two events were held in New York City and Los Angeles, and were very successful. This time, they'll be at the Palmer House in Chicago. I was asked to serve on the committee for this year's event, and we want to make it the best of the three.

Let's make this clear from the outset, this is a pricey undertaking. Tickets are $1,000 apiece. Other sponsorship levels are available that include having a celebrity seated at your table and access to a cocktail hour before the dinner where the coaches and other Notre Dame and Chicago sports greats will mingle.

But I'm a big believer in putting the information out there and letting people make their choice. Perhaps your company or employer is looking for a charitable giving opportunity. You could be in need of a tax deduction. Or maybe your great-aunt Muriel just left you a million dollars in Indian-head pennies.

Regardless, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to consider the event, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go. Not only is it an opportunity to hear three outstanding speeches and really allow your ND fanaticism to wax, the money will go to three great causes: Hannah & Friends, the Holtz Charitable Foundation, and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. It may not be the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth, but it's in the team picture.

If you have interest, you can contact me via email and I'll get you set up.

Thanks for your attention, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled analysis of ND's ground game and potential basketball transfers-in.

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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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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nothing Like Evidence

I originally made this point as a comment to the last entry. But I think it bears a little more scrutiny, so I made it a post.

If you need evidence that 4-4-4 works and is necessary, look at the title game this season.

LSU played in the SEC, a tough conference without a doubt. Few, if any, tier 3 teams in there, and even the 3's can be tough outs. They played a total of seven games against teams ranked at kickoff. Non-conference, they played VaTech, then had Florida, Auburn, and Alabama during the regular season. Then they went through Tennessee to get to the title game itself. No shortage of challenges there. Even with two losses, their strength of schedule and win in their conference title game got them to the BCS championship.

tOSU played in the Integer, usually decent but this year way down. Their non-conference schedule was a joke, including Youngstown State and Akron. They had no games against top-20 teams at all. But they won all but one, and managed to get into the title game based on one loss and the fact their conference doesn't play a title game.

The results of that game speak for themselves. The tempered, challenged team blew the doors off the team that had scheduled itself into the game. tOSU hadn't played anyone of note, while LSU had been challenged throughout the year. Their experience meant they knew how to respond when the chips were down.

You can't play six or more games against crappy competition and limit yourself to a max of two quality teams each year. It doesn't work. You may end up in the title game if you back into it, but you're not prepared. Eventually, the selection committee sees through your act and you don't get considered anymore. By then, there's a layer of rust on the program that might be difficult to remove.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

4-4-4 Revisited

A couple of days ago, a list of potential (or possibly planned) schedules through 2022 was leaked to the NDN site via someone allegedly in attendance at on-campus meetings this week. After talking to a couple people on campus, they said, while they hadn't seen the document in question, it might not be too far outside the realm of what would be sought.

Last July, I talked about the importance of the 4-4-4 tiering model. Without putting any imprimatur on this document or its accuracy, let's see how its contents match up to the ideal.

The original document went through 2022. I'm only going to do through 2016 because there are too many empty dates in the schedule after that point. I'm also going to assume the "buy games" are against Tier 3 opponents, since those are the only ones who'd be willing to do one-offs like that. Finally, I'm going to use the tier structure I used for the post in July (linked in this post's title), with the addition of Syracuse to the Tier 3 list.

S13 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
S20 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S27 Tier 2 - PURDUE
O04 Tier 3 - STANFORD
O11 Tier 3 - at North Carolina
O25 Tier 2 - at Washington
N08 Tier 2 - at Boston College
N15 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Baltimore)
N22 Tier 3 - SYRACUSE
N29 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 6-5-1
Tiers: 2-5-4, plus non-BCS

Evaluation: Unacceptable. At the absolute minimum, the non-BCS opponent should be replaced by Tier 1 game.

S12 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S26 Tier 2 - at Purdue
O17 Tier 1 - USC
031 Tier 3 - vs Washington State (San Antonio)
N07 Tier 3 - NAVY
N14 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
N28 Tier 3 - at Stanford

Balance: 7-4-1
Tiers: 2-5-4, plus non-BCS

Evaluation: Unacceptable. As above, the non-BCS team should be replaced by a Tier 1. If ND scheduled a home-and-home with a Tier 1 team for those two years, it would also put the balance at 6-5-1 for both seasons. Problems solved.

S04 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S11 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
S18 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S25 Tier 3 - STANFORD
O02 Tier 2 - at Boston College
O16 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Chicago)
O23 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Baltimore)
N07 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N13 Tier 3 - RUTGERS (tentative)
N20 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N27 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 2-4-6

Evaluation: The worst. Playing three true road games is awful enough. But three Tier 3 games at home in November? Who is going to buy tickets to watch body-bag games in 40-degree weather? Those "buy games" need to be changed to something more competitive -- a Tier 1 and Tier 2 at a minimum.

S03 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S10 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S24 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
O08 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O15 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Orlando)
O22 Tier 1 - USC
O29 Tier 3 - RUTGERS/NAVY (resolve conflict)
N12 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N26 Tier 3 - at Stanford

Balance: 7-4-1
Tiers: 2-3-7

Evaluation: It appears I spoke too soon. I didn't think they could get worse from 2010. Silly me. Even if you assume UConn can hit Tier 2 consistently and USF continues its upward trend, this is a truly heinous schedule. Never mind the quality, look at the timing. Three of the first four games are on the road. Once again, we're at home three times in cold weather. This schedule is four years away, and they still put it together poorly.

S01 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Dublin)
S08 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S15 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S22 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
O06 Tier 3 - vs. Baylor (New Orleans)
O13 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O20 Tier 2 - PITTSBURGH (or Nov. 3 or 10, TBD)
O27 Tier 1 - at Oklahoma
N03 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N10 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N17 Tier 3 - WAKE FOREST
N24 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 3-3-6

Evaluation: It's better than 2011, which is kind of like being a taller midget. But the slight gain in replacing a Tier 3 with a Tier 1 is lost by a return to only three true road games.

It's disheartening to me we're already five years out, and not only are none of the schedules acceptable, they're steadily moving away from the ideal.

A31 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME** (possibly Washington State)
S07 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S14 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S28 Tier 1 - OKLAHOMA
O05 Tier 3 - vs. Arizona State (Dallas)
O19 Tier 1 - USC
O26 Tier 3 - vs. Connecticut (Foxboro)
N02 Tier 3 - NAVY
N09 Tier 3 - CINCINNATI (tentative)
N16 Tier 3 - at Rutgers
N23 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**(possibly Army Nov. 16, if Rutgers can move)

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 3-2-7

Evaluation: The crapulence flows unabated. Where to begin? Seven tier-3's. Tier 1's front-loaded. No decent game after October 19th. This is truly awful.

A30 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
S06 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (site TBD)
S13 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S20 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
O04 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O11 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Orlando)
O25 Tier 3 - at Arizona State
N15 Tier 3 - vs. Rutgers (Giants Stadium)
N22 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N29 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-2-3
Tiers: 2-2-8

Evaluation: That is not a misprint. Eight tier-3 teams. Two true road games. This schedule would be an embarrassment to Notre Dame.

S05 Tier 2 - MISSOURI
S12 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S19 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S26 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O03 Tier 3 - ARMY (tentative)
O10 Tier 3 - NAVY
O17 Tier 1 - USC
O24 Tier 3 - vs. Connecticut (Meadowlands)
O31 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME** site TBD
N07 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N14 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
N21 Tier 3 - RUTGERS

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 2-3-7

OK, I'm stopping here. I know I said I was going to go through 2016, but we've transcended crapulence and are now wandering the realm of abject putrescence.

I said at the beginning I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of the document. Having now attempted to analyze (most of) it, the opinion of my on-campus friends notwithstanding, and without impugning the character of the document's sender, I'm reaching the conclusion it's some kind of blind or other fake. I cannot comprehend any ND administrator thinking this kind of thing is a good idea, so I'm forced to conclude it didn't come from them. Perhaps they were trying to locate a leak or something.

But I'm making this post anyway because, as outlandish as this may seem, my on-campus folks were still not convinced it wasn't a possibility. If that's the case, it's a possibility we must guard against. And guard against it we will.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's That Time of Year...

...when the CSC's love
all those checks appear-
ing that say
"This Donation
for the current year gets me
in the tix lottery!"

OK, Kate Smith it ain't. It's not even the Carpenters. But like their children penning letters to ol' St. Nick, ND grads around the world these days are writing to ol' Fr. Jenkins and sending their donation checks to make sure the mailman brings them that magic Scantron form come April.

Last week, I was one of them. Sure, we had to plan a little more this year because my company moved the annual bonus from December to March, but write the check I did.

But this year, I wrote it a little differently, and given all the complaining about ND's athletic funding policies I've done here (and here and here and here ... well, you get the picture), I wanted to share the how and why.

Those of you who read NDN (The Pit in particular) know the poster FontOKnow to be a quality contributor. He and I don't disagree on much, but our strongest arguments have been about my aforementioned criticisms. His believes I should put my money where my mouth is, saying if I organized a funding campaign via NDNation, I might see ND take some of the steps I've called for in revitalizing ND basketball's physical plant.

For the record, I still disagree with him on the general point. Even if I were to get people to pledge a million dollars over 10 or whatever years, the 70-100 rule would prevent ND from using that money for seven years, and by then, whatever had been planned would be almost a decade closer to obsolescence. Besides, as I've said many times, the fans of other sports at ND don't have to self-organize to see the playing and practice needs of their teams met, and the prospect of going hat-in-hand to ask ND to support a sport that makes money for the school, to be frank, pisses me off.

But I gave the matter some thought. For the last three years, I've been a member of the Sorin Society, meaning my gift to Notre Dame was unrestricted. And for the last three years, I've watched little to no progress on the Purcell Pavilion.

I decided that's inconsistent of me. As much as I don't like the way ND is handling this project, blogging about it don't feed the bulldog. I need to, as Font wanted, put some cabbage behind the rants, because every little leaf helps.

So that's what I did. My check for 2007 was restricted to the construction and maintenance of practice facilities for the Notre Dame basketball programs. Yes, I won't have improved access to football tickets next year, but I always seem to find some somehow. And if I don't, that's what bbdome's tailgater is for. Meanwhile, the project is infinitesimally closer to becoming a reality.

Who knows ... if enough of us infinitesims do the same thing........

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If you want something done right...

...you've got to do it yourself. That's the best way to live your life, because if you're not going to look out for you, you can be damn sure no one else will.

Non-Irish fans get hot and bothered when we talk about ND's unique place in college sports, football in particular. But there are some ways in which that uniqueness must be acknowledged, even by the most virulent hater. And one of those ways is the school's relationships with other schools and conferences.

When it comes to football, Notre Dame is a Conference of One. As such, the person in charge of the Notre Dame athletic department must be both an athletic director and a conference commissioner. That person is responsible for protecting Notre Dame's best interests regardless of the situation, and must always take the necessary steps to provide that protection even if it means challenging relationships with friends.

But lately, it seems this vigilance is yet another victim to ND's jones for outsourcing important things.

Case in point: Stanford, and David Grimes' spectacular touchdown catch. I call it a TD catch because that's exactly what it was. It was called that way on the field, and all available video replays at worst showed nothing to contradict that call and at best clearly showed Grimes' hand under the ball as he hit the ground, making it a completely legal reception worth six points.

But in a stunning act of what could most generously be called ineptitude (and least generously something far more sinister), the Pac-10 crew in the video replay booth overturned the call made by the Big East referees. Citing some random video angle, to which the rest of the sports universe apparently lacks access, they decided all by themselves Notre Dame should have six fewer points in the game.

ND ended up winning, so one might be tempted to overlook the "error" as, in the end, not having mattered. I'm not tempted in that manner, however, because in a game won by a touchdown's margin, an error that grievous could have been very influential in determining the game's outcome. At some point, a similar error may cost Notre Dame a game, and it's hard to seek justice in that instance if you haven't sought it before.

So from where should this justice come? An admission of error would be a good start. Last season, when a similar officiating gaffe led to an undeserved victory by Oregon over Oklahoma, the Pac10 officials responsible received a suspension and the conference apologized to the OK program. I think that kind of public responsibility goes a long way towards preventing future problems.

Yes, ND still won the game, but the mistake was still one of high-magnitude and the players cheated out of their accomplishment still deserve the proverbial pound of flesh. Notre Dame's officials should be seeking that justice for their players and show those players that when they're wronged, their school has their back.

Trouble is, neither Kevin White nor anyone else at ND is doing that. Why, you ask? Because all officiating matters of this sort are arbitrated on our behalf by the Big East. You know, that conference we're not a member of in football, and whose interests in areas like bowl bids and national rankings more often than not conflict with what would benefit Notre Dame. They're in charge of determining if we were somehow damaged by officials' errors (or outright misconduct) and what, if anything, is done about it.

Since when is that someone else's job? Since now, I guess. I couldn't believe Notre Dame would be willing to kowtow and yield control over its own interests to that extent. But it was all confirmed for me in an email exchange with the ND athletic department.

I was told Notre Dame has to have a relationship with a league in the interest of getting officials to do its games, and this arrangement was all part of that relationship. Obviously ND found another way to do it for years and years when we didn't use Big East officials for our games, and I don't remember hiding under the skirts of the Integer when we were using (and getting screwed by) their crews.

I asked why, considering how the various conferences have interests and needs that conflict with ours, we didn't use neutral officials in all games. I was told using a neutral conference was "not realistic" because the conferences don't have extra officials "sitting around waiting to be assigned to games", and a neutral conference wouldn't have the incentive to send their best crews to do games outside the conference. Given the lack of consequence should the Big East not protect our interests, I'd rather take my chances of creating that incentive by paying neutral officials well than continue to hope for the Big East to get religion and cover our behinds (not that it should be their job to do that).

