Monday, November 27, 2006

An Ethical Dilemma?

Is West Virginia about to get screwed?

No, this isn't a setup for an inbreeding joke, but rather a question whether or not the Big East is willing to prostitute itself for $4 million.

Right now, Louisville sits at #6 in the BCS standings. Depending on how things shake out, they're likely to receive a bid no matter what happens this weekend. A Florida loss in the SEC Championship would only help them. They're unlikely to lose to Connecticut on Saturday, so I don't see that affecting the calculus.

Rutgers and West Virginia, who play this Saturday in Morgantown, are also contending for bids, sitting at #13 and #15, respectively. The results of that game will decide the Big East champion and the automatic BCS bid, and here's where the chicanery can come in.

If West Virginia wins, Louisville will win the title outright being the only one-loss team, meaning they won't be eligible for a BCS at-large bid. Both Rutgers and West Virginia will have two losses. Rutgers likely will drop out of the BCS top 14 altogether with the loss, meaning they wouldn't be eligible for the BCS at all. It's also not guaranteed the Mountaineers would move into the top 14 with a win, since Wake Forest -- which will play in the ACC title game that day as well -- could move up significantly with a win there. Even if WVU does inch into the top 14, there are other teams ranked ahead of them (e.g. Notre Dame) much more likely to be picked. So a West Virginia win most likely limits the Big East to one bid.

If Rutgers wins, OTOH, both they and Louisville will finish with one loss. Rutgers will win the conference thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning they get the automatic BCS bid. Louisville, however, still sits high in the BCS rankings, so it's possible they may receive an at-large bid. At the very least, they are more of a logical pick than West Virginia given their ranking.

No matter how you slice it, the Big East's chances are better with a Rutgers win. They don't want to "blow" the automatic selection on Louisville, since the Cardinals already have a strong chance for a bid without it. They'd love for Rutgers to pick up the auto bid, leaving Louisville eligible for an at-large and the extra $4 million for the conference that comes with it.

Notre Dame fans have seen this kind of thing up close when Pittsburgh came to town during Tyrone Willingham's last season. The Panthers were looking to become bowl-eligible at 5-3. However, ND had an in for the Big East bowl selections, and an out-of-conference victory over Pitt could have locked up the Gator Bowl for ND.

The Big East provided the officiating crew that day, and any ND fan who watched that game can tell you, we saw some of the most head-scratching calls in recent memory, rivaling that of some of the Pac10 crews encountered by Notre Dame in Los Angeles over the years. Pitt ended up with four penalties for 39 yards, while the Irish were flagged 10 times for a whopping 119 yards. Result? A 41-38 Panther win.

Now the Big East is faced with a similar dilemma. If Rutgers wins the game, the BE might get that second BCS bid. Sure, they might win it anyway, but WVU has an excellent ground game and a decent defense.

My suggestion to Mountaineer fans? Watch the refs very very closely, and remember it's not what the flag is thrown for as much as it's when the flag is thrown. Look for those holding calls that wipe out first downs and set up second- or third-and-long. See how closely they call the pass interference situations. Make sure the focus on one end of the field matches that of the other.

ND fans have been there, and the results weren't pretty.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Solved, Some Not

Hard to summarize one's thoughts while getting ready for an eight-hour drive, but I'm all about tough situations.

Looking at the Charlie Weis regime after two seasons, I see some problems that have been solved while some remain unanswered.

ND is playing up to its potential at a very high rate, which is good. During the past two regimes, the Irish would more often than not play up or down to the level of its competition, which led to maddening lows and thrilling highs. Weis' even keel and understanding of the game, which dwarfs that of his predecessors, has helped eliminate the potholes that would scuttle the undercarriage of past Irish seasons.

However, ND is not playing up to championship potential yet, which is not good. Eliminating the befuddling losses was step one. Step two is eliminating the quality losses.

ND is playing with a winning attitude, which is good. Belief in the victory starts at the top, and there's no doubt Charlie Weis expects to win every game.

However, ND is not playing with a consistent attitude, which is not good. Charlie gets caught up in the psychology of the game sometimes (e.g. "I've watched every play SC has run this year"), and makes some decisions that seem to go against the grain of what the game situation would make appropriate.

