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  • A Coffin of Thine Own Making: Swarbrick and False Choices

    by SEE

    Despite the use of intimidating phrases like “seismic shifts” and “changing landscapes” the fact remains that conference re-alignment doesn’t have to change Notre Dame football and nothing besides Notre Dame’s own choices can compel it to give up independence.

    Notre Dame football will only change by choice; it can’t be forced into a conference arrangement.

    There are only three make or break issues with regard to ND Football and independence:

    1 – Can ND schedule without a conference?

    The answer is absolutely yes. The only scheduling constraint on Notre Dame football is the SELF-IMPOSED 7-4-1 scheduling model, which is all about generating extra gate receipts. To hear Jack Swarbrick talk about playing Maryland at FED EX field being an “institutional fit” is head scratching. How, in any way shape or form, is that an “institutional fit”? That’s Whitesque obfuscation language. There’s no institutional fit; it’s a decent off-site game that will allow Notre Dame to keep the gate receipts while playing on television. It’s a “revenue fit.”

    2 – Will ND be able to compete for a national championship without a conference affiliation?

    The answer is yes. If Swarbrick can be cornered by the super-conferences on this issue then he’s not worth a dollar of his salary. This is the “easy out” argument. There is no legitimate argument for keeping ND out of the BCS and if Swarbrick can’t handle this part of the puzzle he needs to be replaced. If pressured on this ND should come out swinging, hire a PR firm, engage Congress in their efforts, use its extensive Obama connections and stand up for itself. It’s a PR battle ND should prepare to fight to win. I don’t see this happening. If the BCS can’t keep Utah, TCU and Boise State out, how are they going to exclude ND?

    3 – Can ND make enough money to compete at the highest level without a conference affiliation?

    The answer is unquestionably yes. Notre Dame will have more than enough money to compete at the very highest level. The false choice Swarbrick is implying comes down to this, “conferences are making more money on television deals so ND has to align or it won’t be able to compete in the arms race.” ND’s contracts with Adidas, NBC, the BCS (don’t get me started), licensing and gate receipts create more than enough money. What Swarbrick is arguing (read between these lines) is that ND will not be able to create as much revenue from media if it doesn’t align with a conference.

    “You have two conferences [the Big Ten and SEC] that have separated themselves economically and you’ve got all the other conferences lined up for their [upcoming television] renegotiations,” said Swarbrick. “The bar has been set so high, and the [current] media market is so tepid, that it creates a lot of tension.”

    So this is about “relative” money. And the fact is that Notre Dame doesn’t need more money than it’s making right now to compete in football. Notre Dame doesn’t need that extra revenue, it could choose to realign to make more money, but it’s not required to and to imply Notre Dame will be forced into realigning for more money or not be able to compete if it doesn’t is a false choice. Notre Dame already siphons off millions from the football program.

    The false choices and scare words, in the end, are just another way to try to milk “The Golden Goose” that is Notre Dame football.

    Speaking of money, if Notre Dame does make a deal now, it will be doing so from a position of historical weakness and not strength. I believe that Brian Kelly will have some very good years. Imagine Notre Dame as a lone independent, standing for something great and unique and playing in a national championship in three years… then picture the revenue opportunities.

    Bargaining from a position of weakness is feckless.

    As Domer wrote back in the fall, the coffin is entirely of Notre Dame‘s own making:

    [Edited down] Seeing ND hamstrung by its own faulty decisions is what makes so much of what’s happened around here for the past 12-15 years so maddening to me… You have an institution built upon immigrant dreams, religious identity, and football excellence and respond by subjugating the very things that made the place special to the fleeting notions of aspirational peers, U.S. News rankings, and the like. Sorry for the semi-rant, but I want Notre Dame back in the business of being Notre Dame. It’s long overdue. ~ domer

    To be sure conference realignment will create problems. So what? It was exactly these types of problems that created the greatness of Notre Dame football and forced the Irish to be unique. Visionaries saw those problems as an opportunity to create something greater and gave birth to what many believe is the greatest franchise in sports. Swarbrick’s words indicate he sees them as excuses to take the easy way out and become smaller, not greater.

