Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comparisons are Odious

You could hear the pencils scratching as the third quarter wound down in East Lansing.

Both 11-5 after 16 games. Both lost their first bowl game. Charlie got an extension. Tyrone didn't. Implied racism. Ooh, and Washington just upset (an overrated) UCLA (at home in the only semi-difficult game they've played all year), while Charlie's about to lose the second straight (in a harsh four-game opening stretch against undefeated teams).

The scribes had been waiting since December of 2004 to write that column. Waiting to stand up and say, "Ha Ha, we were right." Waiting to say all the things they couldn't say when Charlie Weis' team was winning games and competitive in defeat during the 2005 season.

And you could hear the grinding of teeth as the Fighting Irish pulled out the victory (thanks, in part, to a Michigan State implosion). ABC is lucky John Saunders wasn't mic'ed as the Irish came down the stretch. Then again, he may have been busy rewriting his rant for the next day's Sports Reporters.

God bless poor Greg Couch, he didn't want all that work to go to waste, so he tried writing that column anyway in the Chicago Sun Times today (I'm not going to link it because I don't want to give them hits -- suffice it to say it's probably as bad as you're thinking it is, and spare yourself the eye pain). I guess even Jay Mariotti needs a Renfield sometimes.

Yes, if one looks at the high-level W/L numbers, Charlie's career is starting the same as Tyrone Willingham's did at Notre Dame. But if you dig deeper than those numbers, you'll see the stark differences -- differences that justified a contract extention for Weis and show why an extended tenure at Notre Dame by Willingham could have damaged the Notre Dame program even more than he did in three years.

Work Ethic

Tyrone Willingham was lazy, with a capital L-A-Z-Y. I'm sure he has a lot of other fine qualities, but working hard wasn't among them during his ND tenure.

Don't believe me? Ask the operators of Warren Golf Course and other courses around the South Bend area, who were asked not to record the number of rounds Willingham was playing on a daily basis, to shield him both from a handicap adjustment and criticism from ND fans who might have been disturbed about how much time he was spending there. Or ask golfers on the course, who would find Willingham joining their groups around the third hole and leaving them on the 16th or 17th (and not speaking to them during the round, of course), all to avoid the already-mentioned recording of rounds. By all estimates, Willingham was playing four to six rounds of golf per week during seasons where his teams were getting steamrolled on the field and his coaches were getting steamrolled in recruiting off of it.

Or ask the coaches of high school prospects Willingham pursued. Instead of spending an hour or two getting to know them and showing them why their charges would benefit from his tutelage at Notre Dame, Willingham would meet with them for a token 10 or 15 minutes, and then head to his rental car (which, more often than not, had his golf clubs in the back seat). This really turned the coaches off, and had a not-insignificant affect on recruiting efforts.

Or ask the recruits who would show up for visits, only to find no coaches available to greet them or answer their questions. This happened multiple times during Willingham's tenure at Notre Dame, meaning he was either excessively disorganized or just didn't care.

Or ask the members of the Board of Trustees who, after the dismal 2003 campaign, wanted to discuss the problems and potential solutions with Willingham. Trouble is, they couldn't find him. He and the rest of his assistants, days after signing an unranked recruiting class, were enjoying a golf junket in Florida. Needless to say, the BOT called them all back from vacation and told them to get to work. Didn't do much good; the 2004 class wasn't anything to shout about either.

Let's contrast with Charlie Weis, who brought in a top-five recruiting class last season and is working on a possible top-three class this season. I don't think he's ever picked up a golf club in his life, and while some HS coaches may not like his brash demeanor, at least he's giving all of them the chance to get to know him and what he can do for their kids. Outside of the month of July, which is dedicated to his family, Weis is working long days (and nights) trying to improve this football program. When a recruit showed up unexpectedly last year, Weis called an assistant back off the road on a moment's notice to meet with him. The recruit came away impressed.

Weis works. Willingham didn't.

Football Acumen

Tyrone Willingham was over-promoted too quickly, and as such, is a caretaker-type head coach who depends on the abilities of his assistants. While that model can and has worked at places, it falls apart when those assistants are sub-par.