Official observers are at every game making sure there's no malfeasance, and ND's official position is our interests are protected. But when I asked what the point was of having this kind of relationship if the Big East wasn't going to bat for us, the response talked about politics and internal processes and how conferences aren't in the business of publicly acknowledging the mistakes of their referees. My position remains if the refs who screwed up so galactically in a potentially game-changing situation knew they'd face scrutiny for it, they'd take a lot more time to consider their decisions to make sure they got it right and a lot less time worrying about what the guys in the conference offices thought of how they "protected the family", so to speak.

Any ND fan worth his salt can point out instances of Pac-10 crews in the Coliseum bending the Irish over and taking away wins. Unfortunately, the Big East can't be trusted any more than the Pac-10 can, as our game against Pittsburgh in 2004 proves. And the next time the Integer goes to bat for us will be the first.

The days of conference affiliation for football officials has to end. They've made that change in basketball, which has a lot more refs participating in a lot more games for a lot more schools, and it's worked out very well. Take away even the hint of impropriety, and let the market and performance of the officials become the determining factor. Have the officials overseen by the NCAA to ensure what's best for the game takes precedent over what's best for the conference or an individual team.

Some program with strong cachet and a national bully pulpit should lead the charge for that reform. Too bad it can't be us -- we've rented our pulpit out.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Or so the good Lord has told us. So no sooner do I hope Charlie will be willing to go to others for help in the offseason than he talks about his plans to do that very thing.

During the NBC broadcast of the Duke game, Weis talked of plans to return to the Patriots' organization to allow them to scout his ND program and help him identify the flaws in his approach. He'll be working with Bill Belichick, Duane Charles Parcells, and the guys with whom he had so much success in the NFL.

I like it. Charlie is going to bring in some new ideas and get critique from outside the program. Sometimes you need to step back and get the commentary from people that aren't as close to the situation as you. If it leads to an improvement in the workings of the team and the program overall, it's an excellent thing.

But I'm guessing there'll still be some discomfort in some quarters with Weis returning to his NFL roots for this education. I think those folks are uneasy about it for the same reason Peter Vaas' daughter is getting such negative blowback about her appearance on the game telecast (and as an aside, I'm trying to figure out who was more foolish: NBC for thinking that interview was a good idea, or Ms. Vaas for agreeing to proclaim her switched allegiances to a national audience). If you're in the ND family, people expect you to be ND uber alles. If you can get something from within the family, people expect you to stay within the family. When you go outside or proclaim an outside source as being your preferred method, you're going to create some internal irritation because you're perceived as somehow splitting your loyalties. For a school that proclaims "God, Country, Notre Dame" as a way of life, that kind of "disloyalty" is off-putting.

As I said yesterday, my family is very important to me, and I'm not inclined to get something from someone else if I can get help from (or help) them. But in this case, I'm thinking Weis' plan is the best one. For one, the Pats are probably best equipped to give Weis the most comprehensive review of what he's doing. In February, college coaches are consumed with recruiting and getting spring ball ready, assuming they'd be willing to help ND and Weis in the first place. NFL teams, on the other hand, are in their offseason, and have both the time and resources to really dig deep and give Charlie the analysis he needs. Two, for better or worse, Belichick and his folks are the most likely to be blunt with Weis about what he's doing wrong, and they're also the people whose comments Weis is most likely to take to heart. Right now, Charlie needs an outside perspective, and it's best to go the route with the highest chance of success.

There is one potential drawback, though. If the answer to Weis' questions boils down to his schemes being too complex for players who have only 20 distracted hours with the coaching staff per week, the degree to which the pro coaches can help him might be limited. These guys made their bones in the pro ranks, and might not have the familiarity with college-specific aspects of the game. For that education, Charlie may be on his own, and it's at that time his ND family will come in handy for him. If that ends up happening, I remain hopeful he makes use of those resources.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Five Families

I'm lucky I come from a large family. Not my immediate family, as my wife and I only have two kids, and I was the oldest of four growing up. But my extended family is quite large. My mother had over 25 cousins, with whom she was close growing up, and our annual reunion picnic typically draws over 125 people, all of whom I know well. This year, my great-uncle, at a spry 81 years of age, single-handedly bounced my sister and I out of the beanbag tournament. I think calling him "Rick Ankiel" for the rest of the day went over his head.

Looking at it closer, I guess you could say I'm a member of five families:

  • My nuclear family

  • My birth family

  • My wife's family

  • The Notre Dame family

  • The NDNation family

We don't always get along, of course. We fight as all families do. I sometimes have to raise my voice to my son to get him to put his clothes away. I argue with my cousins about Mike Brey's and Charlie Weis' coaching merits. A couple times a month, I'll get into it on the boards about ND's direction, both athletically and otherwise. But at the end of the day, even if we've pissed each other off, we're still a family.

There are also the synergistic benefits in all the families. My brother-in-law is a crackerjack estate lawyer, and my wife's and my wills and whatnot are solid for the first time in our lives. If I have a question about finance, I can call my brother or my dad, and writing issues can be brought to my mom or my cousin, both of whom have extensive experience. Cross and Oldtown have always been fonts of legal and procedural wisdom. Cash and NDMD have given me so much medical advice they should be billing Blue Cross on my behalf. And if there's a better source of general experience and knowledge than the Back Room, I haven't found it. On the flip side, I've provided IT advice as best I can to most, if not all, of that list.

It's not always easy to ask for help from your family. Some see it as exhibiting weakness. But that's what families are for. They lend you their experience when you're trying something new. They lend you their perspective when you're screwing something up. And they've always got your back, even at times when you haven't demonstrated you deserve it.

So what does all this have to do with ND? Right now, plenty.

A couple months ago, I talked about Charlie's conversation -- the one where he was going to look in the mirror and decide it was time to trust people more. I'm not sure he's done it yet, as things haven't appreciably changed in the weeks since I wrote it. Rumblings of discontent with Weis' interpersonal skills have been there since he arrived in 2005, and while winning in the first two seasons may have dampened any negative consequences, 1-9 may be having the opposite effect.

In the last couple of weeks, Irish alum and archetypical old fart Bob "Hug and Hobby" Kuechenberg has pimped himself out to any media outlet who'll have him, complaining that all his friends say Charlie is an "ogre" who doesn't treat people in the ND family well. I know Miami fans and any fans of NFL teams that have almost completed an undefeated season are familiar with Kuech, since he usually makes his opinions known on those subjects. This time of year, the most dangerous place in the world is between Bob Kuechenberg and a microphone. But although Kuech may be a nimrod for running his yapper, it's a variation on the same theme.

In a related story, my friends all now believe Bob Kuechenberg to be a grade-A toolbox. Based on the standards Kuech has set in this debate, I now feel safe referring to him as one.

Although Charlie is no doubt eccentric in his way, and can be megalomaniacal (and maybe even paranoid), he's shown a good side as well. For every story I've heard about him being a blowhard, there's been a corresponding story about his caring nature. Anecdotes of selfish behavior are offset by stories of him going out of his way to help people.

And then there's Hannah and Friends. As the parent of an autistic child, I know first-hand what you go through trying to get your child the help he or she needs. Weis is not only doing that, he's using available avenues to set up resources for other kids and parents. I have a hard time reconciling those efforts coming from a fundamentally selfish person.

Let's be clear -- Charlie ain't no saint. His single-minded pursuit of things leads to episodes where he doesn't treat people the way he should. He's so focused on what he's doing, he doesn't lift his head up and see what others in his world bring to the proverbial table.

In other words, he forgets he's a member of multiple families as well, the Notre Dame family among them.

My interaction with Charlie Weis is limited to about 30 seconds at a basketball game two years ago, so I won't claim to have any ability to influence the man. But if I were sitting in his office talking to him, I'd remind him of the people in his families that care about him, even when it doesn't seem he cares about them. Those people have resources that can help, and they want to use them for that purpose.

It isn't always easy to ask for help. It's even less to ask people you've wronged to forgive you. But people don't enter the ND family because it's an easy place to be, and failing on your own is not mitigated somehow by being a solo effort.

The patience of truly listening doesn't develop in a day. But it has to start somewhere.

Ara said it best: Anything really worth having, you have to pay the price for. If Charlie Weis wants a successful career at Notre Dame, his price is the love and humility required to truly embrace all his families -- nuclear, coaching, players, ND, all down the list -- and make them a full part of him.

Their strength and knowledge will see him through. But he has to start out showing a little strength of his own.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


That's what it would cost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Digging Up the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Point of No Return

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

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

That word: redemption.

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another R-Word

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

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

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

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

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


The R-Word

I hate this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stormy Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

I Don't Care

Yes, he was a walk-on.

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

No more prognosis of 0-8.

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

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

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

Let's do this thing.


Thursday, October 04, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's compare some totals, shall we:

Number of BCS bids achieved:
Weis 2, Willingham 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Goin' Back to Miami

I've written about odious comparisons before, and by the tone both in comments here and posts on NDN, the philosophy of going back to the previous coaching regime when discussing the current problems is wearing thin. I certainly understand that, and am probably reaching the saturation point on that myself. A wise man somewhere on the Internet said the current talent may explain that we're losing but doesn't explain how we're losing, and I see a goodly amount of truth in that. And the good news is next year, CW will have three fourths of the team as his players, so we can finally put the cupboard-bare conversations to bed.

Having said that, however, I'd like to try to get one more bucket out of that well.

Kayo, the co-author of Weis Cracks, is a smarter, more analytical person than I, and I've always copped freely to it (and can do so because I still have youth and good looks on my side). He and I have discussed what I call his "Miami theory" often, and he recently started posting on it on NDN. Because posts tend to be ephemeral, I wanted to make sure it was summarized and saved somewhere less temporary. So I've lent him the keyboard for this entry to talk about the parallels between ND of 2007 and the Miami team of 10 years ago. While it's not an iron-clad comparison, I find it thought-provoking at the very least.

Kayo, take it away.

My numbers may not be perfect, but they’re at least close…

When the NCAA penalized Miami in 1995 after the Pell Grant scandal and other illegal payments, they lost 24 scholarships over the next two years, knocking them down to 61 scholarships overall. That was the second harshest penalty the NCAA has ever levied after the SMU death penalty.

When Weis arrived, he inherited only 68 scholarship players. Now there are only eight scholarship players in the current senior class and 13 in the junior class. Had ND’s roster size been an NCAA penalty, it would have been the third harshest ever levied.

Except for Brady Quinn, the few players Miami was able to recruit were much better than those ND had in those two recruiting classes. Miami still attracted classes full of four- and five-star players who were recruited by other major programs, just not large classes of four- and five-star players.

The two classes preceding Weis' arrival lacked both quantity and quality, featuring few four- and five-star players. According to Tom Lemming in a South Bend Tribune article more than a year ago, “it looked like the staff at that time was resigned to battling Georgia Tech, Stanford, and Northwestern for players instead of going after the great ones.” Lemming also said, "The fact is that [these] last two classes were horrible and one more class like that would have been disastrous. Notre Dame would not have rebounded for years."

Butch Davis took the Miami program after the sanctions were levied and won eight games in each of his first two seasons. Then the scholarship reductions came home to roost, and Miami went 5-6 in Davis' third year, with the five wins against lowly teams.

The Hurricanes did not beat one team the caliber of the five Notre Dame has played so far this year. They started 1-4 in 1997, opening with a victory over Baylor (2-9 in 1997). They lost three in a row to Arizona State (9-3), Pittsburgh (6-6), and West Virginia (7-5). Then they were pummeled 47-0 by a good Florida State team (10-2). Miami rallied for three wins over poor teams - Boston College (4-7), Temple (3-8), and Arkansas State (2-9). Then it lost two of its last three, the losses to Virginia Tech (7-5) and Syracuse (9-4), the win over Rutgers (0-11).

Miami improved steadily in the subsequent seasons. It won nine games each of the next two years, contended for the championship at 11-1 in 2000 (Davis's last year), and won the championship in 2001 with the plethora of talent Davis left when he went to the Browns.

When it comes to his current junior and senior classes, Weis is in a similar situation to Davis’ third season. This isn’t the only reason the Irish are 0-5, but it’s a major factor. It’s reasonable to criticize Weis' management of such a young roster, but how many coaches ever had to deal with a roster so skewed to its freshman and sophomore classes?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


The other day, I wrote about how NDN could be viewed by the electronic community. One commenter noted I hadn't been so circumspect during the previous coaching regime, and asked me why it was OK to criticize a black man on our boards while seemingly giving a white man a pass.

I didn't approve the comment, one because I didn't see how it was relevant, and two because the questioner obviously hadn't been on NDN during the Bob Davie era to see the parallels. However, the question stuck in my mind, and I'd like to try and answer it.

The last two football coaches at Notre Dame, in their heart of hearts, didn't want to be there. The first pursued the job because of its high profile and potential for personal mobility. The second took the job not because he wanted to but because he felt he had to -- it would mean a great deal to a lot of other people for him to be in that position. So each made the "sacrifice", of sorts, to move to South Bend from an area in which he was a lot more comfortable.

Unfortunately, neither took that "sacrifice" to its logical conclusion. It's not enough to do the job halfway, but that's where they stopped. They didn't truly want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed in everything they did.

The first spent too much time trying to turn ND into the place he really wanted to be, and was foolish enough to react in a dumbfounded manner when ND people didn't like it. He was so focused on where he would be next, he didn't take the time to concentrate on where he was then, and the results were predictably haphazard. He had some acumen but not enough experience, and wasn't interested in applying either to making Notre Dame better long-term.

The second, since he wanted to be at ND even less than the first, didn't work hard on the field or off. He didn't make an effort to get to know many people on campus, even those who went out of their way to make him feel welcome. He developed no affinity for or relationship with the alumni, even going so far as to push some of them away.

