The under the radar campaign to prepare Notre Dame Nation for a move to the Big Ten that began with an ‘oops’ moment in New York continued yesterday. Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves was in Scottsdale last night for UND Night with the Notre Dame Club of Phoenix, and told one alumnus and NDNation member, “I can’t say that we will never join a conference.”
A move to the Big Ten would culminate 20 years of mismanagement of the football program, a series of steps that, on the surface, seem to be the result of environmental forces, but are really a path of Notre Dame’s own choosing.
The “we’re a victim of circumstances” rationale isn’t just poor leadership, but the line doesn’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. Indeed, the last publicly available numbers show Notre Dame football running a $37-million surplus and that’s before licensing dollars. Powers like Alabama and Miami have been lobbying to get on Notre Dame’s schedule. There’s zero chance that an independent Notre Dame could be locked out of the BCS, which currently can’t keep Boise State out.
The immediate fallout of a move would be felt on the recruiting trail, where Brian Kelly has noted that Notre Dame’s independent status has given it a distinct advantage. As former Notre Dame and Michigan recruiting coordinator Bob Chmiel told Mike Frank on Power Hour, Notre Dame would be freely giving up its recruiting advantage.
Chmiel led the recruiting efforts at both schools and knows what “sells” recruits on Notre Dame.
In short, what Chmiel said is that what allows Notre Dame to compete on a national stage right now is its national identity, national TV contract and the fact that Notre Dame is an independent not swimming as a relatively small fish in a mega conference. That’s Notre Dame ‘s competitive advantage that allows it to overcome its more restrictive recruiting pool. When Notre Dame wins a recruiting battle, it’s usually by a thin margin and what separates Notre Dame is it’s unique value proposition. That’s how Notre Dame sells itself.
Michigan can go after anybody and sells itself as a Big Ten leader that plays in the Rose bowl and has a showdown with Ohio State. If Notre Dame joins the Big Ten, it would lose all of its competitive advantages and be forced to make the same type of pitch as Michigan, which Chmiel said it wouldn’t be able to do effectively. The effect is that Notre Dame would diminish its national pool and have no way to differentiate itself and the new value proposition will be trumped by Michigan’s and Ohio State’s. Notre Dame has a more restrictive recruiting environment already and a B10 television deal and schedule will lesson its national exposure, meaning Notre Dame will become more regional, which is a death sentence. Notre Dame needs a national recruiting pool to make up for the more restrictive standards.
Beyond the impact on recruiting, Notre Dame would cash in a competitive advantage that any company would kill for. In a world where it’s increasing harder to differentiate yourself from the competition, Notre Dame would be freely choosing to give up that advantage to subjugate control over its future to Michigan and Ohio State.
Notre Dame isn’t churning out ten thousand alumni every year. Notre Dame’s power and base comes from a national following and the belief that Notre Dame stands for something different. It’s that belief that captures people’s imaginations and inspires them. Notre Dame became well-known and loved because it stood for something different and dared to strive for excellence after it was ostricized from the conferences.
Looking back, Notre Dame’s march toward irrelevance started with a lack of vision for the football program. Moving out Holtz for a coach with zero head coaching experience and zero love for the program in Bob Davie started the dominoes falling.
The losing that ensued weakened Notre Dame’s national standing. When the BCS started, Notre Dame’s take if they made it to a BCS game, was well over $10-million a year… reaching $14 to $17-million a year. If Notre Dame had played at the same level that it did under Holtz, it would still be the most valuable college football franchise in the country. Using that barometer, Notre Dame’s decision to de-emphasize football while making Stanford an “aspirational peer” cost it over $50-million and untold millions more in brand value and other revenue.
When Kevin White went back to the negotiating table with the BCS, he gave back over $10-million a year in upside, for a relatively small guarantee. At the same time Notre Dame was taking even greater amounts of money out of the football coffers to fund other sports and for the general fund. The last known numbers show Notre Dame siphoning off over $20-million from football for the general fund. If Notre Dame had banked that money (like a good steward would) it would have a war chest for any future contingency.
That loss of value combined with a University addiction to football money has created a seeming imperative to go after a more stable revenue stream, which the Big Ten offers.
Similarly, Notre Dame’s decision to play a 7-4-1 schedule to get more gate receipts and television dollars is solely responsible for any scheduling difficulties.
None of the “environmental” arguments hold water. Yes, some teams wouldn’t schedule Notre Dame going forward late in the season, but there are plenty that would have. If they aren’t SEC or Big Ten teams, that doesn’t matter. Most schools would walk on hot coals for a home and home half under the dome. There are 120 schools in the football bowl subdivision, the idea that with USC, ND couldn’t find teams to play in the back half of the season is ludicrous. Move Navy there and schedule Army if necessary.
Notre Dame doesn’t need the extra money to compete in football, it needs it for other reasons. An independent Notre Dame that wins on the field will eventually be worth far more than a Notre Dame as a small fish in the Big Ten pond.
It isn’t the environment that’s forcing Notre Dame into the Big Ten and to portray it as such is disingenuous. Notre Dame has put itself on the path to conference membership through bad decisions and can still make the right choices and preserve independence.
Coffey has come up with a three ways to support independence:
1) Write letters with signature-required delivery telling Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves they’re making a mistake, cc’ing independent sources so pushback can’t be glossed over by the ND spin machine. Tell them in the letter who you are and how you’ve contributed to or helped ND in the past so they can tie your objection to participation history. PLEASE SCAN AND EMAIL YOUR LETTER TO NDINDEPEDENCE@GMAIL.COM. I’ll post them on a wall.
2) Attend UND nights or other ND club functions and pigeon-hole the administrators who attend for concrete answers, like Howard Roark did. Even better, ask the question to them publicly so the answers are open to everyone.
3) Contact their alumni senator and/or class representative, and ask them if they’re bringing things like this up. Alumni Senate meets in the near future, it’s a good agenda item. Pressure them to put it on there.