Monday, October 30, 2006

Fanboys Unite

Bryan Curtis' article about yesterday reminded me I had not returned to a topic I had planned to address earlier this season. Better late than never, I suppose.

In his well-written piece, Curtis, while correctly (and honestly) calling fansites an "essential journalistic resource", says:

"Ever since Grantland Rice immortalized Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen in deadline metaphor, college football writers have had a penchant for swooning. But outside of a few great local papers, they never combined the cheerleading with an intensive study of a particular team."

"What has emerged is something beyond even what you’d find in the most boosterish local columnist: a new Internet species — half dogged reporter, half deliriously over-the-top fan."

"For readers, Rivals and its counterparts mean a different trade-off: more news but with less pretense of objectivity."
This revisits a theme from the infamous Clausen series by Carroll and Weineke, during which sites like NDN and writers like Mike Frank were derided as "fanboys" by the reasoned minds at (to which I refuse to link; seek it out at your own emotional risk). The school of thought is fanboy writers for sites like Irish Eyes and NDNation are incapable of providing quality journalism because they cannot get past their bias and can only serve as electronic mouthpieces for the schools they represent.

This is the point where I (and because I'm on the Internet, I can) call bullshit.

I credit Curtis for using the word "pretense" with regard to objectivity, but we're beyond pretenses here. All writers are biased one way or the other, especially in college athletics, so decrying one group as being more culpable in this area than others is the height of hypocrisy.

Bias is part and parcel of writing, because it's the truly unusual automaton scribe who can set aside all opinion and emotion when reporting a story. This is even more true with topics like college athletics, for which the presence (and sometimes manipulation) of emotion is a key element. While I'm sure all writers like to parade themselves as a truly objective voice, the fact of the matter is they've all got their agendas, and some are just better at hiding it than others.

There's plenty of ND bias out there, for example, and it swings both ways. People like Beano Cook, Dick Vitale, Kirk Herbstreit, John Walters, Jason Kelly, Malcolm Moran and T.J. Simers are pro-ND, whether they'd admit it publicly or not. On the other side of the aisle, you have guys like John Saunders, Bob Ryan, Craig James, Jason Whitlock, Michael Wilbon, David Haugh, and Jay Mariotti, who probably aren't all that shy about admitting their feelings.

For all of them, pro or con, their bias seeps into their writing / commentating / voting / whatever. Sometimes such seepage is subtle, like emphasizing the first-half struggles of the ND defense in a 38-14 Irish win. Sometimes it's quite obvious, like proclaiming multiple Heisman trophies for a quarterback who hasn't yet taken a snap in college. But regardless, it's there and (as far as I can tell) accepted.

So what is it about the writings of the Mike Franks and Tim Pristers and Lou Somogyis and Todd Burlages of the world that makes them somehow below standard as journalists? How are the "fanboys" any more or less biased than any other sportswriter?

Answer: They're not. In fact, I put it to you, gracious reader, that the fanboy perspectives are infinitely more valuable than "neutral" contributions. To wit:

Their alleged "bias" is right out front where you can get a good look at it. They're not pretending to be something they're not, and as a result, don't have to engage in journalistic acrobatics to get their points across. It's a refreshing (and unpretentious) honesty.

Their information and perspective is usually of better quality than you'd find elsewhere. These are guys who know the program and people in it. If they're telling you something, you know it came from those who know and those who know are being as straight with them as possible. It's funny what kind of relationships you can grow when you're not looking for the "hot story" that will vault you to national prominence and an ESPN gig.

(Then again, that would be a biased agenda, so I'm sure the "traditional media" wouldn't engage in that.)

They're held accountable by their readership. It's really easy for a Jay Mariotti or a Rick Telander to selectively respond to criticism of their writing. They can pick and choose the Letters to the Editor that get published, and usually get the chance to put their own spin on it. The Internet guys, however, are under the gun 24/7. If their readers don't like what they write, they (and everyone else) will hear about it on the message boards. They're also more likely to lose a subscription over a minor issue, as the team coverage is 100 percent of the reason the readers are there.

And most importantly, I strongly believe it's easier to overcome a positive bias and write something critical when it's warranted than it is to overcome a negative bias and write something positive when it's warranted. I don't know if it's harder to admit error when you originally came out against something or just a case of cranky pundits short on their prune juice, but that's been the rule of thumb from my vantage point.

Need evidence? Take a look at the AP ballots for this week. Craig James, king of the subtle seepage, has Notre Dame ranked 14th, behind Rutgers. Jason Whitlock also has ND 14th, ranked behind two-loss teams like Oklahoma and LSU, neither of whom have defeated anyone of note yet. On the other hand, Michael Pointer has ND 11th (but still behind Cal), and Kirk Herbstreit has the Irish 10th. The anti-ND contingent goes over the top in its criticism, while the pro-ND group isn't about to canonize Weis' crew but still manages to keep an even keel.