The top priority for each was not if ND won or lost, but rather how he looked to his prospective next employer. He would be at Notre Dame as long as it took to give the people who wanted him to be there what they needed, giving his career a boost in the process, and then he'd be off for what he believed to be greener pastures.

Compounding the problem was an administration who didn't have winning as their focus. They were more concerned with how the coach's employment played with those they wished to impress rather than how he was performing as an employee, the second coach especially. They put wins low on the priority list, and when those wins didn't stack up, those administrators really weren't bothered. They were scoring points with the people that mattered to them, and that's what counted.

The combination of those two factors -- a head coach and an administration both focused on things other than the advancement of the Notre Dame program -- made it necessary to get the people involved removed as soon as humanly possible. An atmosphere such as the one being created in South Bend was not going to lead to long-term stability or success. Any short-term gains would all go to waste under the poor leadership of people distracted by concerns that competent leaders would consider tertiary.

Now we have an administration willing to take perceived PR hits to put football back on the right track. We have a head coach deeply vested in the Notre Dame philosophy who has shown although he may sometimes be defeated, it won't be because he didn't work his ass off. The only constituency that matters to any of them are the players, alumni and fans who have supported the program through thick and thin.

Both the coach and the men he works for are capable of (and have made) mistakes both large and small. But those mistakes are borne of action rather than passivity, inspired by a chance to promote Notre Dame rather than an opportunity to advance their own agendas. While it's no guarantee of success, it's a much much better model for it than the previous regimes used.

This coach and these administrators are not doing de facto damage to the program by their presence and actions on campus. They want what we want. They bleed when we bleed. They care when we care. None of that has anything to do with the color of the coach's skin or the accent in his voice, but rather the focus of his mind and the desires of his heart, which are much more in sync with us than they were with either of the two men who preceded him in the position.

Does that mean I'm being more forgiving now than I was then? Probably. Like so many other situations in life, I'm going to reach out to the person willing to meet me halfway. Bob Davie got lost on the way to the meeting point, and Tyrone Willingham couldn't be bothered to take any steps in that direction.

Charlie Weis, on the other hand, has virtually sprinted to where we are and given us plenty of reason to put our faith in him. So that's where my faith is. If either of his predecessors had done the same, I (and many others) would have responded in kind. But they didn't. So here we are.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saving Our Electronic Souls

Back in the day, you'd watch a game at a sports bar with your friends or in your living room with family. Joe Montana would overthrow a guy, maybe Alan Pinkett would hit the wrong hole, Tim Brown would down a kickoff inside the five yard line, Lou Holtz would have Kent Graham try and run an option play, and you'd scream at the television, berating the player or coach in question for being a knucklehead. Others in the bar or the room may have agreed or disagreed with you. Within five or six plays, the gaffe may or may not have been forgotten, but you'd moved on to the action at hand. After the game, you might have still been irritated at the blunder, especially if it contributed to a loss, but within a game or so, that play had melded into the other plays that constituted the story of the season.

Now the Internet has come along, and has turned into the world's biggest sports bar. Plays get analyzed long after their previous shelf life would have expired, and the opinions expressed, no matter how ephemeral, gain an air of permanency as the page on which they were written floats in the electronic ether. Philosophies both positive and negative tend to coalesce, as people gravitate towards others who share their viewpoint which may or may not be logical or correct. And as with all things, there is an element of supremacy and accuracy, as perceived value is placed on the person or site that was "first" to point something out.

These are the times that try men's souls. Unfortunately, our souls are being recorded on a magnetic disk these days.

It's hard to say whether these things are good or bad in and of themselves. In the end, we're discussing actual things that have happened, so it's not like people are inventing thing to be happy or to complain about. Opinions are still as much like assholes as they've ever been, and the Internet won't ever change that. Some folks feel you should be able to complain about things when they're bad, other folks feel fans shouldn't be going out of their way to create an atmosphere of negativity, and both sides can put together intelligent, reasonable arguments as to why they're correct.

But there's one thing I would hope both sides agree on -- anyone who tries to use those contributions fraudulently to further their own ends is a piece of garbage with no ethics.

I don't follow recruiting much because I'm a bear of very little brain and I don't have the spare horsepower to agonize over the decisions of 19-year-olds. As I've said many times, I long for the days of yesteryear when I got my Blue and Gold in March with the list of football players who had signed letters of intent and how they fit in the current puzzle. I didn't (and don't) need to know how good the players were who turned us down or who we decided we didn't want. There's only so much grass-is-greener syndrome I can fit in my life.

But a number of good friends of mine not only follow it, they report on it. And some of them are reporting coaches of other programs, particularly two from one school (whose names I won't mention but they rhyme with Suburban Liar and Peg's Mad At Her Son), are cultivating message board comments from ND sites and attempting to paint their own picture with them for already-committed ND recruits. They're inventing racial preferences on Charlie Weis' part because he went with a white quarterback over a black one. They're claiming that all the ND fans want Charlie and his whole staff fired. They believe, even though neither was an assistant coach at ND in the last three years, they can describe exactly how ND does things in all aspects, even though what they describe wasn't done even during their tenures.

All of this is, of course, crap. Charlie Weis went with the player he believed could win games for him, that's the long and short of it. ND fans of intelligence remember 19 wins in 23 games and two BCS bids very well, and none are pushing for Weis to be fired, nor is there any danger he will be. They want him to improve, certainly, and the quality of recruit he and Corwin Brown are bringing into the fold will help make that happen, but saying that Charlie will be "bought out" or the fans want him gone is fabrication of the worst kind.

One can only wonder what Kathi Lemire would think of that behavior if she were here to see it. I doubt she'd smile.

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How I'm spending my football vacation

No, I'm not walking away. Now is the time, after all, for all good men to come to the aid of their football program, and far be it from me to not be a good man.

I'm simply choosing to alter the methods by which I watch. In this season of discontent, we're past the point of looking for the usual things, or even the usual suspects. So this is how I plan on spending my football time for the 2007 season.

First, I've pretty much stopped reading external media and am sticking with outlets like IE and BGI (although I'll continue to link headlines for everyone, never fear). I don't need to be reminded that we're 0-and-whatever or how it compares to other seasons / coaches / programs or what that allegedly "means" outside of this season being, as the grounds crew in Cleveland would say, shitty. I need to see what is needed long-term to get it turned around and how those needs are being met, and those writers will tell me that better than anyone. If I want the external perspective, Mike Rothstein's and Ben Ford's work will do quite nicely, with the periodic samplings of John Walters. I'll still read the Chicago Trib because blood is thicker than water and I'm interested to see how Brian Hamilton is working out. Outside that list, no one exists until basketball season. I'm guessing it'll help my blood pressure.

Second, I've stopped looking at this season in a historical context, preferring to put it in one more attuned to the 10,000-foot view. "ND has never been 0-4 before" is a meaningless stat to me. All that says is they've never lost their first four games in a season. They've had bad seasons before, and this is obviously one of them. The important thing is how what happens this season builds for seasons to come, because that's how history eventually will judge it. Is it the crucible that forges a high-quality program, or the furnace that eventually melts Charlie Weis' career? We won't know that for a while, so let's watch what happens.

Building on the second point, I'm going to spend the games looking for an upward trend in the areas that need work. I know, it's hardly a short list. But this is what I want to see, in order of importance:

1) Continued improvement on the offensive line. Whether it was a weaker DL for MSU or the result of the renewed focus on hitting, the OL looked, in the words of Emperor Caesar, nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice. Holes were there for the running game, and Aldridge and Hughes were able to take advantage of them. The more of the game put on the backs, the less of it is on the back of the frosh QB. But the pass-blocking is still terrible, and while they need to do that in game situations if they're ever going to improve, they also need heavy doses of what is currently, at least in a hamstrung sense, working.

2) An overhaul on special teams. Now that they've looked at the OL and things are at least moving there, it's time to address special teams, and the needs are glaring to say the least. In all four games so far this season, special teams performance has hurt us, whether by penalty or giving up a big return or shanking a punt or whatever. The blocking schemes look disorganized. Price has regressed alarmingly. Right now, it doesn't look like this ST-by-committee thing is working. That means it's time to put the responsibilities in the hands of just one person, and if that person is not already on the staff (which I don't believe he is), he should be hired quickly after the gun sounds at Stanford.

3) Evidence of flexibility on the part of Charlie, which I talked about last week. I suppose taking the ball against MSU wasn't necessarily a bad decision on its face, but as someone pointed out on NDN, it would have been great to get the ball in the second half and try to build on the momentum instead of punting it away to MSU. Charlie also needs to have the patience to stick with what's working (yesterday, the running game) over what he, in his gut, wants to do but wasn't working (pass the ball). If we're getting six yards at a crack with Aldridge and Hughes, we should hammer away at it as much as possible. That was MSU's game plan yesterday, and it was effective.

4) An influx of passion. Watching other games and programs, you see guys jumping around like they're ready to rip someone's head off. In college, that's an important aspect of a program. It's not as important, however, in the pros where a paycheck serves as the primary motivator, so this makes another area in which Charlie must try to adjust.

Trouble is, the passion and leadership usually is expected from the upperclassmen. Right now, our captains on offense and special teams are too busy executing poorly and getting penalties to lead anyone else. It also requires the proper temperament. Zibby would be a perfect candidate to spark that passion, but while he gives everything he has on every play, I'm led to understand he's kind of a soft-spoken guy in general. Yet another ingredient for this perfect storm of Murphy's Law this season has become.

I haven't included anything for the defense on the list because it's my belief the issues there are strictly talent-related. If that sounds like I'm throwing players under the bus, that's not my intention because I don't think anyone out there is dogging it. But when the players turning in the best plays are sophomores and freshmen, it is what it is. There's more intensity and ferocity, but they're still getting the horses into place.

If there's anything I want to see on D, it's continued playing time for the freshmen like Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. Next year, when the injured Gary Gray will join Darrin Walls at corner and have guys like Robert Blanton backing them up, the secondary will be much tougher, which will allow guys like Neal, Smith, and the array of four- and five-star frosh to wreak havoc in Corwin Brown's system.

There's still lots to do, and if you're going to be focused on record and history and where Michigan is in the all-time-whatevers list relative to us, this is going to be a bad season for you. We can't do anything about the first three games, which were awful in both coaching and execution. We can, however, do something about the future, and that's what I want to see these next few weeks.

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Monday, September 17, 2007


ND is in dangerous waters at 0-3, and I'm choosing to navigate some as well in bringing a suggestion to help Charlie Weis succeed.

Let me start with what seems to be the required disclaimers. I still believe Weis can be a successful coach at Notre Dame. I still believe ND was right to fire Tyrone Willingham when they did, and still believe Weis was the right man for the job when hired. I am also not calling for his removal any time soon.

But Weis now stands at a crossroads. One way lies college coaching success, and the other lies college coaching oblivion. The result will depend on which path he takes.

And I believe the first step on that path is for him to look in the mirror and both say and believe, "It's not all about me".

Do I think Charlie Weis is a selfish man? Hell no. No selfish person could do what he does in the name of disabled children and adults, especially to the extent he does it. Charlie is a person very giving with both his time and his money, for which he deserves every commendation that comes his way.

But he's not nearly as giving with his trust. There's a very fine line between self-confidence and self-insulation, and I think Charlie's been tiptoeing up to it way too often.

Charlie believes in himself, but I don't know if he necessarily believes in anyone else. He's fine delegating when it's a subject he feels he doesn't know, but when Charlie knows something, he's the only one who can know it because no one else can know it as well as he. I like he's willing to take responsibility for the program, but I don't like it if it means no one else can do the same. That's not a viable long term solution.

Here's an example. Last Saturday, Notre Dame was on the road facing a team with a first-time starting quarterback. The last couple of games, the Irish offense wasn't able to get on track immediately. The previous week, the first-time starter on the other side had been shaky in decision-making.

I'm not a coach, but it seems to be the logical choice if Notre Dame won the toss to start the game would be to defer the decision to the second half and put the defense on the field first. This would force the first-time starter out on the field immediately, where he might make a mistake and give ND needed momentum.

But that's not what was done. Charlie's influence is on the offensive side of the ball, and only his offense can be trusted to take control of the game at the start and get ND rolling towards a win. So ND got the ball first, and the only thing that got rolling was the ball towards the Michigan goal line after a bad first snap.

If Charlie can say "It's not all about me" to himself and mean it, it becomes easier to trust other people to do their jobs to help you. It becomes easier to listen to other viewpoints which, while you may not agree with them, may open unconsidered possibilities up to you. It gives you the broader perspective crucial to the success of a head coach as opposed to a coordinator.

Once Charlie can start trusting others, he can take two more steps I believe crucial to his development as a college coach as opposed to a professional one:

Install a true offensive coordinator. He may already have him on the coaching staff, but if Mike Haywood isn't that guy, he should be replaced by someone who is. That coordinator should have full reign over the offense, and be responsible for the assistants working under him. Charlie will have his input, of course, but should spend his time macro-managing the program and not sitting down with the quarterbacks or sketching out the first X number of plays for a game. That's the OC's job, and Charlie is no longer an OC.

A true OC may also expose Charlie to a word I think he needs to hear more often: No. Some ideas are good, some bad. If your assistants are unwilling to promote the former while warning you away from the latter, they're useless to you. As I said, the more viewpoints, the broader the perspective.

Adapt practice strategies towards what works in college. Charlie knows what he knows, but I think it's time for him to get to know other things. The biggest of those things is how the college game differs from the pros.

According to folks who know, pro practices don't usually involve a lot of hitting and fundamentals. The players already know how to do what they do, they just need to be told when to do it. They also spend a long season getting hit by other pros, so it's not smart to wear them out beating the crap out of each other. This doesn't hold in college. College players need to learn the skills they'll take to the NFL, and their college coaches must teach them.

