Saturday, June 30, 2007

Buckets of Ducats

It's the beginning of July, and like the swallows returning to Capistrano, complaints about ND's ticket policies return to the various message boards. I had a couple thoughts on the ways ND could handle their various constituencies and ticket policies in general, which I share with you in the interest of fostering discussion.

Embrace Technology

Putting on my Captain Obvious cape for a moment, Notre Dame must join the rest of humanity in the world of portable bar code readers.

At just about every sporting or concert event I've attended in the last five years, be it at Comiskular, PNC, the Rosemont Theater, Heinz Field, the Louisiana Superdome, wherever, I'm greeted by a ticket-taker holding a PDA on steroids in his or her hand. A quick laser swipe over my ticket, sometimes itself merely a sheet of paper printed on my inkjet at home, and I'm good to go.

Ah, but not at Notre Dame Stadium or the Joyce Center. There, my cardboard ticket is still ripped asunder or paper-punched. This throwback to simpler times, while quaint, impedes ND's progress towards not only a more efficient ingress to its events but also better use of data mining to determine how tickets are being used and all the associated benefits of having that knowledge.

It's difficult to enjoy the 21st century when you still have not embraced the 20th. I want to hear those beeps at every arena/stadium entrance.

Save the Trees

Most of the people who end up with Notre Dame tickets on a consistent yearly basis belong to relatively static groups:

  • Students
  • Faculty / Staff
  • Alumni
  • Season-ticket holders
  • University donors

The first two groups already are required to carry a specific identification card indicating their membership in their group. Why not create ID cards for the other two? It's not like someone would stop being an alumnus of the school, and while there's no guarantee someone would retain season tickets or continue to donate to Notre Dame at large levels, there usually isn't a tremendous amount of movement into or out of the group.

Members of those groups would receive bar-coded ID cards corresponding to their typical number of seats for a given event. A season-ticket holder, for example, with four seats would have four cards, each with his or her name on it, which would be used every year for entrance to the stadium. An alumnus would have two or whatever max number of seats he or she could win in the lottery for a given game. Students would use their ID's, while faculty and staff could use ID's plus cards for whatever other ticket(s) they were entitled to. The functionality would exist for card owners to convert their tickets into regular paper versions in specific cases, and lost cards could be replaced just as any other identification cards are.

The card(s) would be read at the stadium gate to indicate the owner had used that ticket for that event. Ushers would be armed with the same bar code reader to check cards in the event they need to determine if a person is in the right seat. In the event the ticket holder needed to exchange the card usage for a paper ticket or wanted to not use his or her ticket to that game, that could be facilitated by contacting the ND ticket office, much the same way that people arrange for the sale of unused tickets today.

I believe this approach can save the school some money. Tickets would be assigned to the cardholder's accounts. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars printing the same tickets for the same people every year on expensive cardstock, ND could print one page on a sheet of regular paper telling the ticket holder where his or her specific seats are for that game. In the case of season ticket holders, this would be moot since they have the same seats every time.

Some paper tickets would still be required, particularly for University guests or the visting team's allocation, but the costs of printing and shipping the tickets would be greatly reduced.

Students of the Games

Right now, students have to track full ticket books and show them at each game. Eliminating the books and tying the tickets to their ID simplifies things greatly.

For non-football events, it also makes the system more flexible. If a student decides at the last-minute to attend a basketball game, for example, they can go to a website on ND's network and purchase a seat. The ticket is added to their account, and instead of having to track down or pick up a piece of cardstock, they simply get their ID scanned at the Joyce Center. If another student cannot attend a given game, they can make their ticket available not only to other students but also to walk-up general admission traffic, and the ticket office will know about it in real time. The students could also "trade" tickets for games directly, eliminating the ticket office middleman. This kind of schedule flexibility might improve student attendance at basketball games.

The same would be true for faculty and staff. They could use their ID plus whatever additional card(s) they're entitled to. If they can't make a game or want to attend a game on a whim, the way is smoothed for them to do so.

Scalpers Beware

This system will also help curtail the scalping market, putting more at-cost tickets into the hands of Notre Dame alumni and fans.

A member of a card-holding group is not about to trust a complete stranger with their ticket cards, and the hassles associated with shipping cards around the country makes such a practice undesirable. Therefore, people are less likely to put in for games they or someone they know well will not be using themselves, leaving more available for people who do want to attend the games.

While it would be possible for card owners to convert their seats into regular tickets, they would have to go through the ticket office to do so. If a card owner used this process an excessive number of times, it would give the ticket office the sufficient red flag to check out how the seats were being used. It would also give ushers a list of tickets that had been converted from cardholder to paper, giving them the opportunity to see how those seats were being used. If visiting fans were turning up in those seats every week....

There is no perfect solution to the perceived problems of ND's ticket distribution system. But I have to think something like this would work better than trying to price the less rabid folks out of the market via PSL's, which seems to be the plan du jour. ND needs to use the existing technology to make its ticket processes more efficient before they try beating their constituencies over the head with price increases.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Physicians, Heal Thyselves

I swear, there are times I believe the people who operate various Michigan fansites are committing fraud. They expect people to pay for their "knowledge", and yet they know just as little (if not less) about a lot of topics than their posters do. Why people shell out good money to listen to those people is beyond me.