I enjoyed Curtis' article, but I'm tired of hearing about "cheerleading" writers for college-specific sites from hypocritical newspaper and television folks who use those sites for most of their leads. The fanboys are no more cheerleaders (or detractors) than those traditional media writers are. They're just more honest about it.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Thanks for your support

Many thanks to those of you who contributed to my friend George's marathon run.

His donation page is linked in the blog entry below, but I'll copy it here to save you the trouble.

You can find his results here. Certainly a good way to spend five hours of your life, both in health and money raised.

Thanks again, George.


Speed Kills... come to Notre Dame and live forever.

OK, the t-shirt sold during my ND tenure talked about sex, not speed. But it remains my favorite bootleg ND t-shirt of all time. And I thought a slight play on that philosophy could also apply to the Notre Dame basketball teams of recent years.

The good news, though, is the coaching staff appears to be trying to remedy that situation with their recent recruiting. All four of the current freshmen can boast of quickness, even Luke Harangody, who is very fast for his size. Tyrone Nash has good quickness and defensive skills. Ditto Carlton Scott. Both were early targets -- Nash was on the radar long before he decided to prep for a year -- and both will complement the players in the classes that preceded them.

A strong nucleus built on speed gives me hope. ND hasn't had that in the last couple of seasons, and it's showed when they've tried to defend much faster conference teams. It's showed when they've run into offensive gluts against overplaying defenses that can't be made to pay for their mistakes. Negating that weakness is a good step.

That doesn't mean, however, there aren't also concerns. My biggest? The size of this class.

In the last week, ND picked up two surprise commitments: Ty Proffitt, a shooting guard from Kentucky, and Tim Abromaitis, a small forward from Connecticut. To say they came in under the radar is probably an understatement, as ND wasn't even listed with Abromaitis on the recruiting websites, and Proffitt was long considered a Kentucky lean.

Both can also be described as long on potential. Their coaches described them as heady, smart players who leave it all on the court and are leaders on their team. I like to see players like that at ND, because on-court leadership is a key ingredient for chemistry.

But I'd be more willing to reach a little in this class if ND hadn't already used eight scholarships in the previous two classes. I've always been a three-ride-per-class guy, with occasionally going to four if you come across a strong player who wants your program or you know you're going to have to replace an early departure. This will now be ND's third four-man class in a row.

Granted, the vast majority of those eight in the previous classes probably will be strong performers, so there's something to be said for building depth. But four players in this class leaves ND only one scholarship for next season. As was noted on the Pit, if either (a) we get the turnaround we're hoping for this season, or (b) the season is not a success and changes are made, ND is in a poor position to reap any short-term benefits from that via scholarships. The one-man class with Kurz has created a scholarship imbalance that is best corrected over the course of multiple seasons. Now, unless we lose players to the League or other causes (which I never like to see), it'll remain to be fixed.

The last time we had a scholarship imbalance, it was after Digger's last class -- a five-player group, out of which only Billy Taylor scored more than 500 points in his career -- that came right before the NCAA reduction in maximum scholarships from 15 to 13. This left John MacLeod with only four rides to give in his first two seasons, which cost us Raef LaFrentz and a couple other strong players.

I believe, regardless of what happens this season, ND is going to be attracting attention, and I would hate to see them caught in a numbers game. We'll have to see how it plays out.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Obviously, you don't have any experience...

(to avoid the inevitable confusion, if you don't get the joke behind the entry title, realize you're missing something and don't bother complaining about it)

Aside of giving me a chance to write (which I usually find theraputic), one of the biggest benefits of blogging for me is the opportunity to organize my thoughts better than message board posting usually allows. Blog entries have a little more permanence, and I can use that permanence to address issues I think are important.

Over the past few months, those issues have ranged from philosophical topics like VM performances on campus and The DaVinci Codes to athletic situations like the Joyce Center and former ND football coaches.

This time, though, I'm going to talk about me, which I usually try to avoid because of the risk of it being an uninteresting topic. Specifically, I want to address my philosophies of website operation with special attention towards The Pit.

If you've read a couple of the other boards lately, some folks aren't too fond of those philosophies. Let's review my favorite accusations via quotes from various emails over the past year or two.

You censor your site. Anyone who is critical of Mike Brey gets their posts deleted or gets banned. You hate free speech.

Coffey has to suck up to Brey to get access to the program. Brey wrote the foreword for his book and Coffey doesn't want him to leave.

