by Mike Coffey
I’ve had some time to reflect on Saturday night and what it meant to Notre Dame both on and off the field. No doubt there were benefits derived from our game against Washington State. I certainly enjoyed seeing us run roughshod over an opponent for a change, although that had more to do with the quality or lack thereof of the opponent. I know San Antonio is a good destination, and don’t doubt people had fun going there. The pictures of the Riverwalk certainly looked enticing.
But I can’t get past the mindset that is making these games possible, and I cannot see my way clear to endorsing it or supporting it. My position has nothing to do with “groupthink”, and everything to do with trying to make sure Notre Dame stays true to the kind of things it used to stand for.
The people who run our football program don’t want to make difficult choices, like bringing in a high-profile coach who might make them nervous sometimes (see: Holtz, Lou) or blue-chip players who won’t always act like choirboys. Instead, they want the path of least resistance to winning just enough games to keep the alumni wolves from their door. So they spend a quarter of the schedule on “buy” games against programs without the self-respect to demand a more equitable setup. They believe alumni and fans will be so happy to have tickets they’ll pay top dollar for crappy matchups against Low Self Esteem State. Meanwhile, the win total is padded, camouflaging any shortcomings that may be present on the field or sidelines … shortcomings that will become embarrassingly apparent when a quality opponent is encountered.
The people who run our football program don’t want night games on campus, even though some fans and our broadcast contractor do, because managing a crowd like that responsibly takes hard work and quality decision-making. Never mind that a lot of other blue-chip programs manage to do it, our folks are terrified of the slightest liability. But they don’t want to give up the money NBC will pay, because they’re more interested in wringing every last dollar out of the arrangement. So they put together these boondoggle games in which they greedily demand full control of television rights and gate receipts, limiting the quality of opponent that can be arranged. They put the responsibility for night game crowd control on someone else, meaning they don’t have to come up with viable plans, without having to give up control of the greenbacks.
I have no problem playing a balanced schedule, and I certainly wouldn’t advise playing “a top 20 team every week”, as some strawman-erecting folks have accused. I’ve long been an advocate of 4-4-4 or a variant (e.g. 3-5-4). I’m not demanding ND play a suicidal schedule — after all, 2005’s fit the model, was fine by me, and we did quite well against it.
I have a big problem, however, when the school is just trying to schedule wins by dumbing things down to the point that excellence is no longer required for a W. I have a big problem when the school that is supposed to stand for sportsmanship tries to use loopholes and its market demand to bully smaller programs into inequitable arrangements. I don’t give a damn if every other school is doing it — I was raised to believe Notre Dame was different.
Yes, we derived some benefits from Saturday. But I’m not willing to pay that price for those benefits.