Going into the bowl game, Charlie Weis needs to do the one thing that will differentiate himself from his predecessors forever: learn.

Bob Davie never learned. Grab-bag offenses and inconsistent recruiting were his watchwords. Tyrone Willingham never learned. Underperforming assistants were kept on, almost in defiance of conventional wisdom.

Charlie Weis needs to learn, or perhaps show a willingness to learn. If some assistants are not up to snuff, whether on the field or in recruiting or both, they should be replaced. If his psychological approach to the big games is not working (which it isn't), he needs to alter it.

Recognizing the need for change and implementing those changes are an important part of any successful coach's repertoire. If Charlie shows that bullet in his gun, ND will be fine.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Rematch? Let's do it

When it comes to the BCS, I'm not a big fan of the concept of The Rematch.

And don't interpret that as a push to get ND involved -- they'd have to beat SC by at least two TD's to convince me playing in the NC game is a good idea.

I just don't like the concept that Michigan can waltz into the NC game after losing to tOSU without doing something to counterbalance the loss.

Yes, they beat ND and Wisconsin. That was two months ago. Between then and now, they scraped by Penn State, Northwestern, and Ball State. Not that the Buckeyes didn't have any unimpressive outings, because they did, but we can play that game until we're (maize and) blue in the face.

Usually when you see rematches in other sports, there's been some time to digest and interpret the results, and the loser usually has to accomplish something to get the second bite at the apple. For example, in basketball, the NCAA tries to keep conference members in separate brackets until the Elite 8, and does their best to avoid in-season rematches in the first round (or two, if they can help it). The loser doesn't just step back up to the plate for a do-over.

That's probably how it will be, and one has to reconcile oneself to that fact. There will always be illogic when it comes to resolution of the MNC issues, particularly because it's the discussions those bits of illogic generate that the NCAA wants most of all.

But like George Carlin, I've got a lot of good ideas (and the trouble is, most of them suck). And I've got one here.

If Ohio State wins the rematch, fine. No possible gainsay of them being deserving of a championship.

But if Michigan wins, now you've got a tie. Each team won one game. Logic screams for the rubber match.

I say, give it to them.

An unofficial game, unsanctioned by the NCAA, meaningful only to the people who wish it to be so.

Play it in the dead week right before the Super Bowl.

Try to find a neutral venue that will still draw a crowd. Not sure if Toledo has a big enough stadium to do it. Maybe they could flip a coin between Ford Field and Browns Stadium. The latter might be more fair, as it's more than an hour away from each campus, and it seats 8,000 more people.

(Heck, play it in Notre Dame Stadium. That way when the game is done, we can lock the doors and tear gas the lot of them. But I digress.)

Split the tickets 50-50 between the schools. Televise it on pay-per-view. Have the talking heads at the Worldwide Leader come up with a pithy slogan (given that's all they're good for these days) -- "Border War to Settle the Score", "The Putz vs. the Nuts", "Bo and Woody: The Final Seance", whatever.

All proceeds from all sources -- ticket sales, viewing charges, concessions, etc. -- go directly to charities designated by the schools. Given 73k seats, a couple hundred thousand PPV's sold, and all those Midwestern Protestants eating a lot of cheese fries, that's a pretty healthy payday for some lucky not-for-profit.

There's no loser here. The two fanbases get to yap at each other for a few more weeks, which makes fewer weeks they're bothering the rest of us. The players get one more shot at their rival without missing classes (I know, pretend it matters). Sears Homestores will be able to sell a whole new round of couches. And all in the name of charity.

Never happen -- makes too much sense.


Travishamockery, and other thoughts

A travesty, they say.

Or at least Mike Lopresti of USA Today says it.

When discussing Notre Dame's chances of making it to the BCS championship game, Lopresti (and probably many others) responds:

"Absolutely not. Notre Dame instead of Michigan would be a travesty after the Wolverines drilled the Irish 47-21 in South Bend."

So head-to-head matters.

I'm shocked, but still have a question: Where was this cold-hearted logic in 1993?

Notre Dame, 11-1. Florida State, 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in late November, ended in favor of the Irish, with the game not as close as the final score indicated.

