Sunday, September 10, 2006

I Can't Get No.....

Last week, I talked about how my satisfaction with Notre Dame's plan for basketball facilities would depend on the degree to which it addressed the student athletes' needs rather than revenue generation. I'm disappointed to report in the wake of ND's big football win over the Penn State Nittany Lions, I received news that indicates I will not be even remotely satisfied. It seems once again Notre Dame will prostrate itself at the altar of revenue generation at the expense of tradition and good business sense.

Any time I greet someone at a tailgate party and his first words are, "You're gonna be pissed", I know I'd better have a beer handy. But I was unprepared for the degree of not-good I was going to get from my friend in ND's development office on Saturday morning.

He started with the good news. The Joyce Center upgrades are indeed a done deal, he told me, with the announcement coming shortly. I was gratified to hear they were finally going to get moving, and internally wondered why he expected me to be pissed.

Then came the bad news: The planned upgrades will have minimal changes to the practice venues because the entire focus of the project is revenue generation -- so much so that part of the plan is to put a new section on the back of the building for hockey in hopes it will become a new revenue-generating sport. The locker room spruce-up back in 1999, according to the planners, is all the creature comfort modification basketball requires.

I hold out hope my guy was operating with outdated or inaccurate info, even though he's been very accurate in the past. But if this ends up being what is announced, I lack the vocabulary to express my disappointment.

There's a reason Kentucky is building a new practice venue for their players. There's a reason Duke continues to play in dated Cameron Indoor Stadium while their players enjoy the ir own space Schwartz/Butters Athletic Center for meetings and other off-court needs. There's a reason St. John's built Taffner Fieldhouse rather than create a home arena for their games. The powers that be at those schools are wise in their operation of their basketball program and know just as well as I do that in hoops today, it's recruiting uber alles, and players are going to go where they feel the most love.

If ND plan does not include improvements to the every-day environment for its players, that plan is ultimately doomed to failure. What will the coaching staff tell recruits who have just come to South Bend after visits to Duke and Texas and tours of their palatial practice facilities? When those recruits ask where the player lounge is or the meeting rooms or the weight training equipment, what will the response be? "Well, the people who come to watch you will have cushy seats"? Good luck with that.

Sure, they should clean up the bad seats and eliminate the high-school-style bleachers. Sure, they should get the floor set up in such a way that they don't have to tape it down. Sure, a video screen and modern scoreboard would be nice. All those things should have been done long ago.

But in the current atmosphere of college basketball, all those things need to take a back seat to practice facilities. That ND's recruiting opponents have done a better job of keeping up the general physical plant and are better able to respond to this need doesn't mean Notre Dame can ignore the reality of the situation.

And the reality is this: No one comes to games because of their seats or the type of nachos they get. No one comes to watch the video screen. They come to see wins, pure and simple. So any money spent on things that affect wins in a tangential fashion at best is money wasted, and money spent on things that will be used as a precursor to ticket price increases or the reinstatement of paid parking is even worse.

There's a potential silver lining here. If hockey is moved out of the north dome, you've got a huge space that, because of all the rec sports space available on campus, is completely wasted. That's a lot of space that could be utilized for something of quality that will show basketball recruits ND is serious about them and their success rather than the money they can bring to the school. All it'll take is someone in the Notre Dame athletics administration with vision and courage and a desire to build a strong foundation for a strong program rather than an obsession with revenue generation.

I'm not holding my breath.



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