Brey can't do anything wrong. You blame all the problems on the facilities.

Anyone who doesn't toe the line and talk nice about Mike Brey gets beaten up by the mob on the Pit and then kicked out.

So fine, as Dave Kovic would say, let's talk about it.

Do I think Mike Brey is a good man? Absolutely. In a profession featuring more than its fair share of assholes, it's refreshing in a way to see a good person try to succeed. I make no apologies for liking him or wanting him to have success.

Do I think Mike Brey can and has made mistakes? Also absolutely. No philosophies are bulletproof, and I think in some cases poor decisions were made. And as I've said in just about every entry and post I've made on the topic, the questions about facilities are not tied to the questions about coaching. Facilities don't help on defense or run a good play out of a timeout or give us any point bonuses in games. The day-to-day execution of the team is the responsibility of the coaches and always has been.

Do I kick people out for complaining about the program? Not as much now as I used to.

I'll happily cop to having had a quick trigger finger in MB's first couple of years. After being tortured for a decade watching ND basketball teams try but not get to where they needed (or I wanted them) to be, I considered people who were bitching during seasons that featured NCAA tournament runs to be way way too premature and knee-jerk. I didn't feel like reading stuff like that after suffering through the 1990s, and the quickest route was to just launch the perpetrators because I don't have all day to read the boards.

(Slight tangent: In other words, the same philosophy I use today regarding people who bitch about Charlie Weis. We just finished 10 years of excruciating football, and now we have a guy who understands the program and is having early success on the field. Yet we still have people who complain we're not getting the five-star recruits fast enough or the defense is giving up 20 points a game when it should be 10 or whatever. It's incredibly annoying to have to read, and as a moderator of the site, I don't have the option of ignoring it. Yes, it might turn out to be a problem, but for crying out loud, can we be happy for a season or two? As far as I can tell, that doesn't mean I'm in Charlie Weis' pocket. It would be rather interesting if it meant I were, seeing as I've only spoken to the man once for about 30 seconds.)

Additionally, there was a small but vociferous group who, for whatever reason, decided right after MB was hired that they didn't like him. Maybe he should have had the team wear bandanas to practice. We weren't even halfway through the first season and they were quickly pointing out every shortcoming, no matter how minor. I have no time for anyone who is going to make a judgement that quickly, and again, I lack the time and patience to tolerate it long-term. So they got bounced.

That may have set a bad precedent for me as the seasons progressed. Given the benefit of hindsight, I identified cases where I may have allowed that experience to color some of my decisions. In those cases, the people got reinstated. Some are still with us, some are not.

In some other cases, I allowed people who had been launched that I didn't feel deserved reinstatement the chance to prove their own cases on the merits, giving them new handles and then staying out of the way. In a couple of cases, it worked out. In a couple others, it didn't.

Some who may have been prematurely launched validated the decision after the fact by acting like tools via email and other message boards. Those people won't be missed.

So where are we now? Three years of improving results have been followed by three years where the team has fallen short, seemingly by a larger margin every season. Complaints I didn't consider logical three years ago after a Sweet 16 appearance are much more logical now. Shortcomings with a couple of seasons of data to back them up make for more logical and calm discussions. If some people consider that "relaxing censorship", that's on them.

As I said, I like Mike Brey and I want him to succeed at ND because I'm naturally drawn to wanting good things for good people. But if this season doesn't work out and/or the ND administration decides they want change, I'm not going to shut the site down. I'll keep doing what I've always done -- try to provide a place where people enjoy talking about ND basketball and pass along whatever info and news happens to come my way. I'm not going to grease up the frisbee because I thought we'd go farther these past few seasons than we did. If I knew everything, I sure as hell wouldn't waste my time here.

The program is bigger than me or MB or Kevin White or JAG or Phil Purcell or any other individual person associated with it (remotely or otherwise). And it'll continue after this season no matter what happens. So I will as well.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Son of Notre Dame Indeed

Book reviews are off my usual beaten path, but my mantra has always been to pass info on to folks when I have it. So when I encounter an excellent book, I tend not to keep quiet, which is what leads me to recommend A Son of Notre Dame: My Life in Baseball, the FBI and Radio by James Gillis.

Gillis was graduated from Notre Dame in 1951. He was an exceptional baseball player from California, and had two academic stops before war and fate intervened to send him to in South Bend and Jake Kline. Deciding not to make a pro career after one season as baseball player with the Philadelphia Phillies, Gillis distinguished himself as an officer in the FBI before getting into broadcasting. His success in sports marketing and chartiable work made him the recipient of Notre Dame's Harvey G. Foster award in 2003 ... a special day for Gillis, as Harvey Foster had been his supervisor in the FBI.

