The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Choose Independence

    by SEE

    The under the radar campaign to prepare Notre Dame Nation for a move to the Big Ten that began with an ‘oops’ moment in New York continued yesterday. Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves was in Scottsdale last night for UND Night with the Notre Dame Club of Phoenix, and told one alumnus and NDNation member, “I can’t say that we will never join a conference.”

    A move to the Big Ten would culminate 20 years of mismanagement of the football program, a series of steps that, on the surface, seem to be the result of environmental forces, but are really a path of Notre Dame’s own choosing.

    The “we’re a victim of circumstances” rationale isn’t just poor leadership, but the line doesn’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. Indeed, the last publicly available numbers show Notre Dame football running a $37-million surplus and that’s before licensing dollars. Powers like Alabama and Miami have been lobbying to get on Notre Dame’s schedule. There’s zero chance that an independent Notre Dame could be locked out of the BCS, which currently can’t keep Boise State out.

    The immediate fallout of a move would be felt on the recruiting trail, where Brian Kelly has noted that Notre Dame’s independent status has given it a distinct advantage. As former Notre Dame and Michigan recruiting coordinator Bob Chmiel told Mike Frank on Power Hour, Notre Dame would be freely giving up its recruiting advantage.

    Chmiel led the recruiting efforts at both schools and knows what “sells” recruits on Notre Dame.

    In short, what Chmiel said is that what allows Notre Dame to compete on a national stage right now is its national identity, national TV contract and the fact that Notre Dame is an independent not swimming as a relatively small fish in a mega conference. That’s Notre Dame ‘s competitive advantage that allows it to overcome its more restrictive recruiting pool. When Notre Dame wins a recruiting battle, it’s usually by a thin margin and what separates Notre Dame is it’s unique value proposition. That’s how Notre Dame sells itself.

    Michigan can go after anybody and sells itself as a Big Ten leader that plays in the Rose bowl and has a showdown with Ohio State. If Notre Dame joins the Big Ten, it would lose all of its competitive advantages and be forced to make the same type of pitch as Michigan, which Chmiel said it wouldn’t be able to do effectively. The effect is that Notre Dame would diminish its national pool and have no way to differentiate itself and the new value proposition will be trumped by Michigan’s and Ohio State’s. Notre Dame has a more restrictive recruiting environment already and a B10 television deal and schedule will lesson its national exposure, meaning Notre Dame will become more regional, which is a death sentence. Notre Dame needs a national recruiting pool to make up for the more restrictive standards.

    Beyond the impact on recruiting, Notre Dame would cash in a competitive advantage that any company would kill for. In a world where it’s increasing harder to differentiate yourself from the competition, Notre Dame would be freely choosing to give up that advantage to subjugate control over its future to Michigan and Ohio State.

    Notre Dame isn’t churning out ten thousand alumni every year. Notre Dame’s power and base comes from a national following and the belief that Notre Dame stands for something different. It’s that belief that captures people’s imaginations and inspires them. Notre Dame became well-known and loved because it stood for something different and dared to strive for excellence after it was ostricized from the conferences.

    Looking back, Notre Dame’s march toward irrelevance started with a lack of vision for the football program. Moving out Holtz for a coach with zero head coaching experience and zero love for the program in Bob Davie started the dominoes falling.

    The losing that ensued weakened Notre Dame’s national standing. When the BCS started, Notre Dame’s take if they made it to a BCS game, was well over $10-million a year… reaching $14 to $17-million a year. If Notre Dame had played at the same level that it did under Holtz, it would still be the most valuable college football franchise in the country. Using that barometer, Notre Dame’s decision to de-emphasize football while making Stanford an “aspirational peer” cost it over $50-million and untold millions more in brand value and other revenue.

    When Kevin White went back to the negotiating table with the BCS, he gave back over $10-million a year in upside, for a relatively small guarantee. At the same time Notre Dame was taking even greater amounts of money out of the football coffers to fund other sports and for the general fund. The last known numbers show Notre Dame siphoning off over $20-million from football for the general fund. If Notre Dame had banked that money (like a good steward would) it would have a war chest for any future contingency.

    That loss of value combined with a University addiction to football money has created a seeming imperative to go after a more stable revenue stream, which the Big Ten offers.