College players also need inspiration. Pro players are paid very well to eat, sleep and breathe football 24/7. College players have a lot more on their plate, and sometimes need that extra mental edge. They want to be told to "Win one for the Gipper", if only to give them something to hold on to when things go wrong.

Not all is lost, and there's a prime example of how to do it on our schedule. According to a story I heard, Pete Carroll found himself in this same position at the end of his first season at USC, a season that didn't go so well. He decided to embrace his inner Poodle and (in turn) the college atmosphere. He abandoned the NFL-style practices and started hitting hard all the time, and brought in assistants who not only knew the game but could also fire up his players. Hard to argue with the results.

This is where Charlie must grow and adapt. There's no doubt he has a fine understanding of the game, but being a head coach requires a different kind of understanding that goes beyond the Xs and Os. Sometimes the solution is simpler than that, and in this case, it has to start with trust. Once he starts to trust, his life gets better.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drum Major, If You Please

Every parade must have a leader, and it's usually those who are adept at it who are asked to do it most often. So it comes as no surprise to me that ESPN resident hair-puller Pat Forde has decided to fire the first shot in the Weis-to-Willingham idiocy parade this year with his article today.

If memory serves, he was the first out of the gate last year on the subject when Washington started 4-1 and ND got handled by Michigan. But then the Irish peeled off eight straight wins while the Huskies lost six in a row (including that 20-3 decision to powerhouse Stanford), and Forde and the rest of the intellectually bankrupt muckrakers stuck their heads back in the hole, waiting for the next chance.

I don't want to link it because contributing to the decline of society by making people dumber is a mortal sin. You're welcome to hunt for and read it yourself, and on your own head be it. But I'll pull a couple of paragraphs here and there so you get the gist.

Domers, Your Credibility Is On The Clock. When Notre Dame trap-doored Tyrone Willingham after just three years on the job in 2004, it established a precedent for the next coach: You've got three years, pal. Have it up and running at full speed or else.

Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat. So stupid so quick. Can't you even let the reader settle in before hitting them over the head with a mistake?

That's not the precedent, big guy. That's not even close.

No one was asking Tyrone Willingham to "have it up and running at full speed" in his third year, although that would have been nice. What they were asking him to do was improve on the previous regime while setting a good foundation for future success. And Willingham didn't even come close to succeeding on that score.

It wasn't just that ND wasn't competitive on the field for two and a half seasons (which would have been three outside of fortuitous bounces on defense). It also wasn't looking any better any time soon. Aside from a quality class in his first year (coached by Weis to the best first-two-season win total of any ND coach in its history), Willingham and his staff bumbled to two mediocre-at-best classes in a row to follow it up. After three seasons of ineptitude on offense and haphazard results on defense (to say nothing of atrocious special teams), no coaching changes were in the offing. And yet the golf course continued to beckon, at the expense of gameplanning and meeting with high school coaches and getting support from alumni and all sorts of other duties Willingham neglected in his three years in South Bend.

Willingham knew as well as Notre Dame did that the relationship wasn't working. That's why his reps were talking to Washington in October of that year, why his contract had a special buyout clause at the end of the third season (when if he'd done well, he'd be NFL bound), and why he refused to make any assistant coaching changes at the end of his third season when his bosses suggested very strongly he do so.

He could afford to be insubordinate. He had his golden (domed) parachute, both financial and philosophical. He goes sailing off into the purple sunset with many millions of ND's dollars -- more than had ever been paid to any non-African American football coach in school history, by the way -- while the Irish would have to deal with the small-minded fallout from people who couldn't see past the color of Willingham's skin to take in the (lack of) content of his character.

Yes, coaches should get at least a fourth year as a rule. Some turnaround jobs are harder than others. But those coaches should be willing to meet the school halfway. Those coaches should be able to identify what's not working and make moves to try and make fixes. Those coaches should at least pretend they're interested in a career at their place of employment.

Willingham's recruiting was in the toilet. His offenses scared no one. His defenses were hit-or-miss. His relationships with high school coaches were terrible. His relationships with a lot of the ND alumni clubs, including those that had bent over backwards to help him feel welcome, were worse.

And what was he doing to fix those things? Absolutely nothing.

So what would the point of a fourth year have been, other than to dig Notre Dame into an even deeper hole? One more year of bad recruiting. One more year slipping away from the rank of winningest college program. One more year of players and fans walking away.

What would that have accomplished?

Oh, I have no doubt it would have accomplished a lot for the people who don't like Notre Dame or who thrive on mindless rhetoric. But I don't think it would have done much for us, the alumni and fans, and in the end, our opinions, needs and wants count a lot more than the haters'. And thank God for that.

At least you have the intellectual honesty to admit "Weis coached many of Willingham's players better than Willingham ever did". A logician would have recognized that as being the overall point and stopped there. Quelle surprise you did not, talking about what the "Willingham players" and the "Weis players" have accomplished on offense.

Of course, you fail to note how in most programs, upperclassmen are expected to contribute more than underclassmen, a condition exacerbated at a place like Notre Dame that does not allow automatic redshirting. And it should probably be noted that the Weis version of Quinn, Samardzija, Stoval, et al, were ten times the players the Willingham versions were (which, again, would be the overall point).

Should Charlie Weis be on the hot seat? Right now, no. When you spend two years giving the fans the results they want while working very hard to ensure a strong future, you build goodwill that takes you through the rough patches. And that has nothing to do with his Caucasianality and everything to do with knowing his job and doing it.

But his seat is certainly warming. If we're having this same conversation about ineptitude on offense this time next year, you can bet his tushie will be more than a little singed.

And that'll be no different than how Willingham was treated.

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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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How About A Little Fire, Scarecrow?

I can't believe I spent an hour over the weekend putting together my strawman list and still forgot the most galling of them all:

ND's recruiting is improving ... they must have lowered their academic standards

[smacking head on keyboard repeatedly]

This is probably one of the biggest canards in the ND universe -- that the Fighting Irish lower their academic standards when they want to get good and then raise them again when they get nervous about becoming a football factory.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm willing to assume there is always an inverse correlation between the academic achievement of high school juniors and seniors and their athletic ability, even though it's something I don't necessarily believe to be true.

The measure of admissions standards seems to be set by the average GPA and standardized test scores of the athletes ND admits. When those scores go up, the theory goes, ND has tightened the noose on its coach in an effort to reclaim some kind of accountability for classroom performance. When those scores go down, ND has realized they need to admit the quality athletes to succeed.

That all sounds great in theory. The problem is, it only measures the student athletes who accept a scholarship offer to Notre Dame, not the full range of student athletes who were offered a scholarship, and it's the offer range that truly determines what Notre Dame's "admissions standards" are.

Players want to go where they believe they will succeed in the areas they deem important. They want to play in the pros, and they want to make sure during their college careers they get the proper instruction and exposure that will maximize the chances they'll end up there. Therefore, they're going to be attracted to and sign with strong programs.

When Notre Dame is perceived as strong, they're going to sign good athletes. If you believe my assumption above that the good athletes are going to bring correspondingly low academic scores, the overall ratings will go down. When Notre Dame is perceived as weak or otherwise non-optimal, they're not going to sign good athletes. Once again, if the assumption is true, the overall ratings will go up. It has nothing to do with what Notre Dame has intended, but rather what they have achieved, which is not the same thing and not subject to the criteria being evaluated.

The current mantra is that ND somehow loosened the strings for Charlie Weis, and that's why he's pulling in top classes. The reality, however, if you talk to recruiting gurus, is ND bent over backwards to accommodate Bob Davie, and bent even further for Tyrone Willingham.

Remember that for the most part, student athletes cannot be offered a scholarship without the approval of admissions, and over the past 10 years there have been more than a few "question marks" that got (or accepted) offers to come to ND. The difference is, a lot of them didn't accept that offer, so their scores are not factored in to the data for their recruiting class.

Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were allowed to make plenty of offers to blue-chip athletes who still had academic issues to overcome. Aldo de la Garza went so far as to sign a letter of intent for Davie's squad, but never made it to campus after Clearinghouse issues. Justin Forsett and Jonathan Stewart were not what you'd call academic hotshots in high school, yet Willingham was permitted to pursue them and make the offer to them.

And academics didn't have anything to do with some of the other problems. Reggie Bush, who had his academic house in order, chose Southern Cal over the Irish, which had nothing to do with academic standards and everything to do with ND not being an attractive program under Willingham's leadership. Think TW's ND record would have been better with Bush in the backfield? Can't blame that one on admissions.

Does this mean ND never tightens the academic reins? Of course not, because they have in the past. But they usually do it more to affect the viability of a coach than to make some kind of overall statement. ND has goosed the standards up to push Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Digger Phelps out the door when firing them or otherwise terminating their contracts might have drawn hue and cry from the alumni and fanbase. But I don't believe they've ever done so to quiet complaints about being a football factory, because the only people who make those complaints are (or at least should be) irrelevant when it comes to ND charting its overall course.

As long as a coach keeps lines of communication open with the admissions office, he (or she) should have no issues with recruiting. When you keep those lines open, as Weis has, you benefit. When you don't keep those lines open, as Willingham didn't and Davie did haphazardly, you don't.

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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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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Physicians, Heal Thyselves

I swear, there are times I believe the people who operate various Michigan fansites are committing fraud. They expect people to pay for their "knowledge", and yet they know just as little (if not less) about a lot of topics than their posters do. Why people shell out good money to listen to those people is beyond me.

The latest mewling concerns the potential (edit: now confirmed) verbal commitment of defensive lineman Ethan Johnson to Charlie Weis. Proving that there's no song like an old song, they've dredged up the same tired whine they used when Sam Young chose the Fighting Irish over the Wolverines -- guaranteed major admittance. According to them, ND has a recruiting advantage over Michigan because UM requires admittance to some of their programs of study after a year or two of matriculation over and above the decision that got you into Ann Arbor in the first place. ND, they complain, doesn't have that hurdle. Any ND football player can major in whatever he wants, and this creates some kind of shadow of wrongdoing or academic shortcutting on ND's part.

News flash, boys: that's available to every Notre Dame student. This isn't something dreamed up for the football players, and it's not any kind of academic corner-cutting. That would be a Kinesiology department, but that's a discussion for another day. Notre Dame doesn't require a selection process at the upperclass level for specific majors because their overall admissions process is more selective.

Now before any of the Maize and Blue faithful get their panties in a bunch, the difference is Michigan is a much larger school and, as such, admits a wider range of academic student as a result. Therefore, they need a secondary process to determine the best destination for the students once they're there. Same thing is true for any large state university, which is why a lot of those universities have those policies. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is smaller overall and with no state constituency involved, applies a harsher standard for overall admittance. Once the student is in South Bend, they're allowed to select whatever major suits their fancy.

Granted, there's still a weed-out process in the form of classroom performance. I know a lot of pre-med guys who, thanks to Organic Chemistry, wound up in MIS classes with yours truly. There's no guarantees once you're in the program. You still have to get the grades, and in that respect, ND football players are held to the same standard as everyone else. I know that because, unlike the peanut gallery who've never attended a class in South Bend, I was actually there and saw them do it.

But turning it into a "recruiting advantage" is the most odoriferous level of bullshit. "Michigan is not going to sell their standards at the B-school to get a recruit." Right. Instead, they're going to shuttle him into a meaningless major and then cease to care whether or not he gets his degree once he's in there. Now that's a standard to which we can all aspire.

Here's a hint, Skunkweasels: Worry a lot less about how recruits are admitted to whatever college within a university, and worry a lot more about how that 33 percent graduation rate for African American football players is making you look. Instead of jumping down Jim Harbaugh's throat for being disloyal, how about an actual effort to keep your players' noses to the grindstone? How about providing guidance to these players to ensure they not only select a meaningful major but also see the effort through to getting the sheepskin? If you're going to treat your athletes like meat, don't be shocked when some of them decide they want something better than the grinder.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green (Roomed)

Now that Cam Cameron has hitched his star to Ted Ginn's bandwagon and Brady Quinn is a Brown, let's examine the happenings of Saturday.

First off, include me among those who don't believe Quinn's draft position reflects poorly on him or on ND in general. If a number of teams who needed QB's passed on him, that'd be one thing. But only one did, and they're being eviscerated in the press and by their own fans right now. If a number of QB's had been selected in front of him, that might have been a strong indictment. But only one was, and Quinn can probably be thankful he didn't get sucked into the career-destroying vortex that is the Oakland Raiders organization. Yes, Charlie Weis went to bat for Quinn and may have overstated his case. But I'd rather see the coach go too far in support of his player than not going far enough. Players should know the coach has their back.

But having said that, let's examine what the talking heads said about Quinn. Some of it has some basis, while some does not, with the truth, as usual, sitting smack-dab in the middle.

Accuracy. 60+ percent passing in his junior and senior seasons is nothing to sneeze at, nor is his TD-to-interception ratio. Quinn obviously makes good decisions and sees the field well. But it seems every game there was a pass or two that had us wiping our brows because it didn't quite go where it was intended. The first pick against Michigan this past season comes to mind -- the ball that bounced of an ND player's trailing shoulder before finding its way into the end zone courtesy of a Michigan defender. While most of Quinn's throws were on the money (especially the over-the-middle tosses to Carlson that always seemed to go for big gains), I also can recall a number of times where receivers would have to reach back for the ball, disrupting their rhythm and reducing the potential yards made after the catch, or would have to leave their feet to make the completion. Searching for such pinpoint accuracy may be a nitpick on my part, but it's not like unease on the subject is coming out of left field.

Arm strength. My one knock on BQ has always been the long ball. To me, a lot of passes over 20 yards ended up being jump balls between the Irish receiver and the defensive back covering him. When you had guys with tremendous leaping ability like Mo Stovall on the other end, the results usually ended up good. This season, with McKnight and Samardzija going up for the pigskin, the results were, as a noted Irish fan would say, good but not great. When your receiver has to camp out under the ball, it neutralizes whatever separation speed he brings to the table. Hitting a guy in stride on those 35-yard strikes allows him to make use of his talents more.