But the best way I would describe Mr. Gillis is a man who was ahead of his time. In a society where lots of men spent their entire working lives in the same career, Mr. Gillis moved between baseball, law enforcement, broadcasting, and philanthropy as deftly as he handled quick throws across the infield. He utilized his Notre Dame education whenever and however he could to the benefit of his family and his fellow human beings. Along the way, he got the opportunity to meet people like J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Kennedy, Earl Warren, James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Dick Enberg, and many others.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the book when I got it. Mike Frank's much more of a baseball guy than I am, and while I knew of Mr. Gillis from his recent award, I didn't believe I was the right guy to review it. But that all changed once I got into it. Starting with his difficult childhood and family life, moving through his Notre Dame career and on to his post-graduate exploits, Gillis keeps the story moving and the reader entertained. His descriptions of work on FBI cases that were very much in the public eye gives depth to stories one would previously only have read in newspapers. The struggles to get his media company off the ground leave you rooting for him to succeed, even though you probably already guessed he would.

In fact, the only complaint I have about the book is he didn't talk about his charitable work enough. When the story comes to the Foster Award ceremony, you're almost taken by surprise because you've forgotten that in addition to a colorful professional life, Gillis has always been about helping others, both within the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles and without.

I can't recommend this book enough. Although it's not available at the Bookstore (a hassle with which I can certainly identify), I'm investigating other avenues. The proceeds for the book are going to fund the Gillis' ND baseball scholarship they've established.

For those of you headed to campus for UCLA, Mr. Gillis will be having a book signing on Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st at the Eck Center. I encourage you to take the opportunity to meet a fine Notre Dame man and learn about an interesting life led in the spirit of the best of the school's teachings.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Visions of BCS Bids Dancing....

It's mid-October, the first BCS poll has been released, so it's time to start thinking about possibilities for ND.

Note: All of this assumes the Fighting Irish win out this season. A loss to any of the teams remaining on the schedule will probably preclude ND from BCS inclusion, even if they beat SC. If the loss is to SC, it's possible they might stay in the top 14 and therefore be eligible for inclusion (and I can see a bowl wanting a 2-loss ND team instead of the BE, ACC, or BXII second-place finisher), but given how late the loss would be, it might be too much to overcome.

Available Teams.

There are four at-large slots available. Let's look at the conferences and find the most BCS-worthy possibilities:

Integer. The MI/tOSU loser will almost certainly be a BCS participant, particularly if both teams are undefeated going into the game. If the winner is ranked in the top two and is selected for the NC game, the Rose Bowl will be under a lot of pressure, both internally and externally, to select the loser of the game as a replacement, provided that loser only has one loss. The Integer is almost guaranteed two slots.

Pac10. If we assume ND has to go undefeated to get to the BCS, there won't be an undefeated team in this mix. However, Sagarin has the conference rated #1 right now, so that may carry some weight to counterbalance the losses. SC, Cal and Oregon seem to be the possibilities, since everyone else has at least two losses, and Cal has already given Oregon their one loss. Three straight weekends will determine how many Pac10 teams are BCS-bound -- Oregon at SC on 11/11, Cal at SC on 11/18, and ND at SC on 11/25.

Big XII. Texas is the standard-bearer here, but they already have one loss. They're also the only BigXII team in the BCS Top 15, with Nebraska (plays Texas this weekend, has to travel to A&M, would have to play the tougher South winner in the championship game) and Oklahoma (already lost to the Horns, lost AP for the season, still has to play at Mizzou & A&M) the only other BCS Top 25 entrants. Texas A&M and Missouri only sport one loss, so it's possible those teams might sneak in. But I see the Big XII as being a one-bid conference, especially if Texas is that team.

SEC. Too close to call right now. Florida is ahead in the Eastern Division, and the next team is a 2-loss Georgia that seems on its way to a meltdown. Tennessee remains a possibility if Florida stumbles again. On the other side, it's Auburn and Arkansas. While I think the SEC teams will beat up on each other enough to keep them out of the NC game, I also think their publicity machine is strong enough that they'll have a second team in the BCS this year, most likely either the NC game loser or the runner up in the winner's division.

Big East. The WVU/Louisville winner probably will have the inside track to the NC game, provided they can overcome an atrocious strength of schedule and a lack of love by the computers. But even if the loser of that game ends with one loss, they'll be hard-pressed to get into the BCS because I don't see a lot of bowls falling all over themselves to make the invitation. Granted, both schools travel well, and there are four at-large bids. But still.

