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Monday, November 02, 2009

Cowardice and Greed

posted 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.

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Anonymous comarionnd said...

Is it really bullying when we have to pay these teams $800,000 to visit? My point being, either way you look at it, its a disgrace.

11/02/2009 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger oaknd1 said...

Why is a night game such an important sticking point?

It seems like a really minor thing to me, and it has the ring of one more piece of baggage to throw on the mountain of grievances when complaining collectively about why the team doesn't win more.

I like afternoon games. I like waking up early and tailgating, going to the game and being home in time to watch the late games.

The only "advantage" that i see in night games are an extra 3-4 hours to liquor up. The NDNation board is really vocal about making Notre Dame a more intense place to play a game and i generally am in support of this, but if the price of a loud atmosphere is to turn us into LSU, count me out.

I believe people "want night games" largely because they currently can't have them. I can't imagine anyone would be noticeably happier if, all things remaining equal, Notre Dame played the marquee opponent next year at 7:30 in stead of 4:30.

Ironically, you'd expect a board full of die-hard traditionalists to be AGAINST night games, considering they've never been part of the ND home game experience.

11/02/2009 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Kevin McCarthy said...

Very well said. This is not the Notre Dame that my grandfather taught me to love.

I look back at the many great road trips I was able to make as a student and as an alumn, and I don't imagine it happening again anytime soon.

I'll never forget heading to Austin in September of 1996. Staying with my brother, celebrating with old HS friends both my birthday, and Jim Sanson booting the ball through the uprights at the end of the game. It was a great weekend, a great atmosphere, and it's not likely to be repeated anytime soon. Give me ND in Austin against Texas over ND versus Wazzu in San Antonio, every time.

11/02/2009 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Kelley Cook said...

Yep I don't like the apparent scheduling model either. Two crap teams next year annoys me (note my snarky Western Michigan choice)

But that really is orthogonal to the fact the neutral site game went well and was well received.

And my groupthink comment was mostly directed to those "real fans" that have been reduced to calling it the ever clever names of "shitstorming" or "barnshitting" and then got so into themselves that they then proceeded to complain about the game after the fact while admitting they didn't bother watching it. IMO, that is something worse than pathetic.

11/02/2009 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Night games are not a good answer. Night games are cool for the kids on campus, but old timers that drive 3 plus hours pay the price by getting home from a long day after midnight. And I like the week off once in a while. In this day of college football you need one. You never know who is gonna be good year to year anymore. And in case you have not noticed ND has been a feast for USC, BC, MSU, and other for the last few years. I loved the cake-walk Saturday night. I actually got to see a running game. Welcome back Lee Becton.

11/02/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous RockMcD said...

Let's keep in mind that at the time this game was scheduled nobody expected WSU would be the laughingstock of college football. I think they probably expected them to be more like UW or ASU is this year - not a top 20 team themselves, but certainly capable of beating a top 20 team.

I don't think "cowardice and greed" is an effective title for this piece. It just sounds like petty namecalling and begs the reader to take it with a grain of salt before they even read a single word. But if the intent is to just preach to the choir then it probably serves that purpose.

A more effective method would be to say that it just ain't good business. Make the case that they can make even more money doing something closer to what the fans want. For example, if the quality of opponent for "buy games" is very limited and results in all those empty seats that we saw on TV Saturday night, then perhaps they'll have better luck with a 2-for-1 arrangement with 1 of those 2 "home" games being at a neutral site.

11/02/2009 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Show me the cowardice?

This is not a fair assessment of the positives and negatives of the game in SA. Ok, it was a weak opponent. What else was wrong with it?

A coach you dont like, night games at ND, wimpy admin...these have nothing to do with the game in SA.

Nothing in this world is how it was when your grandfather told you the way that it was. Living in the past is not a success strategy for anything in today's world, let alone ND Football.

11/02/2009 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob Q said...

This is one of the best posts I've ever read on ND Nation. Hits nail on the head with the final two paragraphs.

11/02/2009 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AD Jack S's interview on Irish Sports Daily is a must read for context on ND scheduling and this post.


It's a different sports and college football world today, and maintaining tradition in a traditional football program with no conference affiliation has never been so difficult.

That's great you'd like to see some different things done at ND scheduling-wise, but how do you suggest these different things should be executed, given the number of variables and constraints identifed by AD Swarbrick in his interview?