Blitz handling. This is one where I don't see the talking heads' point. I do remember a number of times the OL had to go to max protect mode to make sure Quinn had enough time, but I think this said a lot more about ND's OL quality and depth than it did Quinn's ability to handle it, not to mention the lack of a starting fullback for most of the season to help in pass protection. If Quinn was indeed bad at handling the blitz, I would have expected to see a lot more interceptions thrown and/or a poorer completion percentage, and we saw neither. I don't think Quinn's decision-making is an issue.

Now, do I also believe (a) all these applicable issues are correctable, and (b) BQ has both the intelligence and the work ethic to make that happen in relatively short order? You betcha. Do I believe Miami was stupid for passing on him given those things? Right again. And do I believe Quinn has the chutzpah that so many quality NFL quarterbacks have, which is a quality in high demand? Three for three. It all adds up to him being a value pick where he was, and I believe his career will validate that.

I also think it's probative the quarterback that was chosen first spent the last season throwing to two wideouts that were taken in the first round of the draft. Samardzija's decision to play baseball and Carlson's return to ND for his final year aside, none of Quinn's targets have been drafted yet. McKnight and Walker's names weren't called on Saturday, and both hope to be tagged on Sunday. But one must wonder -- give Quinn Russell's receiving corps, and would he have gone first instead?

All that matters now is Quinn's performance on the NFL stage. He'll probably have to step in sooner rather than later, and I have no doubt he's up to the task. Good luck to him.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cheese also comes from dopey coaches

Beware, gentle readers: All is not well in Wisconsin, land of cheese and driving the speed limit in the passing lane.

It seems now-second-year UW football coach Bret Bielema is a little cranky. Four months after the games were played and two days before his program's spring game, Bielema is still pissed off his team didn't get a BCS bid.

And who does he blame for that? Notre Dame, of course.

Bielema is still smoldering because his 12-1 team was left out of the Bowl Championship Series last year even after outperforming the Fighting Irish, a team Bielema says is virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year....

Bielema knows the rule exists so the BCS has an open spot for each of the major-conference champions. But he wonders why BCS rules treat Notre Dame, an independent, nearly the same as a conference champion.

"I understand why certain teams get exemptions; I don't understand why Notre Dame does," Bielema said. "If they want to play by conference rules, join a conference. They don't take, maybe, into consideration past bowl history. Notre Dame hasn't won in the last nine bowl appearances, or whatever it is. And to me, we've proven over time that we deserve the opportunity."

I expect this level of dumb from Integer fans, but when it start to bleed into the coaching staffs, we've got trouble in River City. There's so much wrong in there, I hardly know where to start. So we may as well begin the beguine at the beginning.

"...the Fighting Irish, a team Bielema says is virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year."

There aren't any quotes around that sentiment, so I'm left having to pray Bielema didn't actually say something that dumb. No, Bret, Notre Dame is not "virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year". They have to do the same things you do -- win a minimum of nine games (although that's not always guaranteed to get them in) and finish ranked in the top 12 of the BCS poll. If they were "virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year", I imagine they'd have more than three appearances in the ten seasons the BCS has been in effect.

In fact, it's more difficult for them to get into the BCS than it is for you because they have to depend on sentiment and how the other teams do. All you have to do is win your (sometimes crappy) conference. Ask some of those nine-win Integer squads that made it to the BCS in recent years how tough that was. Or query some of the Pac10 teams before SC got their checkbook out. Go check out the roster for the 2002 season BCS games and get back to us how "guaranteed" ND's position is.

"Bielema knows the rule exists so the BCS has an open spot for each of the major-conference champions."

If so, he doesn't "know" much. The rule doesn't exist to protect major-conference champions. All of them already have a bid, so the number of overall teams doesn't matter.

The rule exists because of the payout schedule for BCS appearances. Neither the Integer nor any of the other conferences wanted both second-school payouts to go to the same league, so they set that maximum to ensure the widest spreading of wealth possible. Typical of the Communistic practices conferences usually engage in, which is why I'm glad ND isn't in one for football.

Bret obviously still has post-seasonal traumatic disorder and is looking for someone to blame. Instead of the Notre Dame strawman, Bret should target his anger at some other targets, like....

His conference. The Integer power brokers agreed to the two-team rule to protect their bank balance. They also set up the unbalanced schedule that didn't give the Badgers a shot at Ohio State. Complain to your conference commissioner, provided he's not too busy sending bizarre press releases about recruiting classes and investigating phantom boogeymen who are talking down one of his crappiest programs.

The BCS voters. You know, the guys that voted Michigan ahead of you even after they got pounded by the Buckeyes. Your league pumped up the "Battle of the Century" crap so high, the Wolverines didn't fall like they should have after that loss and your Badgers paid the price.

Himself. Personal accountability, there's a novel concept. Hey Bret, how about you take responsibility for your team not being able to keep its foot on Michigan's throat after they came out completely flat against you in September. Or taking responsibility for playing a horse-manure schedule, particularly out of conference, that most likely cost you precious BCS points. Or how about just saying, "The buck stops here, if we missed the BCS, it's because we didn't get it done when it counted". That's what Charlie Weis would say, after all.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'Em ... Suck It Up

Driving home from dropping the kids at school today, I was listening to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. While I still have some residual dissatisfaction with the way Irish alum and program co-host Mike Golic handled himself in the wake of the Tyrone Willingham firing, his son will be wearing the Blue and Gold in a couple of seasons. Given that I also like Mike Greenberg from his days in Chicago sports media, I figured it was time to move on. Besides, given a choice between the WWL and Mike North (the presence of Irish alum Anne Maxfield notwithstanding) and a third run through the morning news, the choice is clear.

During the program, they were discussing the subject of player movement in the pros and how it can create interesting (if not awkward) situations both for players and fans. What do New York Yankee fans do when their team signs someone from the Boston Red Sox? Could Bears fans stomach winning games with Brett Favre at the helm? Can you envision Spike Lee wearing a Bulls jersey?

That got me to thinking -- if you can't beat them, should you really join them? Or is it better to suck it up until you can beat them?

Greenberg seemed much more in tune with my way of thinking on this subject -- I don't want to win with that guy, I want to beat that guy and have him leave my field with his head hanging in shame basking in his looserdom. Grow your own and use them to bludgeon your opponents into submission, I say.

Over the course of the drive, I tried to think of coaches or players I could not stand having on ND's roster, no matter how good it made the Irish.

It was difficult in basketball, because there isn't a lot of hate going around these days. Of course, there are the old standbys like Tom Kleinschmidt, but those are days long past. I did come up with a few -- Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf and Jim Calhoun sprang to mind immediately -- but I'd probably have to give it a lot more prayerful meditation.

In football, however, it was easier. Coaches made the list a lot moreso than players because players tend to be temporary while coaches seem to last forever.

The day Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer are named as coach of Notre Dame, I begin a hiatus from Notre Dame football until they leave, and I don't care if ND wins five MNC's in a row. Carroll is a snake oil salesman who has a maturity less developed than the players he coaches, and I want him at SC for a long long time until we can deliver a couple of well-deserved ass kickings. Meyer is a self-promoting jagbag who has already used ND for his own personal gain once. Karma, for him, will be a bitch and a half, and I want to watch it and enjoy every nanosecond.

Steve Spurrier? I'd take him. Yes, he's arrogant, but most coaches are, and I don't have a particular antipathy for him. Terry Bowden, on the other hand, makes my skin crawl both physically and metaphorically.

Corwin Brown I can handle just fine. Lloyydd Ccarr? Nuh-uh. And Cheaty McSweatervest can take his SUV's and AIDS Awareness curriculum and go scratch.

Did I miss anybody?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Down the stretch Mike Brey and the crew come, closing in on 10 Big East wins (which they should get at Rutgers even if things go wrong on Saturday vs. the Golden Gold). They've already passed the 20-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since the Sweet 16 season four years ago. Since no Big East team has ever been left out of the NCAAs with at least 10 conference wins and at least 20 overall wins, the Fighting Irish are a lock, right?

Wrong. It's despicable and senseless, but wrong.

The saying goes one should never speak in absolutes, but I've never been shy about doing so, so here goes: If things stay the way they are, no Notre Dame team even remotely on the bubble will ever make the NCAA tournament. If they can find a way to keep Notre Dame out, they will do so, no matter how the logic twists and turns.

For example, if ND loses two of its last three -- falls to Marquette, beats Rutgers, and loses in the first round of the EWSNBN, for example -- expect to hear a lot about (a) the non-conference SOS and (b) losing to SJU, USF, and [insert BET #12 seed here] as the reasons why they were kept out. Doesn't matter they're the first 10-BE-20-overall team not to make the tournament. It didn't matter they were one of (if not the) first 9-win BE team not to make the tournament four years ago, let alone that it happened to them twice. Whatever rule can apply to keep them out will be applied and all others will be ignored. There'll be furor, but in the end, no accountability. The story will waft away, just like it always does.

Sounds insane? It is, especially when you hear the reason.

Let's go back in time to March of 1990, the last NCAA tournament appearance for the Fighting Irish before the Decade of Dung began. Notre Dame was 16-13 as an Independent, and they were fighting with teams such as DePaul (who had swept ND that season) for a bid. Miracle of miracles, Notre Dame found itself in the tournament, where they got waxed by Virginia.

Jump forward to March of 1992, John MacLeod's first season. ND had faced 11 of the top 25 teams that season, most of them on the road during a 45-day span without a home game. They were just over .500, and were squarely on the bubble, but had a much better resume than they'd had two years before. Then they got screwed by a no-call in the waning moments at DePaul (sound familiar?) and even with an incredibly high SOS, were left out of the NCAA tournament (sound familiar?), getting to the NIT championship game instead (sound familiar?).

And ever since then, the bubble has been trouble. 1997. 2000. 2004. 2005. The list goes on, and it'll keep going on.

"Well, that's all well and good, Mike," you're saying now, "but you haven't told us the reason yet."

In a way, though, I have. And I'll give you a hint.

Between the first two dates we talked about -- March of 1990 and March of 1992 -- something momentous happened at Notre Dame, something that had never happened before at any school and has not happened since. It created incredible upheaval in the landscape of college athletics and affected every other major college athletics program.

The event? Notre Dame signed an exclusive contract with NBC to cover its home games in football.

To say the other schools were pissed is an understatement. They all lost out on their own television deal, which the networks demanded be re-negotiated since ND games in South Bend would not be included, which meant money came (and continues to come) out of their pockets. That contract means ND can afford to take the high road on moral issues like player suspensions, and doesn't have to crawl hat-in-hand to ESPN to get their games broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights. ND wins, every one else loses.

But what can they do about it? No school is going to turn down a football date with Notre Dame and the guaranteed national television audience (and boost to their season ticket bases if the contract included at least one home game) that comes with it, even if the Irish are in a down cycle. That's just making a bad situation worse, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They were angry, but not stupid.

Outside of football, though? Ah ha. An opportunity to extract the pound (or more) of flesh. And what better sport to hit them where it might hurt (at least a little) financially than men's basketball?

Some of the responses weren't at all subtle, like Kansas pulling out of a planned four-game contract. But much of it was a lot more so, including that from the NCAA Selection Committee, which was (and still is) made up of AD's from schools that (for the most part) got screwed in the NBC deal.

Outlandish? Sour-grape-ish? I thought so too, because I didn't believe it when it was first mentioned to me after the screw job Matt Doherty's team got.

Then, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some folks at the various conferences for reasearch for a book I was considering (but haven't written ... yet). During small talk, I mentioned how I was getting tired of being on the wrong end of the bubble come NCAA time.

The conference person's response, summarized: "Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to get used to that unless that football contract goes away."

I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Are they really that petty? Did Pat Garrity get his title of "best ND player never to play in the NCAA tournament" because of the NBC deal? Is Mike Brey on the hot seat because other schools are pissed we get Hammond and Hayden and (until this season) crappy production value?

Apparently so. And that blows.

So don't quote past performance to me with regard to win totals and RPI or anything like that. It's all meaningless when it comes to Notre Dame. Because anything but a pristine above-reproach resume will have the Irish on the outside looking in every time, integrity of the Selection Committee be damned.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An offer we can't refuse ... or can we?

In the latest piece of evidence that there is almost nothing about $outhern Cal that isn't obnoxious these days, a teenager writing for one of the most unfortunately-named newspapers you'll find, the Daily Trojan, thinks $C and ND should play in basketball every year.

On the surface, a good idea. ND has a strong alumni presence in LA, which was one of the reasons the football series started in the first place. A series would have good synergies (although I dislike that word) with things on the football side. Once things settle in with the new 18 game conference slate, logistics on longer-term contracts might be easier to work out.

But I can think of a lot more reasons it would be a bad idea, starting with the fact ND already has a strong basketball relationship with a school in LA, one whose "tradition" is more than a "work in progress" (translated: one year old). If $C wants to get things going with ND in basketball, they (like in so many other things) need to get in line behind the Bruins. Perhaps this is what the article was all about -- $C desperately wanting another thing that UCLA already has. But that's their inferiority complex, not ours.

When ND joined the Big East, a lot of long-time rivalries had to go by the wayside, like Marquette, DePaul, UCLA, and Dayton. Additionally, there were teams like Michigan State that had been opponents for a while that had fallen off. Changes to the conference have brought some of those great series back into the fold, but before ND decides to try and spark a "rivalry" with a johnny-come-lately like $C, tradition dictates they at least make strong attempts to rekindle the sparks of yesteryear that already exist.

