by Mike Coffey
They say length doesn’t matter, but I beg to differ. In the 12 years I’ve been pushing the bits and bytes on NDNation and its progenitor sites, I’ve never spent as long a night posting headlines or seen a two-plus screen scroll list of articles. When Forbes and the Wall Street Journal are chiming in on Notre Dame football, something big must be afoot. And afoot it is.
By now, the news is old: Notre Dame is moving from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, with five football games thrown in to sweeten the pot. What’s left is the reaction … how do we feel?
You can get our users’ opinions on any of our message boards. It’s possible my fellow Ops may chime in with their opinions. What you’re going to get here is my take … what we’ve gained, and what we’ve lost.
Oh great, you say, the hoops guy is going to talk about the ACC move. Well, let’s set aside the hoops hat for a moment and talk about other things.
Actually, let’s not. The hoops opinion is short and sweet, so let’s get it out of the way: Duh. No-brainer benefit for the program. Big win for Muffet and Mike, and ND basketball in general. Who knows, this might finally get us a hoops practice facility built, since it’s apparently now an “even bigger priority”. And for those who like to pooh-pooh Mike Brey and his effect on ND basketball, rest assured the Internet would not be resounding with opinions how ND’s arrival will be a boon for ACC basketball had he not worked his magic the last decade. Only a Demetrius Jackson commitment in the coming weeks could put icing on this cake.
But the 800 lb. gorilla in the room demands audience, and audience it will get. Anyone who doesn’t see this as the beginning of the end of ND football independence is fooling themselves. Like the video screen and field turf, it’s going to happen whether we like it or not.
Back in 1990 when ND announced the move of its non-football sports to the Big East, ND was coming off a national championship and a second-place finish in consecutive seasons. The thought that its hand could be forced into Big East football membership was ludicrous on its face. But after almost 20 years of football mediocrity, ND will allow the ACC to determine which of its five members it will face every season in football as the price of parking the rest of its athletic department.
How things change. And it makes me sad.
This is the part where words like “arrogance” and “elitism” get thrown around, and people think those bemoaning the loss of football independence is some kind of shot at the ACC or college football in general. Not so. Granted, I’ve decried the Communistic nature of conferences in the past, and remain no fan of them, ACC or no ACC. But this is about what ND has lost, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
For 70 years, Notre Dame football was built on a foundation of success from hard work. We didn’t depend on a conference to get us where we were, unless you count the disdain of the Conference Formerly Known as the Integer pushing us to create our own special place in college football. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into crafting a championship-level football program, and the rewards were all the sweeter knowing the work had been ours alone. If you’re looking for an American success story, there you have it.
But then came 20 years of stewardship that could be described as (at best) inept or (at worst) malfeasant. In those 20 years, the work of the prior 70 seemed to have been undone on purpose. Resting on our laurels, the brand eroded, and now here we (or at least Fr. Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick) sat in North Carolina, hitching the ND wagon to the ACC star.
Yes, landscapes change. Yes, it’s possible ND needed to make this move regardless. I watched it happen to ND basketball in the 1990′s, and we all know how that turned out.
But I’d be a lot more willing to accept that alleged “reality” if it came on the heels of 20 years of quality football. If Notre Dame was achieving on the field what it should have and still found itself shut out of the championship structure of the sport, I’d accept conference membership with a rueful shrug. But to be told what “has to be done” after so many poor decisions by people tasked with maintaining the wonderful thing so much work built … well, it leaves me more than a little cold. I can’t accept at face value the “need” for conference affiliation when those calling for it lack the street cred to back it up. They may be right, but it’d be by accident.
Obviously there’s nothing I or anyone else can do. The contracts are signed, the wheels in motion. Alea iacta est. I got used to Big East conference brethren, I certainly can do it again. And trips to Miami and Atlanta and Raleigh will be novel if nothing else.
But I’m still sad. Something unique is going away. And we won’t know how wrong that loss was until it’s too late.