ACC. Yuck. You've got GaTech, Clemson, and Wake Forest all with only one loss overall. Clemson has already defeated Wake, so they have the inside track to their conference championship. GaTech still has to go to Clemson and host Miami (and Georgia). The chances of the ACC having a second BCS team is almost zero. They're lucky they're getting one in there.

Other conferences. The only ranked non-BCS teams are Boise State at #15 and Tulsa at #25. Tulsa already has a loss, so its unlikely they can get into the top 12 and the automatic bid, but stranger things have happened. Boise still has to go to Idaho and San Jose State, but the chance exists they'll finish undefeated, which will probably be enough to rank them ahead of the ACC champ and get them in. If they lose even one, they're dead.

Summary: The way I see it, the Integer and SEC are the only conferences virtually guaranteed to get a second team in there, while the ACC is virtually guaranteed only one slot. For the other three, it will depend on how things break.

If ND finishes the season with only one loss, they're a lock to be BCS top eight and automatically eligible. If they lose to SC, they could still possibly get in if they remain in the BCS top 14 and the other also-rans in the BCS stumble and/or Boise gets hit with a loss.

Available Bowls

After the two bowls that lose their "host" team to the National Championship Game pick, the order of march is Sugar, Orange, Fiesta. Hard to tell right now how things will fall out, but let's examine the possibilities:

The Rose Bowl. While the chances are not zero here, they're probably as remote as you can get. The only way ND ends up here is if the bowl has to replace one of its host schools. It's highly unlikely the Pac10 would need a replacement if ND goes undefeated and knocks off SC. The Integer champ will probably be the MI/tOSU winner, and if that team is undefeated, it would be selected for the NC game. However, the bowl would be under a lot of pressure, both externally and internally, to select the MI/tOSU loser as the replacement, particularly if that team has only one loss. If the second-place team had two losses and the Pac10 rep was not SC, however, all bets would be off. I could see an ND/Cal game being pretty attractive to the committee in that case.

The Sugar Bowl. This is the most likely destination for ND. New Orleans is desperate for a high-profile Sugar Bowl to give tourism a boost. If they lose their SEC rep to the NC game and have two picks in the first three, there's no way they'll pass on an eligible Fighting Irish team. Even if they don't lose their rep, they pick first after the NC bowls do, and an ND/Florida game is a publicity natural. Even ND/Auburn or ND/Tennessee would grab TV sets. The conspiracy theorist in me could see the BCS working behind the scenes with the other bowls to make this happen.

The Orange Bowl. Not a likely destination. The bowl folks won't want the rematch if Georgia Tech is the ACC rep. The SEC runner-up would ensure plenty of bodies in the seats, especially if that runner-up is Florida. And the Sugar isn't going to get the Irish get by, so since the ACC rep isn't going to be anywhere near the NC game....

The Fiesta Bowl. Probably the second-most-likely destination, but only if the BigXII rep is lost to the championship game. Since they also have the NC game this year, they'll probably get short shrift on the actual bowl, but even though ND was just there last year, the bowl might want them as insurance against a snoozer matchup.

I imagine this will all be clearer the first week of November or so, but for now, it's fun to dream.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Going off topic for a moment

My good friend is running in the Chicago Marathon on behalf of the Organization for Autism Research. Since he knew of my daughter situation, she's the child he's "running for".

The title of this blog entry is a link to his donation page, but I'll also add it below. If you're looking to make a charitable donation for the holidays or whatever, I'd appreciate it if you'd consider his effort or have a good thought for him as he finishes training.


Link to page


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

We're Number ... 39?

Street and Smith's, one of my favorite prognostication publications before the advent of knowledgeable Internet sites, is coming out with a special issue ranking the top 100 NCAA Division 1 basketball programs of all time.

According to, S&S used "15 categories to determine the top 100, including NCAA and NIT appearances and wins, conference championships and tournament championships, graduation rates, all-time winning percentages, and NBA first-round draft picks." I understand most of them, but find the conference/tourney championships (other than NCAA) specious, and NBA first-round picks misleading. But the list has to go by something, so I can accept the panel's methodology.

This list is obviously for fun and discussion, as most lists of this type are. So let's have a fun discussion while running down the top 50.

1) Kentucky
3) North Carolina
4) Kansas
5) Duke

No surprises so far. Each of these programs has a long history of excellence and has won numerous national titles over the years.

Two things I find interesting here:

1) If memory serves, going into the 1990-91 season, the one that began the Decade of Dereliction of Duty, Notre Dame was third in NCAA appearances behind only Kentucky and North Carolina. I can't help but wonder if ND would be higher on the list had the Decade not happened.