Willingham has never installed an offense or defense. He has never expressed a strong philosophy on either side of the ball, preferring vague references to a "West Coast offense" that never seemed to match what happens on the field, and defensive references that never seemed to describe anything ever done in football. He was (and is) ill-equipped to strategize any kind of gameplan, preferring to be the stoic figurehead strolling the sidelines.

Willingham was either unable or unwilling to recognize and deal with under-performing assistants. Bill Diedrich's offenses were painfully easy to dissect, and yet Willingham took no steps to rectify the situation, going so far as to try and take Diedrich with him to Washington. Kent Baer's defenses were average, and yet his employment at Notre Dame continued.

It's no accident that not only did no one try to hire ND's assistants away from Willingham, but most of them also accompanied him to Washington because no one else wanted them. It's no accident that Willingham's offense is better at Washington because UW forced him to ditch Diedrich if he wanted the job.

Again, the Charlie Contrast. Weis was known as an excellent offensive mind in the NFL, so he's well able to strategize and gameplan against opposing defenses. When hired, he went out to get the best assistants he could get, unlike Willingham, who simply brought his Stanford group with him. David Cutcliffe, the QB coaching genius. Rob Ianello, architect of Wisconsin's quality recruiting. Michael Haywood, both an alumnus and late of the Mack Brown recruiting express at Texas. And when Cutcliffe had to leave for health reasons, Weis had Peter Vaas ready and waiting.

In only his second season, it remains to be seen how under-performance will be greeted. But given the micro-management of the program in other areas, logic dictates it will be dealt with more swiftly than under Willingham.

And recruits know acumen (or lack thereof) when they see it, which is why Willingham managed only one decent class during his tenure while Weis is working on his second straight in the top five. High schoolers are voting with their pens as they sign LOI's.


Simply put, Tyrone Willingham didn't want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed. He spoke disrespectfully of the program in the weeks before he was hired, changing his tune in a probably-SID-produced anecdote about running home from church to listen to the ND reruns as a child at his introduction presser. He never understood the things that made ND special. He never connected (or tried to connect, for that matter) with the alumni, blowing off scheduled events and delivering a poor performance at the events he did attend. His representatives had already talked to Washington during his third season, knowing the reduced buyout clause in his contract would make the move easier. Willingham was all set to jump before he was pushed, and it's disingenuous of him in interviews not to acknowledge that.

Charlie Weis wants to be at Notre Dame, and you can see it in everything he does. The reverence with which he talks to recruits about the Grotto and other campus landmarks. Giving the game ball for MSU to Ara Parseghian, which is something that wouldn't have occurred to Tyrone Willingham (or Bob Davie, for that matter) if you had given him a year to think about it. It's all little things to show the ND fanbase he's one of us.

(and lest you think the "one of us" includes skin color, Bob Davie made the same mistakes Willingham did, and should have been fired after his third season, too)

Desire also shows on the field. Willingham's teams were passive. If an opponent came out of the gate and smacked them in the mouth, it was, "oh well, we'll get them next time." Weis-led teams punch back. They may take a shot, but they're never out of games even when they're behind by three scores four times in the first three quarters.

Notre Dame magic was not made by the timid. Weis understands this. Willingham did not.


I've given up depending on some media folks to do their homework, but hope springs eternal.

I hope the next time Craig James or one of his cohorts talks about ND's lack of speed, they take the thought to the logical conclusion and mention how the team is still three quarters full of Willingham recruits. They don't hesitate to talk about it when ND wins, so I hope they're not hypocritical enough to abandon the train of thought when it suits their purposes.

Ditto next season, when the team will be depending on freshmen and sophomores because Willingham's last two classes don't reflect favorably against the teams ND will play. I'm not holding my breath for a "Willingham recruiting shortfalls come home to roost" headline, but I still believe in guardian angels too, so....

