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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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Thursday, October 08, 2009

21st Century Irish

posted by Mike Coffey
I've long pushed for Notre Dame to enter the 21st century and take advantage of technological opportunities to make the fan experience better. I'm also a staunch opponent of any kind of "big screen" in Notre Dame Stadium, preferring those who want the entertainment to provide for themselves rather than affect my game experience.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear about the new application for iPhone and iTouch, Notre Dame Central. Created by NBC, this app would provide real-time video coverage of the team and allow those so inclined to follow along via video and see all the replays they wanted. I felt this was the logical first step towards the per-person video offerings that would keep Notre Dame Stadium Jumbotron-free.

I bought it the first day it was available and looked for my opportunity to put it through its paces. Unforeseen schedule conflicts meant I could not attend the Michigan State or Washington games, and would be otherwise occupied during the Purdue game. This allowed me to test out the app for two home games and one road game, along with a couple of during-the-week perusals.

Overall, the picture quality is very good, with the usual "it's an iPhone not a 1080p big screen" caveats. I was able to run video on 3G at home and on the go with very few problems. I did not test it using a Wi-Fi connection, but logic would dictate the connectivity to be even better in those situations. How it will perform at an ND game with a bunch of other people hammering the cellular network, I don't know. Reports from site users seemed to indicate connectivity left something to be desired, and I know ND was initially concerned what a bunch of video users would do to its recently-upgraded network. Rumor has it ND is looking into making the Stadium Wi-Fi enabled, so we'll see if that comes to fruition, but for now, I would expect catch as catch can in South Bend on game day.

The On-Demand section has some good selections. The Highlights include every game and NBC feature this season, along with band performances and game wrap-ups. The Archives only has five games available: MSU 1991, BC 1995, GaTech 1997, SC 1999, and Air Force 2000. Given the good-quality video in the games they have -- which are pretty similar to the game rebroadcasts available on the website (commercials and time in between plays removed) -- I'm hoping they add more in the coming weeks.

The schedule seems pretty basic at first glance, but a nice feature is the ability to set game alerts -- useful for road games, as their kickoff times tend to vary. Future schedules are not included.

The News and Stats section gives you access to most AP articles on the Fighting Irish, and gives you four screens of team stats (Overall, Offense, Defense, and Special Teams). I wasn't able to determine if they were updated real-time during games, but at the very least, it's a handy quick-reference.

The "More" section is a reference to MobiTV -- the tech powering the app video -- and an invitation to learn about NBC Sports Mobile, which offers things like simulcasts of NBC offerings -- US Open Golf, Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby, etc. NBC Sunday Night was not listed, so I'm guessing that's not in the package.

The key usage, though, is for games in play. Some things I liked, some I did not.

The picture quality, as I noted, is pretty good. The game is broken up into blocks that comprise one or two plays each, and you can go backwards and forwards both within a block and to previous blocks -- very useful when one wants to watch a replay. There is volume control, but it was kind of hit-or-miss. I also didn't see a button that would bring you "back to live" when you'd been looking at replays. I had to hammer the forward button until I got there.

The summary page gives the scoreboard and current scoring, along with game stats. This was very useful at the aforementioned Purdue game, which was on the road (so no video). It gives yard line, down and distance. One critical thing it's missing, though, is who has the ball, which made following things a little tricky. It would also be nice (for road games at least) if there was a play-by-play listing, which would make it even easier to track the game, although I realize that might be more work for whoever is entering the data.

I think the app is very well put together, and since it's the "first try" for NBC, I imagine it's going to get even better. If the Archives section were beefed up and the navigation made a little more solid, it would be first-class. But even as it is, it's well worth the money to add to your device.

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