11/02/2009 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last true night game I went to was at Vandy in 1996. When people in our section complained about have crap thrown at us the reply from the cop was "people have been drinking all day what do you expect!" They finally cleaned out about two rows behind our group a couple of minutes before the end of the game. Only game I have ever been too that I thought I was going to have to fight my way out.
I don't need that kind of atmosphere in South Bend

11/02/2009 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Curious James said...

I think the state of college football is changing so rapidly with the proliferation of media, that the things that made ND standout in the past (on national TV weekly, cover of SI, etc) are not creating the appeal it once did. Look at 3 of the top 7 teams, TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State, they wouldn't have attracted talent ten years ago without the proliferation of media. You can see these teams now via ESPN 2, You Tube, etc. ND's value prop around media is still strong, but not as strong as it once was when highlighted as a reason to come to ND.

Unfortunately ND's lack of leadership is creating an environment that is promoting a sense of mediocrity. Also, I think as fans, we are having a tough time accepting the fact that the glory days may be behind us. It's been almost twenty years since we really competed on a national level. I would say 1993 was ND's last truly great year.

However, I am an optimist and believe we can get it back. Here are some simple recommendations to bringing ND back to glory:

1) 6-5-1 schedule. 6 home, 5 away, 1 neutral. 7-4-1 will never get a Bama, Tenn or PSU to create those great games of the past, and challenge ND to compete with the better teams. I am not advocating that all the games be tough, but you will never win a national championship without a couple of tougher games on the schedule from proven teams, not rolling the dice that WSU or Tulsa will be good that particular year. Put bets on teams that have a higher likelyhood to be in the top 20. Remember, you are who you hang out with, and if we are hanging more with Western Michigan than Bama, we are only lowering the bar.

2) Hire a new coach. Weis has proliferated some sense of entitlement at ND. Yes, we can continue to win the Hawaii Bowl's of the world, but there is no way we can hang with a Florida. If you want to create a winning environment, you need to raise the bar.

3) Do a better job of highlighting the student/athlete. Go against the grain, and take a leadership position in the NCAA to remind us all that college football is not a professional sport (even though marketers and others have unfortunately changed this forever) and remind us all that college is first about education, and second sport. But work on winning at both. That's what has made ND great over the years.

4) Build the next Tony Rice. You all remember Tony was Prop 48, but he graduated with over a 3.0. Take more risk, and bring in special cases and help them. It makes ND the great institution we love.

5) Don't celebrate mediocrity. This year has been better than last, and the team is much improved, but the blogs I read in 2006 said that 2009 was our NC year. We aren't even in the top 20, and we haven't beaten a team of significance in a long time. Unless ND loses to Pittsburgh and/or Stanford, Weis will be back next year, but we will still be in the same spot. If you want to change this, please see recommendation #2.

11/02/2009 06:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Rich M. Bellingham, WA said...

Just looking at our Schedule compared to Florida's Schedule for 2010. Florida has 5 teams on it's 2010 schedule that currently have winning records, ND has 7. Combined record of Florida's 2010 oppenents currently is 56-45, ND's 2010 opponents are currently 60-42.
Seems to me like you are holding the Irish to a standard that is very unreasonable.

11/02/2009 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Old timers like me (class of '89) witnessed some incredible night games at home. Michigan in '88 and '90 were awesome and without that loud crowd (yes, liquored up) I don't think we in those games. ND is losing an incredible home field advantage by not playing big time games in prime time. Sorry older timers, but I want to win more than I want you to enjoy a peaceful afternoon sitting in the sun watching ND lose to USC.

11/02/2009 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Greed I understand 8-4 scheduling is about raising more money. Cowardice I'm not following.

Night games relate to SA how? As noted by others the old ND of the 70's started games at what? 11 I believe. Even in the 90's it was a 1:30 start. Who needs the problems of night games which are not part of the historical ND-or is this change that is good as opposed to other change that is bad?

And why does everyone think that hiring a better coach is a slam dunk? I agree CW isn't the best coach in the country but
I don't think he is terrible either. How many tier 1 teams have hired multiple coaches that couldn't do the trick-leave our history of coach choices out of it. Look at Alabama, success now after how many failures? Remember beating SC 10 or 11 straight times while they went through coaches? Washington may not be a tier 1 team but they have a proud, successful history, how many failures have they had since their last NC? My point is that I believe the chance of failure with a new coach is much higher than the chance of failure with the current one and is also much higher than the chance of success with a new coach.