2) Every one of these programs has a major practice (and, in some cases) venue facility upgrade to their credit, either in progress or in the recent past. If these programs find it necessary, it underscores the importance of not only doing it but also doing it right.

And yes, I realize only one of those five schools -- UCLA -- has a semi-decent football program to go along with basketball. But as much as people like to point out Duke football when talking about the relative merits of ND basketball vs. football, it's UCLA football that I believe should represent our minimum standard. The expectations are high, the support is strong, and the program has done some pretty good things over the years while laboring in the shadow of its more-famous brother.

6) Indiana
7) Louisville
8) Arkansas
9) UConn
10) Cincinnati

Now we start getting a little shaky. Indiana, sure -- success under multiple coaches, even bad ones. Louisville, OK. Arkansas? They're top 15 in win percentage but not in the top 20 in wins. And let's not discuss graduation rates. UConn? In the last 15 years, OK, but if this is an all-time list, I think they're a little high. Ditto Cincinnati.

This group is at least four-for-five on the facilities list, too ... I'm not sure what Arkansas has, I suppose I'll look it up at some point.

11) Utah
12) Ohio State
13) Oklahoma State
14) Arizona
15) Syracuse

Now the "football schools" start to appear. Ohio State is another good example of where ND basketball should be -- they're probably one of the biggest "football schools" out there, and yet here they are at #12.


16) Penn
17) NCState
18) St. John's
19) Princeton
20) Temple

Here's where we start getting into the "what the hell are these schools doing ranked ahead of ND" section. I understand St. John's tradition, and Penn and Princeton have been an Ivy powerhouse for long and long. I suppose a case could be made for Temple, although a shaky one. But North Carolina State? There is no reason ND basketball should be in a state where the Wolfpack rank higher on a list like this.

21) Georgetown
22) Kansas State
23) Texas
24) Oklahoma
25) Michigan State

Three "football schools" in here, two of which are probably the biggest in the category (and have pretty kick-ass facilities to boot). They do it. Why can't ND?

Again, the list skews recent, as evidenced by Texas and Oklahoma.

And again, more entries in the "what the hell" category in Kansas State and Michigan State.

Edit: Let me clarify here -- the "what the hell" category doesn't mean Notre Dame has accomplished more than the programs in that category. It means a well-run Notre Dame basketball program has the potential for and should be capable of a lot more than what those programs should be able to accomplish at their highest level.

26) Michigan
27) Illinois
28) UNLV
29) San Francisco
30) Purdue

That ND has not appeared on the list ahead of most of these schools is, frankly, embarrassing to me. Michigan? The poorest-run, biggest waste-of-resources basketball program in Division 1? Illinois? A UNLV program that has Jerry Tarkanian and little else? A program like San Francisco that actually shut down for a couple of seasons along the way? It's a testament to the inadequate leadership of the ND program since the mid 1990's.

At least Purdue is a basketball school. They should probably be embarrassed they're behind those four as well.

31) Western Kentucky
32) Villanova
33) Marquette
34) West Virginia
35) Maryland

Cripes, a mid-major. The embarrassment grows.

But again, we're skewing recent here. Maybe the methodology needs some tweaks after all.

36) BYU
37) Houston
38) Missouri
39) Notre Dame
40) Iowa

Ah, there we are, in the midst of powerhouse programs. Yikes.

41) Cal
42) Wyoming
43) St. Joseph's
44) Stanford
45) Creighton
46) Wake Forest
47) Miami (Ohio)
48) Xavier
49) UTEP
50) LSU

I started this conversation saying it would be fun. Suddenly, it's not so fun.

If I were John Affleck-Graves, I would take this list and thumbtack it to my wall where I would have to look at it every day. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Arkansas, Western Kentucky and BYU, which are dwarfed by ND's financial capabilities. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Oklahoma, which have used football success to jump-start a strong basketball program. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Michigan and San Francisco, which should not be blueprints for anyone building a decent program and yet appear ahead of the Fighting Irish.

That list would remind me of how this once-strong program was neglected for more than 10 years. That list would remind me of the work that needs to be done to not only overcome that neglect but also to put ND basketball back where it belongs. That list would remind me the positive momentum generated with the facilities announcement must be continued and strengthened.

It would remind me it's time to get to work.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Patience is a Virtue

This may come as a surprise to those who know my personality, but I'm here today to counsel patience. It is, after all, a virtue.

