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Alumni to Board: Fix Football

Being the Trustee of a major university is never an easy job, as it can sometimes be difficult to put a finger on the pulse of what the various constituencies whose interests must be served may want.

But just over a week before their annual Winter meeting, the Current and Life Trustees got an idea of what concerns their alumni constituents these days when they received a letter drafted by a group of them and signed by over 400 others.

Citing disappointment over the current state of affairs both in the athletic department in general and the football program in particular, the letter emphasized the signers' belief that Notre Dame could excel at football again given the appropriate commitment, leadership and organizational structure. They charged the Board to take the program's reins in a firmer grasp, arresting the decline of "the institution that has done so much to elevate the visibility and reputation of Notre Dame."

"As alumni dedicated to the well-being of Notre Dame," said Tim Kelley, Notre Dame Class of 1964 and one of the letter's authors, "we are extremely concerned about the apparent lack of appreciation by the university's leadership for the impact that championship football has on the essence of the university and the environment that has and will develop Notre Dame students. We feel that the University's leadership has not properly managed or nurtured this very important element of what makes Notre Dame a very special institution."

"Football has had a pivotal role in making ND what it is today," agreed Kevin O'Neill, Class of 1976 and another author. "It's a source of pride and spirit that binds the Notre Dame family together. I do not know the specifics of the athletics business, but I do know good business practice, and I am not seeing that at ND. Poor hiring practices and marginalizing your customers is never a good practice."

The letter tackled many subjects, particularly the recent comments coming out of South Bend regarding potential conference membership for football. The authors attacked such a stance as "a surrender of Notre Dameís unique national identity to the notion that Notre Dame canít or wonít do what is necessary to succeed," and rejected the theory that such a change could be forced on Notre Dame by any change in the "landscape" of the sport.

While the letter is highly critical of the way the program is being run, its authors took great pains to point out that they were not seeking head coach Tyrone Willingham's dismissal. "Coach Willingham is a fine leader who represents Notre Dame well," the letter said, but went on to point out that continued performance along the current trend could erode that support quickly.

The letter made three suggestions to improve what it called "one of the three pillars on which the university was built":

The lack of response thus far does not concern the authors. "None of us are looking to take credit for any positive changes that may occur," Kelley asserted. "If good things did happen and we were never contacted, we would be extremely happy".

Read the text of the letter