So who held the trophy in January? Florida State, of course. Because, we were told, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. Except when it is, and then it is.

That's the biggest reason I want ND to end up in the NC game on January 8th. The pundits will wail and gnash their teeth. The Michigan faithful will rend their garments (assuming they have any un-rent after Bo's passing).

Then Charlie Weis can get up in a press conference, and to every question posed him concerning the BCS, he can respond, "1993".

In fact, I just thought of a more delicious scenario. Some of it may be far-fetched, but stay with me:

Notre Dame wins comfortably in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Either Florida or Arkansas are upset by F$U or LSU, respectively.
The Florida/Arkansas upset victim then wins the SEC Championship game.

Come BCS selection day, the Irish and Wolverines are the only one-loss teams left. The pollsters and pundits, deciding to employ the cold-hearted logic, send the Skunkbears to the NC game for a rematch with tOSU.

The Irish are sent to the Sugar Bowl, where they unmericfully pound the SEC champ.
Michigan wins a mistake-filled game in Glendale.

Now what do the pollsters do? The coaches, by contract, have to vote for Michigan. But the AP folks aren't under the same restriction. They can choose a Michigan team that got a second bite at the apple, or an ND team that defeated two top-five opponents comfortably in the season's last two games.

Both teams 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in September, ended in favor of Michigan (who had a distinct advantage in prep time).

So who holds the AP trophy in January?

Remember, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. That's what we were told in 1993.

Except when it is.

Either way, the reactions from Ann Arbor would be a lifetime's worth of entertainment.

Some other items tickling my brain, mostly on the hoops side:


Besides a distressing return to the Bad Old Days, the Butler loss had another negative effect -- on ND's strength of schedule.

Granted, if Butler does well in NYC (and over the course of the season), that neutral-site game will help the Irish. But neutral-site games against some combination of Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina would have done even more.

Some people feel this schedule was set up for an NCAA bid. Outside of Maryland and Alabama, the remaining OOC contests weigh heavy on the cupcake scale, and the BE slate lacks any games against UConn or Pittsburgh while featuring South Florida twice. While this will do a lot for the win total, it's not going to do a lot for the SOS factor, which means ND is walking on a knife's edge. One bad loss might give the committee all it needs to relegate the Irish to the NIT once again.


I'm sure people are sick of ND people whining about 1993, but that pales to the degree I'm tired of hearing about how the ND basketball team quit two years ago. I'm tired of hearing it from ND students, tired of hearing it from ND alumni, tired of hearing it from ND fans.

Yes, that team fell apart. Yes, that team lacked any kind of cohesion. Yes, key players on that team mailed it in down the stretch. Yes, the coaching staff should not have allowed it to happen. Yes, it was a Bad Thing.

But just about everyone involved with that team is gone now. None of the players on the floor for the Irish can be accused of laying down that season. Most of them weren't even there. Of the ones who were, Russell Carter hardly played and the (rightfully) villified Holy Cross game was Rob Kurz's coming-out party. And I know people have a lot of opinions on Colin Falls, but I've never read "slacker" as one of them. I've never seen him give anything less than everything when he plays.

And last season, when this team had every reason to throw in the towel after so many close losses, they kept bringing it every game. That says something about the mental fortitude of the players and the coaches alike.

I think plenty of evidence exists to support a belief that situation was a one-time thing, and (to be blunt) I think the people who continue to harp on it are glomming on to a situation that fits the argument they want to make and are riding it long after it's been an effective argument.

Start your engines

The clamor already has begun for Mike Brey to work Luke "Bamm Bamm" Harangody into the starting lineup.

In today's SBT, MB is quoted as being concerned how that would affect the team dynamic.

I can't speak to dynamics, but if history is our guide, starting doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Over his last two seasons, David Graves was moved out of the starting lineup twice. But if you look at his minutes played, they stayed pretty constant. So while his name wasn't being called during the spotlight intros, he was still contributing in the same ways he had before the "demotion".

So I don't necessarily have a problem with him being out of the starting lineup. I would, however, have a problem with him not being among the leaders in minutes played among the Irish big men. Bamm Bamm has been pretty effective in his time played thus far, so if such effectiveness can be continued over more minutes, let's do that.