I hope the next time Michael Wilbon or one of his cohorts bemoan the damage ND did to minority hiring, they also take the time to note Tyrone Willingham was as much (if not more) to blame for his failure at ND as ND was, and that perhaps a stronger foundation in football fundamentals would have served Willingham better in his career. I also hope at least one of them has the guts to call him out on his role in his failure at Notre Dame, rather than serving up softballs and voluntarily serving as Willingham's lap dogs.

I hope the next time Greg Couch or one of his cohorts start comparing Weis' record to Willingham's and alleging "panic" on ND's part when dealing with Willingham, they recognize in the next breath the foundational damage Willingham's poor gameday and recruiting performance was doing to the Notre Dame program. Two more years of this under-performance, especially coming on the heels of Bob Davie's inept leadership, might have acted as a de-facto death penalty for the Notre Dame football program. While I'm sure the ND haters would have no problem with that, excuse the ND fans for not finding that result palatable.

Weis is doing the little things Willingham never did. If Willingham had done them, he'd still be at ND right now. But then again, that's not what he wanted.

That's the only comparison that stands up to scrutiny.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 15, 2006

My Message to Garcia

As noted on The Pit last week, I had planned to make my feelings about Joyce Center upgrade plans known to the ND administration. This is the letter I sent to Kevin White early last week, CC'ed to Fr. Jenkins, JAG, Mike Brey, and Muffet McGraw. I also sent copies to Patrick McCartan (chairman of the ND BOT) and Philip Purcell (chairman of the BOT Athletics Committee and rumored donor for the upgrade plan).

I've set this entry to be sans comments, not only because I'll be in SB for the next couple days and won't be able to approve them but also because the letters have already been sent and if I have typos or other logical inconsistencies, it's way too late for me to do anything about them. Any questions or reactions can be made on The Pit.

I appreciate all of you who shared the letters you sent with me -- I though they were well-written and from the heart -- and encourage all of you who are like-minded to submit your thoughts to ND's athletic administration. This is an important step to getting Notre Dame basketball where it used to be and can be again. We don't want them to blow it.

Dr. Kevin White
Athletic Director, University of Notre Dame
Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Dear Kevin:

I was gratified to hear from some friends on campus the other day that the long-awaited Joyce Center upgrades are finally going to get off the drawing board and become a reality. Given the long, strong tradition of basketball at Notre Dame, the program deserves strong support and I'm happy to see they're finally getting it.

My friends were unsure, however, about the specific direction the upgrades would take. It was their belief there would be many changes to the playing venue in the Joyce Center court itself but little attention paid to the practice facilities or other areas that affect the everyday lives of the basketball players. That belief concerned me, and given the possibility it might be true, I wanted to write and express my reservations about such a plan.

I've interviewed more than a few recruits over the eight years I've been an Internet publisher, and count among my friends many people who make their living knowing what basketball recruits want in a school. If I've learned one thing from them, it's that recruits want to know the schools they attend are serious about having a strong basketball program and care about them as players and how they will develop. Therefore, I want to make sure you're taking the players' needs and welfare into proper consideration and are not approaching the plan to improve Notre Dame's basketball facilities from a revenue standpoint instead.

Across the nation, you can see examples of high-quality programs pouring money into their facilities, and for the most part, they're concentrating on practice venues and other player-centric physical plant options. They know as well as I do a strong program begins with talent and coaching, which beget wins, which in turn beget strong interest from fans, which in turn begets revenue from ticket sales, merchandising, advertising, post-season play compensation, etc. Therefore, they're willing to invest in areas that might not have a strong immediate return on investment in the interest of creating a strong foundation for their teams and enhancing the possibility of long-run success.

Strong national programs like Florida, Kentucky and Duke have chosen to invest in practice facilities more so than their playing venues. There's a reason Duke plays in an older building like Cameron Indoor Stadium while building the Schwartz/Butters Athletic Center for its athletes and planning a new practice facility. Kentucky's current practice facility fundraiser, aimed to raise $30 million, will probably not return a dime on the investment directly. And Florida, a football school if ever there was one, built a practice complex for $10 million because they knew that's what was needed in today's world of college basketball.