    Notre Dame shouldn’t be swayed by “seismic shifts,” it has to define it’s own way and find a way to get there. We often use the story of the Duomo to illustrate to executives how brain locked their decision making becomes by circumstances (i.e. “changing landscapes” and “seismic shifts”). They see boundaries when great men see opportunity.

    This cathedral was designed as a physical manifestation of the glory of 15th century Florence. The most notable aspect of the design was the dome. At 143 feet, 6 inches, it would be the largest dome in the Western world. Only one— not tiny—problem: no-one had the first clue how to build a dome this big. As Ross King notes in his fabulous book Brunelleschi’s Dome, “the original designers merely expressed a touching faith that at some point in the future, God might provide a solution, and architects with more advanced knowledge would be found.”

    So in 1418 a gentleman by the name of Filippo Brunelleschi was selected to build the dome.

    Brunelleschi had several big challenges in front of him—but there was one in particular that stood out. He had to build a curving structure, out of brick, with no
    interior scaffolding to support it while the mortar dried.

    But the dome was so wide and so high that there literally was not enough wood in all of Italy to build sufficient scaffolding. So Brunelleschi had to come up with an entirely new approach.

    And what he delivered is truly genius. First, the ox-hoist. It used a cheap energy source to lift stone blocks weighing thousands of pounds as high as 300 feet in the air. The castello allowed workers to move these heavy loads laterally into place—the antecedent to the modern construction crane.

    He incorporated horizontal arches into the design that solved another of the big challenges: how to keep the dome from collapsing under its own weight. This was also how he got around using scaffolding..

    He also played around with the traditional toolkit, and used some “revolutionary” techniques that he actually adapted from ancient Roman architecture. Laying brick in a herring-bone pattern stabilized it enough so that it could be laid in concentric

    In building this dome, Brunelleschi came right up against the limitations of his own
    discipline. Western architecture had produced wonders—and some thought
    that it couldn’t advance much f
    urther. But Brunelleschi took the best of the old methods, added even better new ones, and in doing so, moved his discipline to the next level.

    Notre Dame can continue to pioneer its own way, use this opportunity build something even more extraordinary and remain a beacon or… it can take the easy way out.

    No bowl tie-in outside of the BCS? Strike an ND-only bowl deal like Hawaii did.

    NBC’s TV contract won’t add up? Structure of dual deal with another conference to share in their pie in exchange for home and homes and adding the value of ND to the bundle.

    Are these the right answers? Who knows? But independence takes creative thinking and requires courageous decisions that may not be what the Joneses are doing.

    To paraphrase what I wrote last year, no organization can bend to external pressure and sacrifice its core values without losing what made it special. What a terrible lesson that would be for our youth. If that happens Notre Dame will become just another fable… and a 100 years of winning that inspired millions to strive for excellence will become a cautionary tale of what happens when poor leadership inherits a legacy.

    22 Responses to “A Coffin of Thine Own Making: Swarbrick and False Choices”

    1. Anonymous says:

      I don’t think that anyone is arguing that we will be unable to remain independent. The argument is whether or not ND benefits from remaining independent.

      I agree with a lot of what you say. Points 1 and 3 are spot on. But point 2 isn’t as cut-and-dried as you make it out to be. The conferences undoubtedly have the leverage on ND in this discussion. At this point, ND is in a weak negotiating position. Sure, they want us, but they don’t need us. If conferences re-align in such a way that 4 super-conferences come to control the TV agreements, the playoff structure, the power, etc., ND will be even more powerless. And if we lose the PR battle? And if Congress fails to adequately solve the problem to our liking? ND Football could conceivably remain independent, sure. But would it be in our best interest?

      And I think Domer’s six-pack has holes in it. Points 1, 3 and 5 are fine points. Point 2 is being oversold. What do pep rallies and the running game have to do with each other? How has making the gameday experience more family friendly adversely affected the football team? That’s a stretch. Point 4 has been taken care of this season, in my opinion, and I think that the University should be commended for responding in the way it did. Point 6 is ridiculous. Academic prestige is not inconsistent with immigrant dreams, religious identity, or football excellence. Yes, ND has shot up the U.S. News charts in the last 20 years, which also have seen a decline in the level of its football, but I do not believe the two to be related.