11/02/2009 10:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not disagree more with several of the anonymous posts I've seen (same person maybe?) whining about all the problems with night games. Night games are great for ratings, and they definitely create a different atmosphere. I'm not saying that every game should be a night game, but it would be cool if it were at least an option once or twice a season. To prevent a drunken melee they could always open the tailgating lots later, create "family" (read sober) sections, or just enforce a "no belligerent drunks" policy. Sorry about the drive home, but that's what hotels are for. As for Wazzu, I believe that game was just scheduled in the last year or two when we went to this screwy schedule. They've been terrible the last couple years, and there was no reason to think they were getting better. I saw tons of empty seats on TV, which is never good. I know from my perspective, I'm not interested in paying to see ND vs. Some Highschool Team, and several of my friends go to South Bend to tailgate, but watch the game from a bar these days. I kind of like the off-site game idea, so I would keep that, but a 6-5-1 Home-Away-Offsite schedule would make a tremendous difference in allowing us to schedule matchups that are very winnable but not pathetically lame.

11/02/2009 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did sports begin in the history of the world? Most probably NOT to foment goodwill! Decades of college football have certainly NOT created any goodwill. Read any sports blog, and hate is the single common thread that keeps people coming back. Nobody comes back to feel good about the friendships that were motivated during the latest "game" ( that is: "hate excercise").

11/03/2009 02:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Mikes '79 said...

I'm sick of the impact television is having on ND football. The commercial timeouts destroy the flow of the games and make the games longer than necessary. I liked the 1:30 start time; as another poster writes, it was nice to go to the games and come home before midnight.

The wimpy schedules are another step toward wrecking the program. Let Ohio State and Michigan schedule powerhouses like Akron, Kent State, and Appalachian State. Who needs that nonsense? Scheduling Western Michigan is an insult to the people who pay for tickets, parking, and all that priceless stuff from the bookstore. We should keep Navy and USC on the schedule and then try to schedule home-and-home series with the top or near-top teams from the other conferences. We would be thrilled to have those teams come to campus, and they would be thrilled to have us come to theirs. It's really not that complicated.

11/03/2009 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Keown 05' MBA said...

Folks I live in the deep south, SEC country. I think it is laughable and comical that any of you are in the least bit disappointed or think that scheduling this game and the Utah, Tulsa, WestMich, games next year make the program any less of a program. UGA, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, all play 1-AA(I won't use the new FCS name) teams every single year. Do you realize that the mighty Gators actually played the "College of Charleston" this year? I'm also beginning to wonder if Troy University has more than one team, since it seems on some weekends everyone in the SEC East is playing them.

And don't run down Appy State. There's a reason no one in the South wanted to play them - Michigan found out really quick what that reason was.

As long as the ND schedule has the "usual suspects" - it will always be fine for strength of schedule and will be a good run of good competition.

11/03/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing how everyone loves to put down our great school. True Charlie is not Mr Personality but he has those kids playing hard and has developed Jimmy C into the best QB in the country. We've come a long way from the Willingham/Davie days.

As for night games, Michigan doesn't play them, they don't even have lights. With all the NBC timeouts we'd get out of there at 1AM plus you's miss all the other game day experiences like post game mass at the Basilica.

If we give NBC night games next thing will be a Thursday night game,ugh.

Instead of complaining make some noise on Saturday and show your team your care

11/03/2009 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the original post's point of view.

I don't think living in the past is a good idea, and I dont think denying ND's historical traditions of playing around the country should be ignored either.

Lastly, as it stands today, ND plays a more difficult schedule than 2/3 of the teams ranked in the top 10 in the BCS polls.

I don't think ND needs to make its schedule harder to appease some short sighted alumni opinions. The AD and the President need to make the right decisions REGARDLESS of the alumni who are often a few loud voices not representing the majority (No more billboards please).

Life is about making the most of the opportunities you are given. I'm not convinced that ND's admins aren't trying to do the same for ND football, in light of the current football marketplace.

11/03/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alcohol, alcohol, and then again alcohol are the reasons that we should not have night home games. At Notre Dame the vast majority of attendees get in their cars and drive home. I was at the San Antonio game and the parking lot was not full. The vast majority walked to and from the stadium. I don't think anyone was injured by a drunk walker.
With a night game you have fans who have been drinking all day and all night and then they must get into their vehicles and drive back to Chicago, etc.
I want to add that you cannot even begin to understand how fabulous this weekend was unless you were there. It was great. Try it, you'll like it.

11/03/2009 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mr. Coffey. This is NOT your daddy's (or grand daddy's) Notre Dame. Too bad for those of us who care about true Notre Dame football tradition. We have entered a new era: "Tradition Light."