    Similarly, Notre Dame’s decision to play a 7-4-1 schedule to get more gate receipts and television dollars is solely responsible for any scheduling difficulties.

    None of the “environmental” arguments hold water. Yes, some teams wouldn’t schedule Notre Dame going forward late in the season, but there are plenty that would have. If they aren’t SEC or Big Ten teams, that doesn’t matter. Most schools would walk on hot coals for a home and home half under the dome. There are 120 schools in the football bowl subdivision, the idea that with USC, ND couldn’t find teams to play in the back half of the season is ludicrous. Move Navy there and schedule Army if necessary.

    Notre Dame doesn’t need the extra money to compete in football, it needs it for other reasons. An independent Notre Dame that wins on the field will eventually be worth far more than a Notre Dame as a small fish in the Big Ten pond.

    It isn’t the environment that’s forcing Notre Dame into the Big Ten and to portray it as such is disingenuous. Notre Dame has put itself on the path to conference membership through bad decisions and can still make the right choices and preserve independence.

    Coffey has come up with a three ways to support independence:

    1) Write letters with signature-required delivery telling Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves they’re making a mistake, cc’ing independent sources so pushback can’t be glossed over by the ND spin machine. Tell them in the letter who you are and how you’ve contributed to or helped ND in the past so they can tie your objection to participation history. PLEASE SCAN AND EMAIL YOUR LETTER TO NDINDEPEDENCE@GMAIL.COM. I’ll post them on a wall.

    2) Attend UND nights or other ND club functions and pigeon-hole the administrators who attend for concrete answers, like Howard Roark did. Even better, ask the question to them publicly so the answers are open to everyone.

    3) Contact their alumni senator and/or class representative, and ask them if they’re bringing things like this up. Alumni Senate meets in the near future, it’s a good agenda item. Pressure them to put it on there.

    7 Responses to “Choose Independence”

    1. The letters should be pasted to a large piece of plywood and sent to someone in the South Bend area who could wrap it in brown art class paper made to look like an envelope addressed to Jenkins and return address of "The Notre Dame Family, USA" (or if any international signers are included "World instead of USA) put it in the back of a truck and hand deliver to the Main Building and prop it upright in front in the entrance way on a couple sawhorses.

    2. A 1988 Knute Rockne stamp would be a nice touch too. Or just blow the image up onto a 8.5" x 11" paper.

    3. Anonymous says:

      Is there a link where one can see who is their class representative or alumni senator?

    4. Irish Right says:

      One of the most cogent and reasoned arguments I've seen. Excellent job.

    5. Anonymous says:

      Good job keeping the pressure on ND's admin to do the right thing. As an alum, I agree that ND will always be special, regardless of whether it joins a conference. But Walshy misses the larger point that joining one will makes us less so and that there is no good reason to join any conference, let alone one that wanted nothing to do with ND years ago (when ND needed it). Indeed, I agree that joining the Big 10 will ultimately hurt us in recruiting for the reasons Bob Chmiel stated.

      Finally, ND doesn't need to join a so-called "power conference" to "rule the BCS" — Brian Kelly will see to that in short order. Hopefully we can then put this garbage talk about joining the Big 10 to rest.

    6. I think in the end, the decision the Big Ten makes about which direction(s) to expand will likely force Notre Dame to make a decision they don't want to make.

      If they expand east, the Big East would likely cease to exist after the SEC and ACC raid it to keep up. If they expand through the Big XII, the Big East still gets raided of its best teams, and Notre Dame is left in a "mid major" conference for all other sports outside of football and hockey.

      Supporting an entire athletic department on the back of one sport and a comparatively small television contract that may or may not be extended in the future (more on that below) would leave Notre Dame at an even more defined competitive disadvantage than joining a conference would. What happens when facilities need improving or replacing? Will Notre Dame choose to bleed their donors dry when the NEED to do so would have easily been mitigated by joining a conference?

      Big Ten teams are currently receiving $22 million per year from TV revenue alone. And that's every institution. Northwestern got more television revenue last year than any other school outside the Big Ten conference, and they're HORRIBLE in most sports. Think about that. Northwestern.