      It’s a good article, and you have many strong points. But I think that including these less relevant or less-supported arguments weakens the article as a whole.

    2. I totally agree with what 'Anonymous' said. If the conferences realign and the BCS remains in tact, we will have no leverage to negotiate our independence. All JS is saying that he is keeping a close eye on the CFB landscape. He clearly said that Independence is what ND wants but he isn't going to stand by and watch these Super conferences align and control the BCS and shut ND out.

    3. Anonymous says:

      To quote General MacArthur, Should Notre Dame fail in its sacred duty and join a conference "a million ghosts in [blue and gold] would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: [God, Country, Notre Dame]."

      Seriously, I would rather see Notre Dame burn to the ground than debase itself by joining a conference… what the bleeding @#%& do these people think they are doing? Testing the waters? Seeing if the alumni keep quiet while they slowly introduce their plan to join a conference? The alumni need to rise up and demand an end to this ridiculous conversation… I propose an alumni campaign slogan… "No means NO!"

    4. Anonymous says:

      All Swarbrick is saying is that economic realities may force ND's hand. If mega conferences form with huge TV deals, he may be right.

    5. For nearly a century ND lead college football in innovative thinking on and off the field.

      Now ND's elites are content to be landscape assessors, trend followers and PR-enabled excuse makers.

    6. Anonymous says:

      Anon #4 is correct, and it is Scott who doesn't get it. To say that ND has the money to remain independent in light of what could happen with the formation of the super conferences is blind intelligence.

    7. Anonymous says:

      Should this come to pass: Notre Dame meet Northwestern. This is your future. Not very inspiring, and worse, Notre Dame's uniqueness will disappear. (probably aided and abetted by the very schools that Notre Dame, mistakenly, thinks it needs).

    8. Scott, you couldn't be more right. ND does NOT need a lame excuse as "needing more money" for reasoning. Unfortunately, D1 college football continues its upward climb towards total corruption like Wall Street and Politicians. If ND buys into it…."legendary" would be…no more.

    9. Anonymous says:

      Agree with the Sage and classmate from '71. ND should lead from it's independence. However if ND wants to strike a blow add the following to the other suggestions and to nip the Big Teneleven. ND,the Big East, and the ACC should form their own TV deal. Lots of options for viewing and TVs from Chicago to Miami would be watching the best men's basketball in the country, exciting football, best women's soccer, best women's basketball, and competitive offerings in all of the other sports. I'm all for independence, but if we did join let's lead! Use our experience with NBC to craft a great deal. Let's not let NBC restrict our thinking.

    10. Anonymous says:

      Is the contract with NBC endless?

      What if they offer the Pac-10 or Big-12?

    11. Joe Schaefer says:

      One emotional assertion following another. Since we are having trouble lining up good schedules now, how can it get any better in the future? Remaining independent has to have advantages; don't see any when conference alignments are drying up the opportunities. We could stay independent and play South Florida instead of Oklahoma, Western Michigan instead of Texas, Maryland instead of Alabama or Tennessee. We have had our chances to adjust to, that's right, the changing landscape and botched them. So, what do we do? pout and run to Congress or the president? Ridiculous!

      Joe Schaefer ND '59
      Universal City TX

    12. Anonymous says:

      Anon at 11:25 AM, I believe you have a valid idea. Some would argue that football featuring those conferences and ND would be weak, but the total sports offering would be dynamic.

      With all of the discussion about super conferences, etc., I haven't read anything about the impact the suggested moves might have on the BCS.

      Another point of interest, relating to the BCS, would arise should Congress become involved in the determination of what the National Championship really means. Three super conferences created around football would go against anti-trust considerations just like the BCS does…at least in the minds of some.

      Frankly, I don't believe anything will come of this. It is the off-season. We just need something to occupy our time until Spring Football gets started followed by the return of summer practice and then the real deal in September.

      GO IRISH!!

    13. The scheduling issues are of our own making, due to this ridiculous adherence to the 7-4-1 model. A 7-5 or 6-6 model would allow for plenty of teams who are interested in playing us but aren't interested in not getting any home games out of it.

      And I really don't give a rip how many home games other teams play. Play 'em and beat 'em and let the chips fall where they may.