Besides, how long will it be before the current cavalier approach to rules that so disappointingly exists in their football program bleeds over into basketball? Between Bush's situation, conference calls, and the general atmosphere of lawlessness, whether real or perceived, hovering over the Trojans, I don't think expanding our relationship right now is a good idea. Maybe, when $C is about honor and respect again, it might be something to consider. Right now, as Andy Cross would say, not so much.

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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

Alanis Morissette on Line One, Coach

Call the Webster folks, their definition of irony is about to get a refresh.

The big story in the post-NLOI day flotsam is poor poor wronged Ron Zook. He just can't understand why people are looking askance at this year's recruiting effort. It baffles him that folks would wonder why highly-ranked prospects would want to play at a school in the middle of nowhere with bad facilities and next to zero fan interest. He wonders why people are raising their eyebrows at the ability of a guy who was mediocre at his previous coaching stop and (so far) downright horrible at this one to sway blue-chip players to cast their lot with the Illini. He's stupefied folks would assume wrongdoing from a school that has a laundry list of recruiting violations in major sports and a recruiting coordinator, Mike Locksley, who was at least proximately involved with at least one high-profile violation at his last port of call.

It's irresponsible, says he. There's no proof, says he. It's not right, says he.

Then in his next breath, he asks for rain on his wedding day.

It's no secret the IL folks think the Notre Dame coaching staff is behind all this. Apparently they're not shy saying it off the record, and the volume of articles in the past two days backs this up, including this one, for which I was interviewed but not quoted.

Never mind that Michigan and Ohio State have more to lose with IL being a recruiting power than ND does. Never mind that both those schools lost players to Zook this season as well. And never mind that Michigan has a history of being quick to tattle on their Illini brethren the minute they get uppity. It's Notre Dame's fault, dammit, because Charlie Weis is just plain terrified of the Coaching Juggernaut that is the Zooker.

Do they have any proof of ND's involvement? Not any more than their recruiting detractors do. But that's not stopping them from going to the media and whining about it and defaming ND just as Zook's critics are allegedly defaming him.

Illinois is just as good as "playing the game" as anyone else. Is it a coincidence the same day the NYT piece appeared, a corresponding puff piece on Arrelious Benn -- a player who had enrolled in December and who hadn't had anything newsworthy happen to him in the month he'd been in Champaign -- was run in the Washington Post? Local paper or no, I'm sure Locksley's connections from his Maryland days had nothing to do with it. After all, in a medium where every cent counts, the Washington Post has plenty of inches to spare on a story with no actual news in it.

The facts of the matter are these: (1) Ron Zook may be a good person and a great salesman, but he's also a horse-manure coach. (2) Illinois may be a great school, but it's a crappy football program with zero tradition or support and a history of not exactly keeping to the letter of the law NCAA-wise. If Zook or Guenther think they're going to pull a top-15 class into that environment after two seasons of 4-19 ball and no one is going to whisper, or if they think college football aficionados would need prompting by coaches to find that whole thing suspicious ... well, in the words of Dan Hawkins, go play intramurals, brother.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What are your intentions?

Usually that's a phrase you see in bodice-ripper novels ... austere Southern plantation owners determining the plans of suitors while their daughters swoon in the corner and whatnot.

But it seems such a question has found its way into recruiting. Plenty of movement both to and from ND and other places in the closing weeks of the recruiting "season" has led to questions about what a verbal commitment does or should mean.

The lack of an early signing date in college football makes the jobs of coaches much more difficult. Not only do you have to continue to pursue the undecided guys you're after, you also have to watch over your own henhouse to keep the other foxes away, oftentimes for six months or more.

That doesn't seem to be an efficient use of coaches' time to me. So bearing in mind how much I despise the process and believe it to be beyond repair, I give you my Personal Rules of Ethics regarding recruiting. You're welcome to accept them as axiom or not, but this is how I roll.

If a recruit is verbally committed to a school, he should not accept solicitations from other schools.

This should be the overall idea. In an ideal world, recruits should not verbally commit until they're sure of their choice. Players shouldn't commit just to reserve a spot. When you commit, you're asking coaches to adjust their plans based on your choices. When you change your mind on those choices, you've inconvenienced people to an extent jobs may be lost as a result. Be sure when you give your word.

A school should be able to offer solicitations to recruits already committed to other schools, and should be able to respond to solicitations from committed recruits, subject to two conditions: (1) If that recruit asks the other school to cease and desist, that school should no longer contact the recruit in question, and (2) If communication is to continue, the new school should demand the recruit notify the school to which he is currently committed that the communication is taking place.

Again, in an ideal world, the new school's staff should be open about their intentions with the current school's staff, but I stopped believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy a long time ago. But they should demand the recruit be honest, as honest players make good teammates no matter what program lands them.

It doesn't bother me that ND took another shot at Martez Wilson. At one time, he was considering ND strongly, and ND made a defensive change that could have had an effect on his choice. The young man responded he wasn't interested, so that was that.

It also doesn't bother me that ND came back to Brian Smith. Again, he had strong interest, and the change in coaches made him more attractive to ND. He accepted the contact, so it was right for ND to continue it. He was also above board with Iowa, letting them know that ND had talked to him and he intended on talking to them further, leaving Iowa free to make whatever decision it felt was best.

By that same token, FL was not in the wrong to contact Justin Trattou. They asked, he responded, so fine. The problem was in the secrecy -- the FL coaches allegedly asking Trattou to keep their conversations private. If you're going to open up your recruiting, you owe it to the school to which you're committed to let them know. And if you're going to go after a committed recruit, one would hope you have the honesty (if not bravery) to be up front about it and not ask them to sneak out of the house like a 15-year-old going to her first kegger.

Ditto Greg Little. I highly doubt he had an epiphany this morning that UNC was the place for him. He had been assuring people for weeks he was ND-bound. If you're going to alter your decision, be a man about it and tell the people involved how they stand. Waiting until the last minute and figuring it's easier to apologize than ask permission is something my nine-year-old does. If you're so unsure on your decision that you can make a signing day change, you shouldn't have committed in the first place.

If a committed recruit is communicating with other schools, the school to which that recruit is committed is within its rights to no longer consider him committed and no longer consider its scholarship offer valid.

I have no problem with Iowa pulling the scholarship offer from Brian Smith. They didn't feel he was committed to them, so they acted accordingly. If ND had pulled Trattou's or Little's scholarship offers in response to movement by them, they would have been within their rights as well. You have to do what you have to do to fill out your class, and sometimes a relationship doesn't work out.

I'm not sure how CW and company are going to move in the Brave New World of recruiting we seem to be in, but it's obviously time to take the gloves off. I've got no problems with that, as long as they don't start sucker punching.

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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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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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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Looking for angst in all the wrong places

With all due respect to my compatriots who have chimed in on the subject (including ndoldtown, who, as usual, is clear and concise on the subject), I'm not all that upset right now over the outcome of the Heisman award ceremony.

Disappointment in this case, to me, is not applicable. It's not like we went in thinking Quinn was going to win the award. As disappointed as I am that Smith's poor performances this season were glossed over because his team won in spite of them, it's par for the course. The Heisman race has its "perceived value" component, and when you're in the ND fishbowl, everything you do will be magnified, both good and bad. This isn't the Man trying to keep Brady Quinn down, it's (biased) voters plying their craft, such as it is.

I'm also having trouble getting upset at the third-place finish because I really don't give a damn who comes in anything other than first in that race. I don't think a one-place difference illustrates a strong effort to screw anybody.

I agree, by and large, ESPN has a vested interest in bringing ND down. But let's remember everything ESPN does is orchestrated schtick, no matter what team they're pimping or denigrating. They're all circus monkeys dancing with cups in their hands, and deserve about as much attention. If I was an actual journalist working for that organization, my tear ducts would be infected from my copious weeping for the state of my career. When ESPN finally has meaningful influence on something of true substance, let me know, because until then, they're on the pay-no-mind list.

I agree, by and large, the criteria for the Heisman has changed, and not necessarily for the better. But until a Notre Dame player fits the new criteria and is somehow excluded from or marginalized in the award process, I'm hesitant to talk about biases. If things go the way we want them to the next couple of seasons (after what is sure to be a learning experience next year), ND will have strong players on highly-ranked teams. Then we'll see what we shall see.

This all isn't to say I'm pleased overall with the situation. I think, as usual, NBC's marketing of ND's program and players leaves a lot to be desired. While things may improve now that NBC has an NFL product to go along with ND (and have, a little, on the graphics side), more improvement can't come soon enough. The announcing team blows and has for a while. I don't want to hear the team talked down by the guys in the booth when it's not warranted. This is our television contract, after all, and if there's a little pro-ND bias in there, tough noogies.

A tough loss for Brady Quinn, made even tougher by the fact that Minter's D (MI) and McKnight's dropsies (SC) probably factored in a lot more than they should have. But BQ will be fine without the Heisman. He's poised for a good career in the NFL that will make him a very rich young man, and if something doesn't work out there, he's got a quality education on which he can fall back. Everything else is gravy.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Solved, Some Not

Hard to summarize one's thoughts while getting ready for an eight-hour drive, but I'm all about tough situations.

Looking at the Charlie Weis regime after two seasons, I see some problems that have been solved while some remain unanswered.

ND is playing up to its potential at a very high rate, which is good. During the past two regimes, the Irish would more often than not play up or down to the level of its competition, which led to maddening lows and thrilling highs. Weis' even keel and understanding of the game, which dwarfs that of his predecessors, has helped eliminate the potholes that would scuttle the undercarriage of past Irish seasons.

However, ND is not playing up to championship potential yet, which is not good. Eliminating the befuddling losses was step one. Step two is eliminating the quality losses.

ND is playing with a winning attitude, which is good. Belief in the victory starts at the top, and there's no doubt Charlie Weis expects to win every game.

However, ND is not playing with a consistent attitude, which is not good. Charlie gets caught up in the psychology of the game sometimes (e.g. "I've watched every play SC has run this year"), and makes some decisions that seem to go against the grain of what the game situation would make appropriate.

Going into the bowl game, Charlie Weis needs to do the one thing that will differentiate himself from his predecessors forever: learn.

Bob Davie never learned. Grab-bag offenses and inconsistent recruiting were his watchwords. Tyrone Willingham never learned. Underperforming assistants were kept on, almost in defiance of conventional wisdom.

Charlie Weis needs to learn, or perhaps show a willingness to learn. If some assistants are not up to snuff, whether on the field or in recruiting or both, they should be replaced. If his psychological approach to the big games is not working (which it isn't), he needs to alter it.

Recognizing the need for change and implementing those changes are an important part of any successful coach's repertoire. If Charlie shows that bullet in his gun, ND will be fine.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Travishamockery, and other thoughts

A travesty, they say.

Or at least Mike Lopresti of USA Today says it.

When discussing Notre Dame's chances of making it to the BCS championship game, Lopresti (and probably many others) responds:

"Absolutely not. Notre Dame instead of Michigan would be a travesty after the Wolverines drilled the Irish 47-21 in South Bend."

So head-to-head matters.

I'm shocked, but still have a question: Where was this cold-hearted logic in 1993?

Notre Dame, 11-1. Florida State, 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in late November, ended in favor of the Irish, with the game not as close as the final score indicated.

So who held the trophy in January? Florida State, of course. Because, we were told, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. Except when it is, and then it is.

That's the biggest reason I want ND to end up in the NC game on January 8th. The pundits will wail and gnash their teeth. The Michigan faithful will rend their garments (assuming they have any un-rent after Bo's passing).

Then Charlie Weis can get up in a press conference, and to every question posed him concerning the BCS, he can respond, "1993".

In fact, I just thought of a more delicious scenario. Some of it may be far-fetched, but stay with me:

Notre Dame wins comfortably in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Either Florida or Arkansas are upset by F$U or LSU, respectively.
The Florida/Arkansas upset victim then wins the SEC Championship game.

Come BCS selection day, the Irish and Wolverines are the only one-loss teams left. The pollsters and pundits, deciding to employ the cold-hearted logic, send the Skunkbears to the NC game for a rematch with tOSU.

The Irish are sent to the Sugar Bowl, where they unmericfully pound the SEC champ.
Michigan wins a mistake-filled game in Glendale.

Now what do the pollsters do? The coaches, by contract, have to vote for Michigan. But the AP folks aren't under the same restriction. They can choose a Michigan team that got a second bite at the apple, or an ND team that defeated two top-five opponents comfortably in the season's last two games.

Both teams 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in September, ended in favor of Michigan (who had a distinct advantage in prep time).

So who holds the AP trophy in January?

Remember, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. That's what we were told in 1993.

Except when it is.

Either way, the reactions from Ann Arbor would be a lifetime's worth of entertainment.

Some other items tickling my brain, mostly on the hoops side:


Besides a distressing return to the Bad Old Days, the Butler loss had another negative effect -- on ND's strength of schedule.

Granted, if Butler does well in NYC (and over the course of the season), that neutral-site game will help the Irish. But neutral-site games against some combination of Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina would have done even more.

Some people feel this schedule was set up for an NCAA bid. Outside of Maryland and Alabama, the remaining OOC contests weigh heavy on the cupcake scale, and the BE slate lacks any games against UConn or Pittsburgh while featuring South Florida twice. While this will do a lot for the win total, it's not going to do a lot for the SOS factor, which means ND is walking on a knife's edge. One bad loss might give the committee all it needs to relegate the Irish to the NIT once again.


I'm sure people are sick of ND people whining about 1993, but that pales to the degree I'm tired of hearing about how the ND basketball team quit two years ago. I'm tired of hearing it from ND students, tired of hearing it from ND alumni, tired of hearing it from ND fans.

Yes, that team fell apart. Yes, that team lacked any kind of cohesion. Yes, key players on that team mailed it in down the stretch. Yes, the coaching staff should not have allowed it to happen. Yes, it was a Bad Thing.