In our own conference, last year St. John's opened Taffner Fieldhouse, a beautiful practice and training facility for its basketball programs. They spent $23 million on the project, and none of those dollars were spent on revenue-enhancing endeavors. The few modifications they made to Carnesecca Arena were all geared towards the student athletes: meeting space, AV rooms, etc. This is a school that has no real home arena to speak off; all of their big games are played at Madison Square Garden. They could, if they had chosen, constructed such a venue or upgraded Carnesecca Arena to the extent it could have served for those big games. But they chose not to do that, and invested in their student athletes instead. As a result, St. John's had a top-20 recruiting class last year (as rated by and are working on another one this season, which will benefit them in the long term as their teams improve and the resulting exposure brings revenues both from fans and donating alumni.

Yes, the condition of the Joyce Center is deplorable, and I've never been shy of saying it. The high-school-style bleachers are an anachronism, the duct tape holding down the floor is embarrassing, the padded seats are faded and in disrepair, the press facilities are terrible, and the concessions need an overhaul. All these things should have been fixed long ago and should be fixed as soon as possible.

But people don't come to the Joyce Center because of their cushy seats or to eat nifty food or to marvel at a video screen scoreboard. They come to watch the Irish win, and if the Irish win, the interest (and revenue) from the fans both in South Bend and across the nation will follow. Therefore, although those fixes are needed, they must be prioritized behind the needs of the student athletes, which are even more in need than the Joyce Center crowd.

I know Notre Dame understands the value of good player-centric facilities; after all, we saw the opening of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex for the football team last year. I would hope a similar mindset would apply to a men's basketball program that for many, many years was second only to football in alumni and fan interest at the school, and a women's basketball program that brought home a national championship in the last ten years. The needs of those programs are similar to those of football (and baseball, golf, softball, and all the other sports that have received facilities upgrades recently): build a strong foundation and success follows.

As a conclusion, I offer this quote from Kentucky's web site concerning their planned practice facility upgrades in response to the question of why such a thing is needed when Kentucky already has a history as the winningest basketball team in the country without such facilities:

'Kentucky basketball is the premier program in the country. We must have the vision and commitment to maintain our status as the best. Right now, we are behind with respect to practice facilities. This facility will provide first class space for both basketball programs, including a state-of-the-art training room, weight room, film room and administrative offices."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

With hopes that we can get the programs what they need, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Mike Coffey, '91

cc: Fr. John Jenkins, President, University of Notre Dame
John Affleck-Graves, Executive Vice President, University of Notre Dame
Mike Brey, Head Coach, Men’s Basketball, University of Notre Dame
Muffet McGraw, Head Coach, Women’s Basketball, University of Notre Dame


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome to Penn State? I guess not

"Welcome to Notre Dame".

You can't get through a football Saturday without hearing that phrase somewhere on the campus ... from the parking lot attendants, the ushers at the stadium, the security guards at the Joyce Center, the folks at the Basilica, even from the fans themselves.

If there was a poll for Safest Venue for Visiting Fans, you can bet Notre Dame would top the list. Browse the fansites of Irish opponents after their trips to South Bend, and you'll typically find raves about the hospitality of Notre Dame and its fans (usually with the disclaimer "despite all the assholes we encounter on the Internet" thrown in there somewhere).

Every now and then, I wish it wasn't that way. Everyone wants "their house" to be the intimidating, home-field-advantage-granting atmosphere that can help the team when they need it. Maybe all this welcoming hurts the team. Maybe opponents should feel a little less comfortable.

But then I remember stories from friends who went to Miami in 1989 or Ohio State in 1995 or any game ever played in Boston. I don't want Notre Dame fans hurling epithets at women walking with their kids. I don't want Notre Dame fans throwing urine at people. I don't want Notre Dame fans getting sued by the fans they tackle in a drunken stupor.

"Welcome to Notre Dame"? Fine by me.

I suppose that's why this Daily Collegian article bothers me so much.

