by Mike Coffey
We’ve spent a good portion of the off-season arguing about Notre Dame’s football future. We all want to see a return to the days of on-field excellence, and I think it’s important to remember that. But I also think it’s important to note how many of our wounds are self-inflicted and how hard Notre Dame seems to work at getting in its own way, because until those things are corrected, all that arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere. An erudite poster described Notre Dame as “a bowl full of conflicts”, and I don’t think there’s a better description to the mis-applied focus at the root of all our football problems.
Jack Swarbrick said, “Football at Notre Dame is all about promoting the University of Notre Dame.” That’s wrong. You can’t play championship-level football if your first thought is not about the on-field product. Football at Notre Dame should be all about winning with integrity. If you accomplish that goal, the promotion you seek will follow naturally, and because it is natural and not forced, it will be much more effective.
If your goal is to win a national championship, scheduling travel halfway across the globe in a season in which you’re already traveling to the west coast is foolish. While I believe it unsportsmanlike to schedule eight home games or more the way some of our D1 brethren do, I believe it pointless to move a home game 90 miles away, talk about playing a game in China, and subject student athletes to unnecessary stresses, all in the name of “demonstrat[ing] the breadth of the scope of the academic mission at the University” … or stuffing its coffers via the “portable version of Hammes Bookstore”. The academic mission of Notre Dame shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone who is paying attention. If it is, there are plenty of venues at which it can prove its worth much more suitable than a football game.
Nowhere is this dichotomy illustrated more starkly than at Notre Dame home games. The lack of a home field advantage has been a much-debated topic these last couple years, and everyone has their own solution. But no solution will be effective as long as we continue to impede our own progress, and to correct that, we have to reset our priorities while maintaining standards. Not easy, but doable.
If we don’t want our Stadium to be comfortable for the visitors, we have to make it more uncomfortable. No one wants to become another Michigan or Miami or BC … we’ve all got our horror stories from those trips. But there’s a lot of space between that and the “welcome to Notre Dame” obsequiousness currently on display six Saturdays a year.
If we want our Stadium to be loud, we need to make it louder. No one wants fights in the stands or people to feel unsafe. But there’s a lot of space between that and the deference to the “down in front” crowd that borders on fealty.
If we don’t want the TV timeouts to drain the energy out of the stadium, we need to keep the momentum going. And I’m sorry, but nothing blows up the momentum more than a “special presentation” that has nothing to do with football. Jack Swarbrick is frustrated by the lack of attention given to honorees during the game, saying, “We ought to be calling great attention and focus to that person, and that’s hard to do in our current environment,” and driving the current video screen nonsense. I say the exact opposite — we shouldn’t call attention to them at all. There’s a reason “that’s hard to do in our current environment”: it’s not the right environment in the first place.
When I go to a football game, I’m there to support my team loudly and energetically, with my energy most likely fueled by the judicious consumption of selected adult beverages. I’m not there to sit and listen to the accomplishments of Professor Sinjin-Smythe and his efforts to cure cancer of the genechtagazoink. I really don’t care that the University’s IT department successfully installed a new donations tracking package, or the catering staff went a whole year without poisoning anyone. And I’ll applaud the soccer or lacrosse or fencing or basketball teams in their own venues. All of those people are worthy of praise … in Notre Dame Magazine or on the front page of the UND.com website.
Back in the day, those presentations were made during halftime. The band would perform their show, stop in their final formation while people were honored, then do the Victory March and trot off for the start of the second half. Everyone was honored, everyone watched, and it didn’t suck the life out of the crowd. Sounds like a pretty easy solution to me, especially considering it worked so well before. If there are too many honorees to make that work, consider the possibility that your standards of determining honorifics are too low.
There is honor in following NCAA rules. There is integrity in giving student athletes just as much opportunity to succeed off the field as on. There is nothing, however, in putting the cart of promoting the University of Notre Dame in front of the football program horse other than the destruction of the latter to the detriment of the former. It’s time for a priority reset because, as the old saying goes, six billion Chinese people couldn’t care less.