by Mike Coffey
I’ve tried to stay out of the brou-ha-ha regarding the recent South Bend Tribune articles regarding Jimmy Clausen’s recruitment and its effects or lack thereof on the philosophies of the Notre Dame football program. Not only am I not the site’s football guy in the first place, I dislike recruiting in all college sports, and attempt to stay away from that aspect of the site whenever I can.
But tonight, I read one of the author’s response to the negative reaction the story has been generating, and I really felt I had to chime in. The author seems to believe the blowback is the result of Fighting Irish fans not wanting to hear bad news. In that regard, I think he’s mistaken. We have no problem with bad news. We just think what was reported doesn’t qualify.
I have no problem with scrutiny of any part of Notre Dame. My signature was the first one on the BOT letter, so you can be damn sure I realize plenty of things worthy of criticism happen on campus. Victory within the bounds of rules and sportsmanship remains very very important to me (as it does to most alums and fans), so if Notre Dame is cutting corners or otherwise neglecting the required efforts in support of any its teams, I’m going to be all over it (See: facilities, basketball, ad nauseum).
I also have been on record many times regarding my uneasiness with Jimmy Clausen’s presser. While his comments show him to be a level-headed young man with a proper respect for the institution in which he’s going to undertake his academic and athletic endeavors, some of the more show-biz aspects of the event, I felt, were over the top. I realize that’s part of the animal that is college football recruiting, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, can’t pray for more mature heads to try and bring it to heel, and not wish that Notre Dame would set itself as a leader in that regard rather than saying, “It is what it is”.
All that probably puts me in Mr. Carroll’s and Mr. Wieneke’s “target demographic”, so to speak. But unfortunately for them, they didn’t reach me with their series. And if they’re not reaching someone who is willing to listen to them, they’ve got problems.
From what I saw in the series, they scrutinized the situation for NCAA violations, which are the only true potential problem, and didn’t find any. Under normal circumstances, I would think it would result in the series not running. After all, you don’t usually see newspaper headlines like “Man Changes Mind About Robbing Bank” unless you’re reading The Onion.
And yet the series ran anyway, with the scrutiny detailed. I considered that unusual, so perhaps I’m predisposed to find problems.
But what bothered me while reading it was how the scrutiny and “danger” felt manufactured. All the inferences trended negative. “Will Sting Follow Buzz?” Charlie Weis utilizing a “technological loophole in the NCAA rules on phone calls”. All seem to operate under assumptions that ND football is running pell-mell towards the world of NCAA chicanery, calling various SEC schools to see if they have any advice on rental property there.
No, they didn’t directly say Notre Dame and Charlie Weis had sold out or were violating rules, but they seemed to say everything but. And that really didn’t work for me. While, as I said, I realize ND is worthy of criticism in many areas, historically, NCAA compliance hasn’t been one of them. If you’re going to convince me there’s a clear and present danger of it happening, you’ve got to bring a hell of a lot more to the table than they did because you’re going up against over 100 years of strong attention to rules.
That’s the problem I (and, I would imagine, a lot of ND fans) have with the series. No rules were broken, but the authors seem disappointed in that fact and poised to pounce on any as soon as they appear. It seemed gratuitous — danger warned of with little solid evidence. It may be they didn’t mean for that impression, but that’s the one that was left with this reader, at least.
There’s a line in college athletics, defined (sometimes poorly) by our friends in Indianapolis, and I really don’t give a damn what Notre Dame is doing on the right side of that line so long as they stay on that right side. You follow what the rules say. Inventing extra rules, as I’ve said on NDN many times, doesn’t impress anyone.
Lest I be painted as soft on discipline, if ND commits a violation, by all means, bring it to me. If there are credible accusations of willful misconduct, I want to know. I won’t stand for misbehavior with malice aforethought at my school, because ND is supposed to be about accountability.
But don’t bring me a Hummer limo and high school championship rings and expect me to get worked up to the extent these stories apparently expected me to. Distasteful, yes. Immature, sure. NCAA trouble? Give me a break.
Monitoring events at Notre Dame has to be the SBT’s strong point. They’re the guys on the ground. I don’t want homerism, because that’s no good to anyone. What I want is objectivity and justification, and after reading this series, I didn’t get the impression of either. They’re blocking the crossing for a train 50 miles away that isn’t scheduled to stop at this station.
As the local paper, these are the people guarding the proverbial flock. If they start crying wolf, they’re no good to us.