But just about everyone involved with that team is gone now. None of the players on the floor for the Irish can be accused of laying down that season. Most of them weren't even there. Of the ones who were, Russell Carter hardly played and the (rightfully) villified Holy Cross game was Rob Kurz's coming-out party. And I know people have a lot of opinions on Colin Falls, but I've never read "slacker" as one of them. I've never seen him give anything less than everything when he plays.

And last season, when this team had every reason to throw in the towel after so many close losses, they kept bringing it every game. That says something about the mental fortitude of the players and the coaches alike.

I think plenty of evidence exists to support a belief that situation was a one-time thing, and (to be blunt) I think the people who continue to harp on it are glomming on to a situation that fits the argument they want to make and are riding it long after it's been an effective argument.

Start your engines

The clamor already has begun for Mike Brey to work Luke "Bamm Bamm" Harangody into the starting lineup.

In today's SBT, MB is quoted as being concerned how that would affect the team dynamic.

I can't speak to dynamics, but if history is our guide, starting doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Over his last two seasons, David Graves was moved out of the starting lineup twice. But if you look at his minutes played, they stayed pretty constant. So while his name wasn't being called during the spotlight intros, he was still contributing in the same ways he had before the "demotion".

So I don't necessarily have a problem with him being out of the starting lineup. I would, however, have a problem with him not being among the leaders in minutes played among the Irish big men. Bamm Bamm has been pretty effective in his time played thus far, so if such effectiveness can be continued over more minutes, let's do that.

T'is the season for pushing envelopes, after all.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Visions of BCS Bids Dancing....

It's mid-October, the first BCS poll has been released, so it's time to start thinking about possibilities for ND.

Note: All of this assumes the Fighting Irish win out this season. A loss to any of the teams remaining on the schedule will probably preclude ND from BCS inclusion, even if they beat SC. If the loss is to SC, it's possible they might stay in the top 14 and therefore be eligible for inclusion (and I can see a bowl wanting a 2-loss ND team instead of the BE, ACC, or BXII second-place finisher), but given how late the loss would be, it might be too much to overcome.

Available Teams.

There are four at-large slots available. Let's look at the conferences and find the most BCS-worthy possibilities:

Integer. The MI/tOSU loser will almost certainly be a BCS participant, particularly if both teams are undefeated going into the game. If the winner is ranked in the top two and is selected for the NC game, the Rose Bowl will be under a lot of pressure, both internally and externally, to select the loser of the game as a replacement, provided that loser only has one loss. The Integer is almost guaranteed two slots.

Pac10. If we assume ND has to go undefeated to get to the BCS, there won't be an undefeated team in this mix. However, Sagarin has the conference rated #1 right now, so that may carry some weight to counterbalance the losses. SC, Cal and Oregon seem to be the possibilities, since everyone else has at least two losses, and Cal has already given Oregon their one loss. Three straight weekends will determine how many Pac10 teams are BCS-bound -- Oregon at SC on 11/11, Cal at SC on 11/18, and ND at SC on 11/25.

Big XII. Texas is the standard-bearer here, but they already have one loss. They're also the only BigXII team in the BCS Top 15, with Nebraska (plays Texas this weekend, has to travel to A&M, would have to play the tougher South winner in the championship game) and Oklahoma (already lost to the Horns, lost AP for the season, still has to play at Mizzou & A&M) the only other BCS Top 25 entrants. Texas A&M and Missouri only sport one loss, so it's possible those teams might sneak in. But I see the Big XII as being a one-bid conference, especially if Texas is that team.

SEC. Too close to call right now. Florida is ahead in the Eastern Division, and the next team is a 2-loss Georgia that seems on its way to a meltdown. Tennessee remains a possibility if Florida stumbles again. On the other side, it's Auburn and Arkansas. While I think the SEC teams will beat up on each other enough to keep them out of the NC game, I also think their publicity machine is strong enough that they'll have a second team in the BCS this year, most likely either the NC game loser or the runner up in the winner's division.

Big East. The WVU/Louisville winner probably will have the inside track to the NC game, provided they can overcome an atrocious strength of schedule and a lack of love by the computers. But even if the loser of that game ends with one loss, they'll be hard-pressed to get into the BCS because I don't see a lot of bowls falling all over themselves to make the invitation. Granted, both schools travel well, and there are four at-large bids. But still.

ACC. Yuck. You've got GaTech, Clemson, and Wake Forest all with only one loss overall. Clemson has already defeated Wake, so they have the inside track to their conference championship. GaTech still has to go to Clemson and host Miami (and Georgia). The chances of the ACC having a second BCS team is almost zero. They're lucky they're getting one in there.

Other conferences. The only ranked non-BCS teams are Boise State at #15 and Tulsa at #25. Tulsa already has a loss, so its unlikely they can get into the top 12 and the automatic bid, but stranger things have happened. Boise still has to go to Idaho and San Jose State, but the chance exists they'll finish undefeated, which will probably be enough to rank them ahead of the ACC champ and get them in. If they lose even one, they're dead.

Summary: The way I see it, the Integer and SEC are the only conferences virtually guaranteed to get a second team in there, while the ACC is virtually guaranteed only one slot. For the other three, it will depend on how things break.

If ND finishes the season with only one loss, they're a lock to be BCS top eight and automatically eligible. If they lose to SC, they could still possibly get in if they remain in the BCS top 14 and the other also-rans in the BCS stumble and/or Boise gets hit with a loss.

Available Bowls

After the two bowls that lose their "host" team to the National Championship Game pick, the order of march is Sugar, Orange, Fiesta. Hard to tell right now how things will fall out, but let's examine the possibilities:

The Rose Bowl. While the chances are not zero here, they're probably as remote as you can get. The only way ND ends up here is if the bowl has to replace one of its host schools. It's highly unlikely the Pac10 would need a replacement if ND goes undefeated and knocks off SC. The Integer champ will probably be the MI/tOSU winner, and if that team is undefeated, it would be selected for the NC game. However, the bowl would be under a lot of pressure, both externally and internally, to select the MI/tOSU loser as the replacement, particularly if that team has only one loss. If the second-place team had two losses and the Pac10 rep was not SC, however, all bets would be off. I could see an ND/Cal game being pretty attractive to the committee in that case.

The Sugar Bowl. This is the most likely destination for ND. New Orleans is desperate for a high-profile Sugar Bowl to give tourism a boost. If they lose their SEC rep to the NC game and have two picks in the first three, there's no way they'll pass on an eligible Fighting Irish team. Even if they don't lose their rep, they pick first after the NC bowls do, and an ND/Florida game is a publicity natural. Even ND/Auburn or ND/Tennessee would grab TV sets. The conspiracy theorist in me could see the BCS working behind the scenes with the other bowls to make this happen.

The Orange Bowl. Not a likely destination. The bowl folks won't want the rematch if Georgia Tech is the ACC rep. The SEC runner-up would ensure plenty of bodies in the seats, especially if that runner-up is Florida. And the Sugar isn't going to get the Irish get by, so since the ACC rep isn't going to be anywhere near the NC game....

The Fiesta Bowl. Probably the second-most-likely destination, but only if the BigXII rep is lost to the championship game. Since they also have the NC game this year, they'll probably get short shrift on the actual bowl, but even though ND was just there last year, the bowl might want them as insurance against a snoozer matchup.

I imagine this will all be clearer the first week of November or so, but for now, it's fun to dream.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comparisons are Odious

You could hear the pencils scratching as the third quarter wound down in East Lansing.

Both 11-5 after 16 games. Both lost their first bowl game. Charlie got an extension. Tyrone didn't. Implied racism. Ooh, and Washington just upset (an overrated) UCLA (at home in the only semi-difficult game they've played all year), while Charlie's about to lose the second straight (in a harsh four-game opening stretch against undefeated teams).

The scribes had been waiting since December of 2004 to write that column. Waiting to stand up and say, "Ha Ha, we were right." Waiting to say all the things they couldn't say when Charlie Weis' team was winning games and competitive in defeat during the 2005 season.

And you could hear the grinding of teeth as the Fighting Irish pulled out the victory (thanks, in part, to a Michigan State implosion). ABC is lucky John Saunders wasn't mic'ed as the Irish came down the stretch. Then again, he may have been busy rewriting his rant for the next day's Sports Reporters.

God bless poor Greg Couch, he didn't want all that work to go to waste, so he tried writing that column anyway in the Chicago Sun Times today (I'm not going to link it because I don't want to give them hits -- suffice it to say it's probably as bad as you're thinking it is, and spare yourself the eye pain). I guess even Jay Mariotti needs a Renfield sometimes.

Yes, if one looks at the high-level W/L numbers, Charlie's career is starting the same as Tyrone Willingham's did at Notre Dame. But if you dig deeper than those numbers, you'll see the stark differences -- differences that justified a contract extention for Weis and show why an extended tenure at Notre Dame by Willingham could have damaged the Notre Dame program even more than he did in three years.

Work Ethic

Tyrone Willingham was lazy, with a capital L-A-Z-Y. I'm sure he has a lot of other fine qualities, but working hard wasn't among them during his ND tenure.

Don't believe me? Ask the operators of Warren Golf Course and other courses around the South Bend area, who were asked not to record the number of rounds Willingham was playing on a daily basis, to shield him both from a handicap adjustment and criticism from ND fans who might have been disturbed about how much time he was spending there. Or ask golfers on the course, who would find Willingham joining their groups around the third hole and leaving them on the 16th or 17th (and not speaking to them during the round, of course), all to avoid the already-mentioned recording of rounds. By all estimates, Willingham was playing four to six rounds of golf per week during seasons where his teams were getting steamrolled on the field and his coaches were getting steamrolled in recruiting off of it.

Or ask the coaches of high school prospects Willingham pursued. Instead of spending an hour or two getting to know them and showing them why their charges would benefit from his tutelage at Notre Dame, Willingham would meet with them for a token 10 or 15 minutes, and then head to his rental car (which, more often than not, had his golf clubs in the back seat). This really turned the coaches off, and had a not-insignificant affect on recruiting efforts.

Or ask the recruits who would show up for visits, only to find no coaches available to greet them or answer their questions. This happened multiple times during Willingham's tenure at Notre Dame, meaning he was either excessively disorganized or just didn't care.

Or ask the members of the Board of Trustees who, after the dismal 2003 campaign, wanted to discuss the problems and potential solutions with Willingham. Trouble is, they couldn't find him. He and the rest of his assistants, days after signing an unranked recruiting class, were enjoying a golf junket in Florida. Needless to say, the BOT called them all back from vacation and told them to get to work. Didn't do much good; the 2004 class wasn't anything to shout about either.

Let's contrast with Charlie Weis, who brought in a top-five recruiting class last season and is working on a possible top-three class this season. I don't think he's ever picked up a golf club in his life, and while some HS coaches may not like his brash demeanor, at least he's giving all of them the chance to get to know him and what he can do for their kids. Outside of the month of July, which is dedicated to his family, Weis is working long days (and nights) trying to improve this football program. When a recruit showed up unexpectedly last year, Weis called an assistant back off the road on a moment's notice to meet with him. The recruit came away impressed.

Weis works. Willingham didn't.

Football Acumen

Tyrone Willingham was over-promoted too quickly, and as such, is a caretaker-type head coach who depends on the abilities of his assistants. While that model can and has worked at places, it falls apart when those assistants are sub-par.

Willingham has never installed an offense or defense. He has never expressed a strong philosophy on either side of the ball, preferring vague references to a "West Coast offense" that never seemed to match what happens on the field, and defensive references that never seemed to describe anything ever done in football. He was (and is) ill-equipped to strategize any kind of gameplan, preferring to be the stoic figurehead strolling the sidelines.

Willingham was either unable or unwilling to recognize and deal with under-performing assistants. Bill Diedrich's offenses were painfully easy to dissect, and yet Willingham took no steps to rectify the situation, going so far as to try and take Diedrich with him to Washington. Kent Baer's defenses were average, and yet his employment at Notre Dame continued.

It's no accident that not only did no one try to hire ND's assistants away from Willingham, but most of them also accompanied him to Washington because no one else wanted them. It's no accident that Willingham's offense is better at Washington because UW forced him to ditch Diedrich if he wanted the job.

Again, the Charlie Contrast. Weis was known as an excellent offensive mind in the NFL, so he's well able to strategize and gameplan against opposing defenses. When hired, he went out to get the best assistants he could get, unlike Willingham, who simply brought his Stanford group with him. David Cutcliffe, the QB coaching genius. Rob Ianello, architect of Wisconsin's quality recruiting. Michael Haywood, both an alumnus and late of the Mack Brown recruiting express at Texas. And when Cutcliffe had to leave for health reasons, Weis had Peter Vaas ready and waiting.

In only his second season, it remains to be seen how under-performance will be greeted. But given the micro-management of the program in other areas, logic dictates it will be dealt with more swiftly than under Willingham.

And recruits know acumen (or lack thereof) when they see it, which is why Willingham managed only one decent class during his tenure while Weis is working on his second straight in the top five. High schoolers are voting with their pens as they sign LOI's.


Simply put, Tyrone Willingham didn't want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed. He spoke disrespectfully of the program in the weeks before he was hired, changing his tune in a probably-SID-produced anecdote about running home from church to listen to the ND reruns as a child at his introduction presser. He never understood the things that made ND special. He never connected (or tried to connect, for that matter) with the alumni, blowing off scheduled events and delivering a poor performance at the events he did attend. His representatives had already talked to Washington during his third season, knowing the reduced buyout clause in his contract would make the move easier. Willingham was all set to jump before he was pushed, and it's disingenuous of him in interviews not to acknowledge that.