Collegian staff writer Andrew Staub found himself without a press pass for Saturday's Notre Dame / Penn State tussle, so he went about documenting his effort to "get [his] hands on what many referred to as the toughest ticket of the weekend". On his way he talked about the reception he received:

"I parked my car in a lot about a mile from the stadium where both Notre Dame and Penn State fans were tailgating, many of them in the same party."

"I even wore a Penn State Center for Sports Journalism hat into Friday's pep rally. Nobody said a word to me. Penn Staters even sat in the crowd. No drinks were dumped on them. No obscenities yelled."

"Overall, Notre Dame fans were great and got along well with Penn Staters."

All par for the course. As I said, I'll risk the lack of intimidation to behave like an adult, and I'm glad to see a good portion of my fellow ND fans feel the same way.

But then the next line stopped me in my tracks.

"I hope they don't expect the same next year when they come to State College."

Just like that. No apology or shame for the situation. No call to his fellow fans to emulate the behavior he saw. Just a simple expression (and apparent acceptance) of ignorance. Rolled right off the tongue without hesitation.

Thanks for the hospitality, suckers.

My father is a native Philadelphian, and many of my cousins attended PSU. In the post-game discussions Saturday, Dad expressed a strong desire to make the return trip next September to Happy Valley. We could rent an RV, he said, and make a weekend out of it. My cousins could come up and meet us there, and it'd be a great time, tickets or no.

Outwardly, I was enthusiastic about the idea. But visions of a vandalized RV danced in my head. Harassment from drunk coeds. A weekend of beer showers. And God forbid the Irish lose -- we'd have to leave by halftime.

It's not that I'm antagonistic by nature. I'm a mind-my-own-business kind of fan that doesn't go looking for trouble. But I've found in the past that makes no difference, and I doubt it'd make a difference here.

At the time on Saturday, I figured I was overreacting. It did sound like a fun trip. Sure, why not?

Then I read Mr. Staub's article. "Why not?" became "Why?"

I watched the game in the Joyce Center lot at bbdome's always-excellent annual mega-tailgater, complete with 44" TV. Just before kickoff, we were joined by three PSU girls who, sans tickets, needed a place to watch the game. We accommodated them with seats and food and drink, and except for a situation early in the game when they were being a little too enthusiastic in their cheering, everything went fine.

Just before halftime, one of the young ladies got into a bit of distress. She was having an asthma-related attack, and didn't have an inhaler with her. Fortunately, one of the other girls in her party did, and she availed herself of it and came out fine.

But for the rest of the game, every five to ten minutes or so, someone in our party checked up on her to make sure she was all right. We moved her to one of the shady seats, and got her some water. My dad missed most of the second half because they got to chatting about our relatives and friends who work at major news outlets, which interested her as a journalism major.

At the end of the party, the three PSU students walked away after thanking everyone profusely for their hospitality.

I thought of that young lady as I read the end of Mr. Staub's article. What would happen to a Notre Dame student who found herself in respiratory distress in Happy Valley? I would hope fans there would give her the same level of attention we gave our Nittany Lion friend, but reading that article, I'm not so sure.

I'd like to think my lack of surety would bother PSU fans, but reading that article, I'm not so sure.

I'd like to think I'll be making the trip next year, but....

Labels: ,

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.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Let Me Check My Calendar

Having received the blessing of the Student Athletic committee and the Big East (who probably had to wait on ESPN), ND released the men's basketball schedule for 2006-07 today.