As I said yesterday, it's difficult to find anything concrete in yesterday's announcement. It appears the primary purpose was to acknowledge Philip Purcell's (very generous) leadership gift on the project, which is important given that it puts the effort closer to fruition than ever. But it's not like there are bulldozers at the ready to start moving earth, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It was said at the presser the concept drawings didn't represent the finished product, and more than a few people on campus are saying they're not going to be even close to what is eventually done. So it appears many decisions are yet to be made. Until those decisions are made, I, for one, am going to sit back and see where it goes.

I don't expect we will get weekly (or even monthly) updates on progress. This is the time when the designs are shaken up a bit and people reflect on how the $24.7m is best spent. That also is important, as no mistakes have been made yet.

(I realize that viewpoint seems pessimistic, but I look across Juniper Road at the PAC monstrosity (cost overruns in the tens of millions and yet seats fewer people than Washington Hall), then quickly glance north at the Jordan Science Building (planned so well they had to use some of ND's bowl money to buy microscopes for it), and it doesn't fill me with the greatest of confidence we can avoid hiccups here)

There's plenty of time to do this right. No worries should come from a lack of news in the next couple of months. We're probably looking at a start date somewhere in the 2007-08 school year anyway. So patient we should be.

As a last statement (public, anyway) until real news comes out, I'd like to revisit my punch list of things to do with this $25m. I'd start with the first item on the list, and knock items out until the money ran dry.

New Practice Facilities. Back in May, I said this was the part of the physical plant in which the players would spend the most time, and it's the aspect most emphasized by other schools which have made upgrades to their facilities. It represents the best "bang for the buck" Notre Dame could realize. I still believe that to be true.

The locker rooms, as was mentioned at the press conference, received an upgrade six years ago. Having seen them, they're certainly of good quality and suitable. I'm less convinced on the players' lounge. Granted, it only needs to accomodate 15 players, but my standard of "whatever the football players have in the Gug" remains. If they can do that (scaled down, of course) in the existing space, fine.

But other areas of concern remain. I'd still like to see more practice court space. Three sports need the current arena and The Pit to get in their time, and would be well-served by two practice courts with proper flooring, lighting, baskets, etc.. They still need player meeting and/or study areas, and I would make sure the weightlifting and training offices available are the best possible.

ND has already set the standard with the Gug. All I want, to paraphase Sally Brown, is what the basketball players have coming to them.

Comments were made during the press conference that facilities are on the minds of the ND admins, which is a good thing. It also may be good to separate this effort into its own fundraising bucket. If ND can get started on the arena-related things while still considering (and raising money for) practice improvements, it shortens the time until we'll see improvement in at least some areas. Do what you can now, as long as you realize more remains for later.

Better scoreboard. My feelings here remain the same. ND basketball has gone many years with the four-corner scoreboards in the Joyce Center, but this is the 21st Century. Many other schools use higher-tech center-mounted scoreboards that can show the crowd a lot more than the time left and current score. Player point totals and foul totals are considered de rigueur these days, and it's nice to have something on which to show past highlights -- God knows this is a fanbase that needs education about its past.

Most schools that upgrade their stuff are installing such contraptions. Some very quality programs like North Carolina and Indiana have had them for a while. Having seen them in action in places like Milwaukee and the Allstate Arena, I don't believe they detract from the experience. The opportunity to show people like Tommy Hawkins, Austin Carr and Kelly Tripucka in action to this generation of fans is one that should be taken.

This comes with the obvious advertising caveat. There's a fine line between appropriate and hucksterism, and I don't want to see ND stampeding over it. "This free-throw attempt brought to you by Chik-Fil-A" is not going to work. Ever.

Floor Replacement. Kayo said it best yesterday:

When the old floor had to be replaced, ND didn't remove it and install a new one. It put the current floor on top of the old one. The ramps down the few inches to the original floor are taped down. It looks cheap.

Many great basketball arenas have portable floors, but they don't make it look cheap when they install it. It's neither hard nor expensive to do the job right. ND should remove the old floor and install the new floor in its place.

The same goes for press row and the area around the baskets. Press row is a series of decrepit folding tables with a kluge of wires and extension chords underneath for reporters' computers. Run some conduit under the floor and pull enough power and network capacity for reporters to work without it looking like a project I did this morning in time for a noon game.

The shot clocks on the basket have the same issue. Wires run from traffic areas to the baskets. The wires are taped down to prevent passers-by from tripping on them. It looks cheap. It is cheap.

Granted, this is part of the overall decrepit look of the arena, but it is an important change. Nothing says "cheesy" like exposed wiring. It looks like ND didn't expect to have to deal with the playing, covering of, and broadcast of a Division 1 basketball game, so they had the A.V. club toss something together. Pros don't do these things.