Charlie Weis wants to be at Notre Dame, and you can see it in everything he does. The reverence with which he talks to recruits about the Grotto and other campus landmarks. Giving the game ball for MSU to Ara Parseghian, which is something that wouldn't have occurred to Tyrone Willingham (or Bob Davie, for that matter) if you had given him a year to think about it. It's all little things to show the ND fanbase he's one of us.

(and lest you think the "one of us" includes skin color, Bob Davie made the same mistakes Willingham did, and should have been fired after his third season, too)

Desire also shows on the field. Willingham's teams were passive. If an opponent came out of the gate and smacked them in the mouth, it was, "oh well, we'll get them next time." Weis-led teams punch back. They may take a shot, but they're never out of games even when they're behind by three scores four times in the first three quarters.

Notre Dame magic was not made by the timid. Weis understands this. Willingham did not.


I've given up depending on some media folks to do their homework, but hope springs eternal.

I hope the next time Craig James or one of his cohorts talks about ND's lack of speed, they take the thought to the logical conclusion and mention how the team is still three quarters full of Willingham recruits. They don't hesitate to talk about it when ND wins, so I hope they're not hypocritical enough to abandon the train of thought when it suits their purposes.

Ditto next season, when the team will be depending on freshmen and sophomores because Willingham's last two classes don't reflect favorably against the teams ND will play. I'm not holding my breath for a "Willingham recruiting shortfalls come home to roost" headline, but I still believe in guardian angels too, so....

I hope the next time Michael Wilbon or one of his cohorts bemoan the damage ND did to minority hiring, they also take the time to note Tyrone Willingham was as much (if not more) to blame for his failure at ND as ND was, and that perhaps a stronger foundation in football fundamentals would have served Willingham better in his career. I also hope at least one of them has the guts to call him out on his role in his failure at Notre Dame, rather than serving up softballs and voluntarily serving as Willingham's lap dogs.

I hope the next time Greg Couch or one of his cohorts start comparing Weis' record to Willingham's and alleging "panic" on ND's part when dealing with Willingham, they recognize in the next breath the foundational damage Willingham's poor gameday and recruiting performance was doing to the Notre Dame program. Two more years of this under-performance, especially coming on the heels of Bob Davie's inept leadership, might have acted as a de-facto death penalty for the Notre Dame football program. While I'm sure the ND haters would have no problem with that, excuse the ND fans for not finding that result palatable.

Weis is doing the little things Willingham never did. If Willingham had done them, he'd still be at ND right now. But then again, that's not what he wanted.

That's the only comparison that stands up to scrutiny.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome to Penn State? I guess not

"Welcome to Notre Dame".

You can't get through a football Saturday without hearing that phrase somewhere on the campus ... from the parking lot attendants, the ushers at the stadium, the security guards at the Joyce Center, the folks at the Basilica, even from the fans themselves.

If there was a poll for Safest Venue for Visiting Fans, you can bet Notre Dame would top the list. Browse the fansites of Irish opponents after their trips to South Bend, and you'll typically find raves about the hospitality of Notre Dame and its fans (usually with the disclaimer "despite all the assholes we encounter on the Internet" thrown in there somewhere).

Every now and then, I wish it wasn't that way. Everyone wants "their house" to be the intimidating, home-field-advantage-granting atmosphere that can help the team when they need it. Maybe all this welcoming hurts the team. Maybe opponents should feel a little less comfortable.

But then I remember stories from friends who went to Miami in 1989 or Ohio State in 1995 or any game ever played in Boston. I don't want Notre Dame fans hurling epithets at women walking with their kids. I don't want Notre Dame fans throwing urine at people. I don't want Notre Dame fans getting sued by the fans they tackle in a drunken stupor.

"Welcome to Notre Dame"? Fine by me.

I suppose that's why this Daily Collegian article bothers me so much.

Collegian staff writer Andrew Staub found himself without a press pass for Saturday's Notre Dame / Penn State tussle, so he went about documenting his effort to "get [his] hands on what many referred to as the toughest ticket of the weekend". On his way he talked about the reception he received:

"I parked my car in a lot about a mile from the stadium where both Notre Dame and Penn State fans were tailgating, many of them in the same party."

"I even wore a Penn State Center for Sports Journalism hat into Friday's pep rally. Nobody said a word to me. Penn Staters even sat in the crowd. No drinks were dumped on them. No obscenities yelled."

"Overall, Notre Dame fans were great and got along well with Penn Staters."

All par for the course. As I said, I'll risk the lack of intimidation to behave like an adult, and I'm glad to see a good portion of my fellow ND fans feel the same way.

But then the next line stopped me in my tracks.

"I hope they don't expect the same next year when they come to State College."

Just like that. No apology or shame for the situation. No call to his fellow fans to emulate the behavior he saw. Just a simple expression (and apparent acceptance) of ignorance. Rolled right off the tongue without hesitation.

Thanks for the hospitality, suckers.

My father is a native Philadelphian, and many of my cousins attended PSU. In the post-game discussions Saturday, Dad expressed a strong desire to make the return trip next September to Happy Valley. We could rent an RV, he said, and make a weekend out of it. My cousins could come up and meet us there, and it'd be a great time, tickets or no.

Outwardly, I was enthusiastic about the idea. But visions of a vandalized RV danced in my head. Harassment from drunk coeds. A weekend of beer showers. And God forbid the Irish lose -- we'd have to leave by halftime.

It's not that I'm antagonistic by nature. I'm a mind-my-own-business kind of fan that doesn't go looking for trouble. But I've found in the past that makes no difference, and I doubt it'd make a difference here.

At the time on Saturday, I figured I was overreacting. It did sound like a fun trip. Sure, why not?

Then I read Mr. Staub's article. "Why not?" became "Why?"

I watched the game in the Joyce Center lot at bbdome's always-excellent annual mega-tailgater, complete with 44" TV. Just before kickoff, we were joined by three PSU girls who, sans tickets, needed a place to watch the game. We accommodated them with seats and food and drink, and except for a situation early in the game when they were being a little too enthusiastic in their cheering, everything went fine.

Just before halftime, one of the young ladies got into a bit of distress. She was having an asthma-related attack, and didn't have an inhaler with her. Fortunately, one of the other girls in her party did, and she availed herself of it and came out fine.

But for the rest of the game, every five to ten minutes or so, someone in our party checked up on her to make sure she was all right. We moved her to one of the shady seats, and got her some water. My dad missed most of the second half because they got to chatting about our relatives and friends who work at major news outlets, which interested her as a journalism major.

At the end of the party, the three PSU students walked away after thanking everyone profusely for their hospitality.

I thought of that young lady as I read the end of Mr. Staub's article. What would happen to a Notre Dame student who found herself in respiratory distress in Happy Valley? I would hope fans there would give her the same level of attention we gave our Nittany Lion friend, but reading that article, I'm not so sure.

I'd like to think my lack of surety would bother PSU fans, but reading that article, I'm not so sure.

I'd like to think I'll be making the trip next year, but....

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

See Dick and Jane Write

In the immediate aftermath of the controversy over Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke's series on ND recruiting, someone linked a sports journalist message forum on Rock's House. Wading through the critical comments about NDN in particular and "fanboys" in general, there seemed to be a thread of complaint that Notre Dame fans were afraid of what was described as "objective journalism" in coverage of the Fighting Irish football team.

Now, I know that hypothesis to be untrue. As I've said before, no one wants homerism in ND-related media because homerism is neither interesting nor informative. And most of the Notre Dame writers held in the highest esteem by a lot of fans (e.g. Avani Patel, Malcolm Moran, Vaughn McClure, Eric Hansen, Jason Kelly) are anything but homers (Kelly's status as an alumnus notwithstanding).

So what is it ND fans seek in their media? It's simple: Objective material that presents the facts and allows the reader to draw the conclusions rather than having those conclusions forced down their throat. That's what the five people I listed above do very well in most of their literary efforts.

So here is my primer on the things media folks can do or remember in order to give ND folks the coverage they'll read without sacrificing their objectivity. None of these things are difficult, and they represent the things the highly-regarded ND writers do that results in the readership taking them seriously. Perhaps instead of whining about the alleged intransigence of Notre Dame fans, some media folks could decide to meet them halfway.

Put some effort into your research

I hesitate to use a word like "lazy", given its pejorative underpinnings. So suffice it to say utilizing tired cliches and half-presented facts in an article is not going to win you friends anywhere, and the Notre Dame fanbase is no exception.

In the age of the Internet, fact-checking is made available to even the most novice web surfer, and you can bet on those folks verifying any and all allegations and information against all data available. You're going to be graded by a lot of motivated folks, so you're best served doing the legwork and getting it right before the lack of such legwork is exposed.

Under the Tarnished Dome remains the archetypal failure in this field and will probably not be challenged any time soon. But a new and similarly egregious example has emerged recently: comparing the first seasons of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis as a cautionary tale for Irish fans.

Yes, they both lost only three games and got a lot of attention. Yes, after five years of Bob Davie's ineptitude, part of the ND fanbase was excited by a 10-win season. But Tyrone Willingham's first team didn't score an offensive touchdown until the third game of the season, looked terrible in four of their last five games, and suffered the first of three consecutive blowout losses to Southern Cal, so most knowledgeable ND fans went into season two with plenty of questions that needed (and, as it turned out, didn't have) answers. Charlie Weis' first team, on the other hand, scored less than 34 points in a game only twice over the course of the season while being competitive in all three games lost. As a result, there is a lot less uncertainty in the alumni and fans going into Weis' second chapter.

Past performance never guarantees future results. But given the unlikelihood Weis will hit his head and suddenly forget how to be the coach he's been so far, logic dictates (a) ND fans can reasonably be more confident now than they were in 2003, and (b) warnings about alleged "parallels" will be viewed as simplistic and overcautious, presenting a negative picture to the reader.

Subway alumni are people, too

Judge Smails once reminded us all the world needs ditch-diggers, too. Unfortunately for Notre Dame's subway alumni, this seems to be the prevailing attitude by which the media views them.

Not everyone in the world goes to college, and not everyone in the world goes to a college that has a Division 1 (or Bowl Division or Eagle Reading Class or whatever the NCAA is calling it now) football program. So logic dictates the masses of humanity filling up these football stadia every Saturday (or Thursday or Tuesday or whatever day ESPN, in its never-ending battle to do for sports what MTV has done for music, has bribed some schools to play its games) aren't entirely made up of the graduates of the two institutes of higher learning in question. So the non-alumnus fan is not a phenomenon unique to Notre Dame.

What is unique to Notre Dame, however, is the use of a specific term to describe such a fan. "Subway alumni" was coined in the 1920s and 30s to describe the many Notre Dame fans in New York City who, while they didn't attend Notre Dame (or any college, for that matter), would ride the subway to Yankee Stadium to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Black Knights of the Hudson from up Army way, and the term eventually grew to encompass the entire non-alumni fan contingent. Subway alumni take great pride in their status as such, and Notre Dame alumni recognize how they've contributed to the history and tradition of the program.

Also unique to Notre Dame, apparently, is the condescending, if not downright hostile, tone in which non-Notre Dame folks, including a lot of media creatures, use that term. No one has any problems with the auto worker from Detroit who makes seven pilgrimages to Ann Arbor every fall, nor the distillery worker who considers a September Saturday not spent in Knoxville to be a waste of time and life, nor the UCSB grad who has spent the last three years going to games in the LA Coliseum and who will no doubt disappear the next time the Trojans go 7-5.

But brand yourself a Notre Dame subway alumnus, and John Mark Karr has a better chance of getting positive comments from the media than you do. The subway alums, the media says, are somehow defective in their fandom. They only care about the team and not the school.

This, as I said, is a shortcut to a tune-out. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, most of the subway alumni active in their Notre Dame fandom care as much about the school in general as they do about football in particular. Attempting to create a "crazed booster" contingent in the fanbase is a strawman of the worst kind.

I suspect the root of the problem with opposing fans is a belief if the subway alumni weren't rooting for Notre Dame, the school would get less attention nationwide and would not enjoy the influence in college football it has. I would certainly hope media folks who are supposed to be objective about their topic wouldn't fall into such a simple-minded trap, because such things are supposed to be above those with journalistic integrity. Besides, all those schools have subway alumni contributing to their own influence that I'd guess they'd hate to lose.

Don't assume a willingness to embrace a lawbreaking culture

In short, selling ND's soul for football glory. Again, Under the Tarnished Dome sets the low-water mark, but this is the mistake Carroll and Weineke recently made in their four-part recruiting article in the SBT I talked about here.

In over 100 years of playing football, the only thing Notre Dame has done at a higher percentage of success than playing football is following its rules. All areas of the Notre Dame family, from the coaches and players on down through administrators, alumni, and yes, even Subway Alumni, put a priority on compliance just as much as winning. To them, a win out of bounds is not a win.

Therefore, if you're going to attempt to prove the existence of a mindset that runs counter to that 100 years of history, you need to bring very strong evidence to back up your assertion. Otherwise, your ND-related readership is going to turn the page. You might earn cheap points with those on the ND-hating side of the ledger, but if that's your goal, you're unlikely to take any of this to heart anyway.

No one believes Notre Dame is perfect

Not everything Notre Dame does is right. Mistakes get made there just as they're made everywhere. Sometimes they're benign, sometimes not so benign, but they're there, and any Notre Dame alumnus or fan with a basic level of intelligence knows it.

If you go into your story believing ND fans need to be convinced of this, most likely you'll end up with a heavy-handed piece that won't be viewed well because the readers will interpret it as an agenda on your part. You may think you need to make hyperbolic statements and arguments to drill through the perceived shell of resistance, but when the shell isn't there, the drill just goes too deep and weakens your piece.

If the details of a mistake are presented with a factual emphasis, most of the Notre Dame readership will listen. If it comes across as gratuitous, with aspects blown out of proportion or buttressed with questionable material, they will not, and that lack of interest shouldn't surprise you.

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