Things to like and things to not. Amongst the likes:
  • Nine national TV appearances, including a return to ABC for a national game against Marquette in February. Given the results of the last couple of seasons, I'm very happy with nine because I thought we'd get less. We're not yet in the new BE deal, where every hoops game will be televised in some capacity, so the large number of TBA's on the times (especially those at home) give me hope there'll be a couple more announced before everything is complete.
  • A weekend trip to South Florida in February. While that creates a quandary for me, since my parents were planning a trip down at the end of March, it's one I'll live with. I may have to bite the bullet and go twice. I lead a difficult life.
  • Lehigh in the Joyce Center. Irish alum Billy Taylor has been making a name for himself out East, and I know he's been looking for the opportunity to come back into the JC and show his alma mater what he's learned.
  • Butler anywhere. The second-most-played opponent in Irish history returns to the schedule for the first time in over a decade. I'd like to see them more often, outside of pre-season events.
  • The PNIT. Thanks to the blow-up of the two-in-four rule, expect to see the Fighting Irish doing a pre-season gig almost every season. Next year, it'll be in the USVI, and then Maui the year after that. I'm saving my pennies for a 2008 luau, myself.
But there's not-to-likes as well:
  • SOS (literally). As I feared, this schedule is cupcake-heavy. Elon, IPFW and Army aren't going to help the RPI. Throw in Winston-Salem State, making the migration to Division 1 currently, and this is a slate almost guaranteed to not only not impress the NCAA selection committee in March but also possibly give it an incentive to choose against the Fighting Irish when the time comes.
  • Too many home games. As I noted an entry or two back, this kind of schedule is a Digger Phelps fantasy come true. The first game ND plays on an opponent's campus isn't until January 17th when they go to Philly to face Villanova. Maryland and Butler could be considered "road neutral" games given the proximity to the opponent's campus, but the bottom line is a lack of tempering in the out-of-conference portion. Although I see the wisdom in allowing a young team to gel, and I realize if ND gets out of Indianapolis they'll get quality games at the PNIT, I don't think a road challenge in December -- over the holidays, perhaps -- would have been a bad idea, especially with eight home games over the Christmas break when the student portion of the home-court advantage won't be around.
  • Speaking of which, the Villanova game. I can't remember the last time we played the Wildcats in Philly that the game wasn't at the Spectrum or the Wachovia Center (or whatever those venues are being called these days). I would hope they'd do it at the Palestra for tradition's sake. But the Pavilion? I'm hoping against hope it's because 'Nova wanted more of a home court advantage -- games at the pro arenas tend to bring out the Subway Alumni. I'd hate to think it was a reflection on recent results.
  • The slow finish. ND plays only one game in the 11 days that precede the BET -- a road game at Rutgers. Bad timing for the bye week. If things go south, it might be a very long two weeks for Irish fans.
Something tells me the schedule is going to be a major topic of conversation down the stretch. Hopefully that discussion won't involve too much invective. I fear it might.


Friday, September 01, 2006

In My House?

Back in May, word circulated the Notre Dame Board of Trustees had finally green-lighted the long-awaited upgrades to the Joyce Center, and there was much rejoicing.

Then we sank back into information blackout. The approval depended on the athletic department obtaining financing, and depending on who you listened to, they were either on the cusp of getting all the money or were far away from the leadership gift because of on-campus political concerns. Frustrated at the direction chosen, ND fans (myself included) were left to stew in uncertainty.

But the sun has risen once again on the much-maligned South Dome. At a recent UND night on the East Coast, Kevin White told people he expected to call a press conference this week, hopefully on September 7th, to announce the receipt of the necessary funds to get started on the Joyce Center basketball upgrades. A few inquiries on campus yielded the same hopes, although no info on the donor, so it sounds like the money is on its way, if not already in hand.

This is certainly wonderful news. As I've said on this and other forums, the overdue improvements to the physical plant is the first step in revitalizing the program. It tells the college basketball world -- which includes potential players, potential coaches, media, long-suffering fans -- that Notre Dame takes basketball seriously and is committed to excellence in that endeavor. It effectively blunts the negative recruiting lots of players hear as they whittle down their preferred lists. While not a panacea to everything that ails the Irish, it's something directly under the school's control that can be done at any time, so I'm glad to see they're going to do it.

Now it depends on the plan, which few people have seen. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and so practice facilities (again, to beat this drum) must come first. I can handle bleacher seats and portable press tables if the Irish players have a quality area for themselves as part of these upgrades. Word on the street is a practice facility was being pitched to the heavy-duty donor types by the folks in Development, but there's no word whether that effort is part of the (hopefully pending) announcement.

So no, this doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to stop harping. We'll have to wait and see. But I feel better now than I did two weeks ago.

No matter what, this will be an interesting season.