The floor and wiring should look professionally installed, with infrastructure accounted for out of public sight. The press should have dedicated areas both courtside (including better stat displays) and under the bleachers for filing stories. There's nothing more irritating than trying to write a game article with the din (and fumes) of gas leaf blowers in the background as the cleanup crew cleans the arena. A decent-sized room with both phone and Internet capability would be a boon to Irish scribes.

Seat Replacement. Thank goodness, this seems to be a priority for the project. The observation areas will be all seatbacks of a uniform dark color, preferably ND's hue of Navy blue. Again, I don't care what Digger thinks, neon purple is not a school color.

Yes, I realize we're going to lose about 1,600 seats, and I also realize some folks are upset about that. My opinion: It won't make a difference in the grand scheme. Counting SRO capability, we'll still be over 10k people at every game. The elimination of the bleachers will give the arena a much cleaner and professional look, and the sealing out of the upper concourse will help keep the sound in. In the short and long run, it'll do more for ND basketball than the 1,600 potential bodies would.

Some seating could be reclaimed with a "ring of students" courtside. I'm not going to address that here, but if there's a way to do it that doesn't break the bank, it should be considered. At the very least, create a small "pit" three quarters of the way around the court that would allow the students to stand. The raised-court look works well at places like Vanderbilt and Purdue.

Reallocation of Seats. This is the concept behind the "Stadium Club" part of the announcement yesterday. While I would prioritize the things above first, getting the often-no-show loge seat holders out of an area to which strong program supporters should have access is a good thing. As I said in May, I don't care if a luxury box that isn't on TV stands empty, but I do care if half-court seats remain unfilled with rabid Irish partisans.

Concession/bathroom Improvements. The concession setup is pretty good as it is, and it's not like there are a ton of lines. But I would like ND to be capable of offering more variety in the concession stands, and also give them better capability for making the food on site. For bathrooms ... well, if ND is capable of putting the World's Best Public Bathroom in the Admin Building, they should be able to give the JC partisans something.

Basketball "Hall of Fame" area. ND basketball needs to reclaim its history, and the best solution is to put that history front and center where everyone can get a good whiff of it. Pictures, trophies, the works -- all should have a place in the new JC. The NCAA banners are a good thing, but I'm thinking more along the lines of a "ring of fame", both for the men and the women, to remind the fans of the players who helped shape ND basketball tradition. Outright retirement of jersey numbers might not be feasible because of numbering requirements, but this would be a good alternative. At least put the names in the rafters, if not the numbers.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sound and Fury....

Christmas Day seems to have left us wanting a little. It's like opening the boxes and finding a drawing of what should be in there.

Today's long-awaited gathering in the Joyce Center to announce renovation plans didn't provide much in the way of specifics. No start date was announced. While everyone on the dais promised speed and attention, nothing requiring a calendar was said. Few particulars were available, outside of capacity changes and the overall use of space in the new addition. Even the drawings were conceptual, made for the purposes of fund-raising and not meant to represent the actual finished product. Other than the details of BOT member Philip Purcell's leadership gift, I'm hard-pressed to come up with anything concrete resulting from today's meeting.

I suppose I should be grateful for small favors. The fact they've made any kind of announcement at all is an improvement over saying nothing and wondering what was afoot. And perhaps materials distributed to those who attended have more information that will be passed along in their articles.

While being so short on details makes evaluating the plan difficult, to be blunt, what I've seen so far doesn't impress me.

This $24.7 million project seems to be spending a lot of effort on the high rollers, as evidenced by a Stadium Club along with its 800 associated seats. I'm all for getting the no-show no-participate Loge Seat holders out of the lower bowl, but do we need to spend so much money to get it done?

It's also accounting for some revenue, as evidenced by the new Varsity Shop in the plans. I remember the days when one Bookstore on campus was enough. Do we really need a 3,000-square-foot replica on the other end of campus? What happened to walking?

The ticket office will be getting a much-needed expansion, so I suppose that's good as well. I fail to see why something like that has to be covered by donations, but perhaps wiser minds than mine can explain it.

Most troublesome, thus far in the tale, I haven't heard anything yet about the team. Kevin White pronounced the players' lounge adequate, but as someone who has seen it, I disagree. Other schools give their players more. Nothing has been said yet about training or other related parts of the physical plant. The flooring issues weren't addressed.

One wonders the purpose of these upgrades. I'm seeing a lot for the well-heeled fans and not so much for the other folks. If ND is going to spend almost $25 million on this effort -- $25 million that will be pointed to for years as basketball's turn at the trough, probably making further short-term investment unlikely -- it should be money well spent, not money meant for creating revenue streams.

One can only hope this represents a starting point rather than our destination, because if this is where we're going, I'd rather save myself the trip.