Having that said: The next few games are going to be VERY interesting. Buckle-up, alum friends and all you subway followers. It's time for Charlie to shine. (Or not.)


11/03/2009 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Larry B said...

It needs to be stated again that when Saturday's game was scheduled, Washington State was not the pushover they are now. They were coming off a 6-6 season in which they won at 10-4 Oregon State and lost 28-22 to 11-2 USC. Sure, they weren't exactly Rose Bowl contenders. But they weren't a guaranteed win either. Let's consider all the facts before we jump to any sweeping conclusions (or at least sweeping conclusions based on Saturday night's game) about the administration's alleged agenda regarding the schedule, shall we?

11/03/2009 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While you make some good points, I think your recent pieces reflect an extreme and often unfair criticism that makes it hard to read them. A perfect example is the use of the terms "cowardice and greed." I was also troubled by the gratuitous and extreme criticism of the administration about the Obama commencement speech in you "Men wihtout Chests" piece.

I have found your writing to be thoughtful and insightful on many occasions. But, thee pieces lack both thoughtfulness and insight and have substituted an almost hysterical emotionality. Labels such as "cowardice" and "greed" ought to be resreved for truly reprehensible conduct. To use them because you disagree with a decision or course of conduct suggests a weakness in your substantive argument that you think needs to be propped up by these inflammatory terms. In short, it turns readers off and obscures your points, rather than enhancing them.

11/03/2009 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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 ... Instead, they want the path of least resistance to winning just enough games to keep the alumni wolves from their door ... 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."

You're way off base here. The program has made a lot of tough choices. They fired Ty earlier than many thought was appropriate because they thought he was not up to the task. They were right. He was a good guy who ran a clean program but he couldn't recruit or coach.

Weis was hired because of his pedigree and the fact that he was a ND alum. I was as psyched as most. Although he's an excellent recruiter, he's ridiculously pompous and not nearly as good a coach as he thought he was coming in. It's time for him to go and unless the Irish go 3-1 or better the rest of the way, he will be.

The scheduling gripe is simply misplaced. All great programs schedule a few cupcakes. If ND scheduled Top 25 teams every week, they'd never make a BCS bowl.

As for the where the games are played and why and money, look, it's big business, accept it.

11/03/2009 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt T. said...

With commentaries like this, it is not a surprise that the message boards continue to have ample doses of entitlement and bitterness. The genorosity of spirit so prevalent through the University community is sparse on this site.

11/03/2009 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I look at the National Championship years that I have been alive to witness, there was a common denominator. In 1966, 1973 and 1977 it was Army,Navy and Air Force. In 1988, it was Army, Navy and Rice. I think a lot of fans are frustrated because some of the traditional opponents have not been that good over the last few years, i.e. Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State. Washington has had success but not since the early 90s, Pitt has been up and down. It is tough to get excited when you play a team wherever, that on the surface wouldn't be worth the price of admission. I kind of like the idea of keeping Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Navy and rotating two more teams out of the Big Ten, Pac Ten and whatever other conference in a four year home and home arrangement. Without the home and home, get used to more WAC & MAC opponents.

11/03/2009 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Kris said...

2009 is not 1999 or 1989. The competitive landscape has changed, where the teams we compete with for BCS births play similar schedules to ours. In the current BCS framework, preseason rankings play a crucial role in whether a team has a high enough ranking to get into a BCS bowl (even more so Notre Dame, since we can't count on a conference win as an automatic berth). Holding ourselves to a scheduling regime that is harder than those we compete with for BCS births and championships is unilateral disarmament. You may not like the 7-4-1, but if it were 8-4 with the eighth game at home as a "buy" game, it will look very similar to schedules played at Florida, Alabama, Texas and Southern Cal.

11/03/2009 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

No, actually, it won't. Florida plays teams like Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and Alabama in addition to their buy games. We're playing Michigan State, Purdue and Stanford. That's why the model doesn't work. When you're playing eight home games and still only have two marquee opponents........

11/03/2009 04:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notre Dame is usually in the top 10 - 20 for schedules. Several weeks ago they were rated at 38th hardest. For me the strength of shedule is not the problem, its the playing of the same teams year in and year out. Let's keep the main 3 or 4 rival games - MSU, USC, Navy, Purdue then play more games against teams we have never played or haven't played in years. Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Cal, Arizona, Az State and so on. Spread some of the excitement around.

11/03/2009 04:54:00 PM  

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