T'is the season for pushing envelopes, after all.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

N Apostrophe T

My kids and I really enjoy the Electric Company DVD set. The show is a happy childhood memory for me because I learned a lot about reading and enjoyed Morgan Freeman's work long before he was buying bus tickets to Fort Hancock, Texas.

I thought of those DVDs last night and this morning, in the aftermath of ND's loss to Butler in the Preseason NIT, when I read how it's difficult to get a post feed late in a game or how the young guys have a hard time against older competition or one- or two-and-done players probably won't choose ND.

I can't remember if it was Rita Mareno or Judy Graubart, but the sketch I thought of concerns a young lady who is always saying no to things. Suitors approach and are rebuffed time and time again. She thrives, she says, on "N apostrophe T".

I don't want to hear that out of any Notre Dame basketball person's mouth this season. I don't want to hear or read quotes from any player or coach that ND isn't / wasn't / can't / won't / shouldn't / couldn't do or be anything anywhere at any time. That's the kind of thinking that leads to conservatism, and conservatism is the absolutely last thing the Fighting Irish need this year.

If someone asks Mike Brey whether he believes Kyle MacAlarney could sink the winning three-point basket and then float to the top of the Joyce Center on gossamer wings while dropping a deuce on the opposing coach's head, I want him to respond, "Hell yes, we work on that every day in practice. Think that'll go well with Pitino's hair gel?"

If someone inquires about Luke Harangody's new shoes, I want to hear he bought them so when he leaps from the foul line for a monster dunk, he'll look good in the poster.

It has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with attitude. Until coaches and players alike learn, they won't believe, and until they believe, they won't win consistently. If you don't believe ND can win, you shouldn't be at ND, period.

We saw the old conservatism last night. Four guys with more than 31 minutes, three of them over 34. Limited substitutions. Over-reliance on the perimeter, especially late in the game. The result was a carbon copy of last season -- a hard-fought, close loss, with the Irish playing poorly down the stretch in both halves. And then the n-apostrophe-t's came out in the postgame.

We didn't see that conservatism in the first three games. We saw a deep bench -- a nine-man rotation that got double-figure minutes apiece. We saw a lot of energy for thw whole game. We saw the ball pounded inside and players like Rob Kurz and even youngsters like Harangody responding with monster efforts. Granted, the competition level wasn't high, but let's remember in the last two seasons, even the gimme games were worry-inducing. This time, they were easy-peasey victories. And afterwards, we heard a lot about what the players could do and what the program could and should do.

I believe there's a relationship there.

Will they win them all? Of course not. Young players make mistakes, and mistakes are likely to cost the team wins here and there. But if they don't make the mistakes and then learn from them, they'll be making the same mistakes as sophomores and juniors, and that's when a team really has problems.

If you have the belief, you have the keys to a win. If you don't have the belief, you should turn your keys in.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006


I got the opportunity to attend the men's basketball reunion last week on campus. As a non-player (or even manager, for that matter), I'm always grateful when the guys I interviewed invite me to these things, and it provided a good opportunity to catch up.

The festivities started on Friday with a reception at the Warren Golf Course, followed by a 10:30am practice in the Joyce Center and a post-game gathering across from the Morris Inn. I wasn't able to attend the last event, but did get a chance to stop by the reception and practice.

Everyone seemed in good spirits. Bob Whitmore's health has improved and things are going much better for him. As usual, he and Collis Jones made the trek from the D.C. area -- they never miss one of these things. John Tully remains the best storyteller I interviewed, although Ed O'Rourke's tale of trying to get Tim Andree (Sr.) a contract with a team in Israel was definitely the highlight of the night (can't tell it here, couldn't possibly do it justice). Speaking of the big man, the Andree family is thrilled Tim Jr. is carrying on the Irish tradition, and with Tim Sr. no longer with the NBA, they'll be at plenty of games this year. Larry Jesewitz and his wife just celebrated their second wedding anniversary. Larry lost his first wife to cancer a few years back, and I like seeing good people happy. Dick Rosenthal is splitting time between Florida and South Bend these days. Tommy Hawkins wasn't able to make it, which was disappointing because he's probably one of my favorite hoops alums to talk to. Phonz was itching to get his new broadcast career started, although he was adamant that Jack Nolan could probably do it on his own. I got a chance to meet Dave Batton and Jason Williams, and both expressed interest in contributing to the next edition of EotH.