      Add Connecticut, Syracuse, Rutgers and Pitt and that number gets slightly larger. Add Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Texas A&M; and it gets enormous. It could, on the conservative side, at least double by adding the Texas, Oklahoma, and St. Louis markets. Notice there are only 4 teams in each of those lists. I think the Big Ten will add 4 to get the dominoes falling and then wait to offer Notre Dame that last spot. That will be the crossroads, because that spot will be filled regardless of Notre Dame's decision and the conference will be closed forever at that point.

      And this doesn't even touch the recruiting aspect, which requires teams to get national exposure at some point. We all know that TV contracts float to where the money is. But now there would be 4 conference championship games to bid on. And with those come 4 schedules full of conference regular season games. And there are only 4 major networks to bid on these conferences. And one of them is NBC. ESPN/ABC already owns the Big Ten and part of the Big XII. CBS already owns the SEC. Fox owns the remainder of the Big XII. That leaves the Pac 10 without a home. And NBC isn't going to stand by and be left behind.

      In addition to television exposure, how will Notre Dame schedule anybody decent when every conference expands to 16 teams and 10-11 games are taken up in conference or with traditional rivalries from previous conferences? How will they get big name teams to give up the huge revenue from home games to play at Notre Dame?

      In addition, this aligns things for a much more realistic possibility of a 4 team playoff which would include the conference champions, but would probably not include an independent Notre Dame.

      These are all questions that rational thinking people have to ask themselves without bias. As things stand right now, the Big Ten doesn't need Notre Dame, and Notre Dame doesn't need the Big Ten. But the harsh reality is, once the Big Ten starts the dominoes falling, that situation will change drastically. The only question will be, can the Irish alumni base swallow their pride to save their athletic teams, or will they be left behind as all the super conferences fill their spots with other teams?

    7. I wrote this in part, tongue in cheek to a couple of friends of mine, but my question is, why not this scenario?

      ND and the Big Prime Number

      With all of the talk and articles about the potential Big Ten (or eleven) expansion, my question is; why in the world aren't the midwest Catholic universities in a major basketball conference of their own? Ok, I'll admit that we may have to call it the Fisheaters Conference, but what's wrong with this picture?

      1. Notre Dame
      2. DePaul
      3. Loyola (Chicago)
      4. Marquette
      5. St. Louis
      6. Detroit
      7. Dayton
      8. Xavier
      9. Duquesne
      and just to show we're ecumenical,
      10. Butler

      Let's analyze:

      Conference overall: Cuts travel budgets, restores traditional rivalries, and has teams in ALL of the midwest media markets with the exception of Cleveland. You think this conference would draw attention the way the Big East did when it was formed?

      Notre Dame, DePaul and Marquette: The Big East still has plenty of teams at 13, and still a top conference for basketball. Big East football is unaffected by this conference, they
      have more to fear from the Big Ten trying to grab some of their teams. Notre Dame keeps their independent standing in football, provided they don't give it away. These rivalries grab major Chicago and midwest media attention away from the Big Ten during basketball season.

      Dayton, Xavier, Duquesne and St. Louis: Curently in the Atlantic 10, another conference that can't count (14 current teams). And as I look on the map, I don't see any of these 4 teams near the Atlantic Ocean.

      Detroit, Loyola and Butler: All three make a jump from the mid-major Horizon League into a potential major conference listed above. No question this would
      upgrade their recruiting, and would be a catalyst for expansion of facilities at Detroit, Loyola(and Duquense). No messing with Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler however, the Wrigley Field of college basketball and the centerpiece of the movie "Hoosiers". This move benefits all, especially Butler, who has labored too long having a top 20 basketball program stuck in a mid-major.

      I'm sure there are other factors making this problematic, especially concerning the other varsity teams these schools field, Title 9 and who knows what else, well maybe money. It seems to me that this proposed conference would make perfect sense.

      Living in the Dayton, Ohio area all of my life, I remember when the University of Dayton played every one of these teams every season (except for Butler) and for many years did home and home games per season with these schools. Marquette with Al McGuire, DePaul with Ray Meyer, ND with Digger, even Detroit with Dickie V; those were HUGE home games. All we have left from this is Xavier twice a year as the big rival (no offense meant to Xavier),Duquense twice a year in the A-10, and far too few games with their other natural historical rivals.

      If Pope Benedict XVI stepped aside, as some suggest, hopefully the new Supreme Pontiff would make the forming of this conference his number one priority. I'm content with God handling everything else…Unfortunately with ND, the money lure seems to cloud the longer term view…