    14. Anonymous says:

      Start winning football games regularly and there will be no problemo's.

    15. Anonymous says:


      Interesting article. I agree with some of your points. However, while ND brings a lot to the table, I'm not sure that the major conferences won't engage in an unstated freeze out. Are you guessing or do you have proof regarding ND's ability to schedule better games by agreeing to home and home deals?


    16. Anonymous says:

      Bet the house….We will emerge in the next 5 years into our old form. Being independent, every major broadcasting company will be bidding against each other to have the most coveted contract in the history of sport. Or in un-Notre Dame like fashion, we can play it safe, join a conference and concede to all those who truly know the value of ND football. No one can force our hand. If we win, are they going to lock us out? I dont think so.

    17. Chilly Willy says:

      I support the joint Big East/ACC idea. Everyone is saying that there will be 4 superconferences (Pac10, BigTeleven, Big12, SEC). What about the other 2 conferences?

      Have the 2 conferences negotiate TV/Media contracts together. They have enough great football teams, the best basketball by a country mile, women's soccer, women's bball (though I find it horribly boring) and men's lacrosse. Ink a deal with CBS/CBSCSTV or NBC/USA or FOX/FoxSports.

      Then have crossovers. Play 8 games in conference, 2 mandatory crossovers and 2 independent games. ND could act as a Big East member and get a partial schedule and help the conferences from a $ standpoint in negotiations.

      I don't want to join a conference, but you can't deny we could be forced to because eveyrone else blocks us. The fact is that the Big East and ACC would love to have us help them negotiate.

    18. Anonymous says:

      Amen, no conference. End of story. What saddens me is how N.D. wants to portray an image of big time football in a small school setting only to go the corporate way. Money, money, money, greed, greed, greed. Play football or go ivy league.

    19. Anonymous says:

      Winning big again will definitively point to staying Independent in football. I wasn't fortunate enough to attend ND, but I sure do love what its accomplished and what it still stands for. I am also saddened by some of its recent decisions where ND is starting to bend to secular America. Keep doing that and you destroy ND's greatest. A greatness based first and foremost on a love of God which allows Providence to guide ND to the very greatness we strive for.

    20. John Corboy '07 says:

      We don't need to join a conference to get more money, ND football already generates a ton of money. And if Kelly can turn the team around, the value of the football team will only increase. does an annual assessment of the most valuable college football teams and ND has been ranked #1, #1, and #2.

    21. Anonymous says:

      I am trying to understand how being independent is a big benefit to the Irish and I do not see it.
      Scheduling: This year's and next year's schedule are pathetic. I would rather see us play Minnesota and Iowa then San Diego State, Western Michigan, Tulsa or Conneticut. There would be no crime in playing 8 Big Ten teams and 4 non-conference games. We will play USC and Navy every year. I am sure that we could line up 2 quality games anywhere in the country.
      Free to work with NBC: The NBC contract is an albatross. It made sense in the early 90s when many of the games were not on TV but makes none now. We will be on TV every week without NBC. Perhaps we could have games that did not last more than four hours.

      Being unique? I do not think that being in a conference is going to change what makes ND unique. It is still a Catholic university that will stand by its principles. Being in a conference will not change how many National Championships and Heisman trophies ND won. Those things and being the only game on TV or radio made ND a national draw. Some things have changed but others never will. Are we compromised by being in the Big East in basketball? Is BYU no longer a Mormon school because it is in the Mountain West?

      People need to take a chill pill and look at reality. We have not been good for nearly 20 years and being in a conference has some advantages. It would be nice to play for a conference title when we have no shot at a National title. Maybe we could get more Midwestern talent if we were in the Big 10 and did not have to recruit nationwide. In any event, the key to recruiting nationwide and national respect is winning. Look at what has happened at Alabama and Florida. Since the same approach has not worked in 20 years, maybe it is time to seriously think about a new approach.

    22. Anonymous says:

      Wow, amazed at how many people think money is not greater than independence. Trust me, when we join a conference, it will only be about $$$$$. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but let's stop pretending that we are different.

      College football is a business guys. The CEO has to run it as such. As soon as some of you nostalgic hanger-ons realize that, the better off you will be.