All-in-all, a wonderful time. But it wouldn't be a NftG entry if I wasn't complaining about something. Talking to a few of the guys, they mentioned one thing that could have made it even better: Have it earlier in the year.

Looking beyond the chilly weather, which is always a drag, the late date prevents the NBA folks in the Fighting Irish family from attending. When the schedule makes participation difficult for two of the greatest players in the program's history -- A.C., doing broadcast work for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and A.D., working as an assistant for the Denver Nuggets -- the schedule must needs tweaking. Besides the Big Two, Gary Brokaw, Pat Garrity, John Paxson, Troy Murphy, Matt Carroll, John MacLeod, and Chris Quinn are the names off the top of my head who could have attended.

I realize the ability to have a practice (and allow the guys to hang around an extra day for an exhibition game) is a driver for the scheduling decision, as probably is high schoolers coming to early games on official visits and taking up the coaches' time. But the NCAA is starting to loosen up regarding things in early Fall, so perhaps some kind of workout/scrimmage would be possible. And from my vantage point, there were some recruit-looking kids in attendance anyway.

Another thing I thought of: Have an old-timers game. No, I'm not suggesting that Collis Jones or Dick Rosenthal or Kelly Tripucka or any of those guys lace them up, although they'd be welcome. I'm talking about a laid-back scrimmage- or pickup-type game with some of the younger guys, maybe even against the current team. Imagine if you will David Rivers, Jason Williams, Troy Murphy, Tim Singleton, Matt Carroll, Pat Garrity, and LaPhonso Ellis playing against Russell Carter, Colin Falls, KMac, Tory Jackson, BammBamm, Rob Kurz, Zach Hillesland, et al. That's a game I'd enjoy watching.

One final note: I had the opportunity to discuss facility plans with some folks on campus during the reunion. As you know, one of my biggest concerns going into all this was the correct prioritization of practice facilities. After my chats at the reunion, I'm very confident that (a) the importance of practice facilities is being properly considered in the plans, even if they're not an immediate inclusion, and (b) the folks in charge have some good ideas how the need can be fulfilled. So I guess that means we can stop bugging them with correspondance ... for now.

And for putting the song in your head -- you're welcome.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Front-runners ain't worth it

I don't know what makes me want to vomit more -- the lack of student attendance at the game last night or the lame-ass excuses I'm hearing for that attendance today. If ND spends one dime in these renovations trying to move the students from their current position, I'll declare it a complete waste of funds.

"We still blame the team from two years ago for quitting". Apparently logic is no longer a required course in the Notre Dame curriculum. That's like me saying the student allocation should be cut because the students in the 1990s didn't support the team. Last year's team played their rear ends off every night. What kind of credit do they get? Apparently none.

"We don't like Brey and he should be fired, so we won't go." These same students thought Tyrone Willingham should be fired, too. It didn't stop them from going to football games. And spare me the "football is different" bleating -- it isn't. If your policy is to not attend games if you don't believe in the coach, it should apply even more to something you love as much as football. And yet it didn't. Student attendance isn't going to drive a decision to retain or fire a coach, so why not support your classmates?

And yet they complain that ND doesn't give them enough seats, and now want ND to spend millions of dollars so they can sit courtside??!? Yeah, right. They're going to drop seven figures on front-runners. That'll happen.

I'd rather see them cut the student allocation again. Then after this season, when either (a) the ship has been righted, or (b) there's a new coach with an exciting young team ready for next year, the front-runners will need split ticket packages or just go without.

Poetic justice. That's what it'll be.

I watched a 12-20 season my senior year. I bought season tickets and suffered through 9-18 seasons. I was at an exhibition game on a Wednesday night because this is going to be a young team that at the very least will be very interesting to watch.

ND should spend the money on the people like me. They should have gone through the crowd last night handing out applications to get the best seats post-renovation, because last night's crowd are the die-hards. They'e the people who truly support the program. They're the people who realize the program is bigger than the players in the uniforms and the coaches on the sidelines.

Why waste a dime on uneducated students who don't care?

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