by Mike Coffey
As the Madness that is March gets underway, and the Fighting Irish set their sights on a third straight Elite Eight appearance, it’s fun while awaiting the games to start to look around college basketball and see the people and programs making news. For reasons that should become apparent quickly, one story captured my attention, and I want to bring it to yours.
Living in Illinois and awash in the sending-kids-to-college experience, I’ve become very familiar with the Redbirds of Illinois State. They came up on the short end of the stick Sunday afternoon, relegated to the NIT despite a strong record, with the major ding against them the (lack of) quality of their schedule. Dan Muller, Redbird alum and head coach, vented his frustration on Twitter, challenging the Power Five programs who seemed to be avoiding his program to take on the challenge of a home-and-home. Ole Miss took Muller up on his challenge, and there’s no telling how many more will step forward.
Hey Mike? Jack? Make Notre Dame one of them.
While ND fans and season ticket holders have enjoyed the Mike Brey era in general, and the Elite Eight runs in particular, one thing remains galling: the (lack of) quality of the non-conference schedule, particularly at home. The philosophy of “play in a neutral-site tournament and round out with home-game tomato cans” started years ago, but there’s strong evidence that lack of quality has cost ND a seed line or two in the NCAAs at least two of the last three seasons. I find myself wondering if the particularly strong drop in seed line this year is the committee getting irritated that Brey isn’t heeding the message.
Far be it from me to suggest Notre Dame kowtow to external forces in college athletics — I do strongly advocate football independence, after all. But in this case, one stone will catch many worms. The season ticket holders will be mollified, the NCAA selection committee may look more favorably on the team in March, and the team will be better prepared for whatever post-season fate awaits it. I believe the days of Notre Dame having to schedule the wins for the NCAAs are over; the program has the cache built from 17 strong years since the dark days of the 1990s, and has more than earned a benefit of the doubt the committee is (IMO) more than willing to give them.
So let’s beef up that non-con schedule a little bit — not a ton, just a little bit — and a great first step would be talking to Muller. Ole Miss saw the opportunity to put themselves in the news and get themselves some positive pub, and Notre Dame could use a stronger presence in Illinois given Northwestern’s resurgence. With the Maui Classic and the game at DePaul next year, no reason the first ISU game can’t be in South Bend, with the return the following season. And don’t play the home game and then buy them out — that’s how wusses operate.
Fire up the Twitter, boys, Bloomington is waiting.