The latest mewling concerns the potential (edit: now confirmed) verbal commitment of defensive lineman Ethan Johnson to Charlie Weis. Proving that there's no song like an old song, they've dredged up the same tired whine they used when Sam Young chose the Fighting Irish over the Wolverines -- guaranteed major admittance. According to them, ND has a recruiting advantage over Michigan because UM requires admittance to some of their programs of study after a year or two of matriculation over and above the decision that got you into Ann Arbor in the first place. ND, they complain, doesn't have that hurdle. Any ND football player can major in whatever he wants, and this creates some kind of shadow of wrongdoing or academic shortcutting on ND's part.

News flash, boys: that's available to every Notre Dame student. This isn't something dreamed up for the football players, and it's not any kind of academic corner-cutting. That would be a Kinesiology department, but that's a discussion for another day. Notre Dame doesn't require a selection process at the upperclass level for specific majors because their overall admissions process is more selective.

Now before any of the Maize and Blue faithful get their panties in a bunch, the difference is Michigan is a much larger school and, as such, admits a wider range of academic student as a result. Therefore, they need a secondary process to determine the best destination for the students once they're there. Same thing is true for any large state university, which is why a lot of those universities have those policies. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is smaller overall and with no state constituency involved, applies a harsher standard for overall admittance. Once the student is in South Bend, they're allowed to select whatever major suits their fancy.

Granted, there's still a weed-out process in the form of classroom performance. I know a lot of pre-med guys who, thanks to Organic Chemistry, wound up in MIS classes with yours truly. There's no guarantees once you're in the program. You still have to get the grades, and in that respect, ND football players are held to the same standard as everyone else. I know that because, unlike the peanut gallery who've never attended a class in South Bend, I was actually there and saw them do it.

But turning it into a "recruiting advantage" is the most odoriferous level of bullshit. "Michigan is not going to sell their standards at the B-school to get a recruit." Right. Instead, they're going to shuttle him into a meaningless major and then cease to care whether or not he gets his degree once he's in there. Now that's a standard to which we can all aspire.

Here's a hint, Skunkweasels: Worry a lot less about how recruits are admitted to whatever college within a university, and worry a lot more about how that 33 percent graduation rate for African American football players is making you look. Instead of jumping down Jim Harbaugh's throat for being disloyal, how about an actual effort to keep your players' noses to the grindstone? How about providing guidance to these players to ensure they not only select a meaningful major but also see the effort through to getting the sheepskin? If you're going to treat your athletes like meat, don't be shocked when some of them decide they want something better than the grinder.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Zero to Sixty

Funny thing about ND basketball these days -- you can go a couple weeks with nothing of note to talk about, then get hit with three things in one week.

One Man Enter, One Man Leave

On the good news side of the ledger was the official return of Kyle McAlarney. While it was well in the works since about a week after he was originally suspended, nothing is sure in this man's world and having it actually happen beats any amount of woulda coulda shouldas.

The entire thing was frustrating, and like a couple other seasons in Fighting Irish basketball past, we're left to wonder how a key player's availability might have pushed what was already an enjoyable season into the realm of legendary. But it allowed TJ to come into his own, and the interesting thing to watch this upcoming season will be how he and KMac operate in tandem.

As KMac returns, however, another player has left. Backup wing Joe Harden decided to ply his trade closer to home and most likely will transfer to a West Coast Conference school like Santa Clara.

I hate it when players leave, even when the decision is good for both them and the school. Although the recent grad rate calculation changes diminish the hurt in that area, a player walking away means there was some kind of disconnect in his ND experience, and I feel bad for Joe that the ND experience didn't work out for him.

But from what I can tell, there's no animosity on either side here, so there's no indication this is a symptom of anything larger, which is always a big concern. It also may say a lot about the quality of player ND is getting in Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, who arrived with the start of the summer sessions (but don't have bios up on yet -- chop chop there, kids) last week.

The Story (or Progeny) of O

Harden's departure also gives Mike Brey an opportunity to re-balance his classes. The one-ride class graduating in the form of Rob Kurz can, as we've seen these last few months, put a damper on recruiting buzz. Having a second scholarship available, along with the potential red-shirt of either Tim Abromaitis or Ty Proffitt, can put three players on the same eligibility progression and not leave the coaches short again four years from now.

I also hope the second available ride can loosen things up enough to allow MB to extend a scholarship offer to Renaldo Woolridge, son of former Irish great Oooooooorlando and apparently the subject of his own website (although the content seems to indicate he's not the author). The 6'7" forward is rated a top-75 player by and has at least three stars on both major recruiting networks, so it's not like anyone would be screaming "nepotism" or anything else that might imply the kid isn't worthy of a full-time ride.

As I said when Mike Golic, Jr., committed to Charlie Weis, I hate it when talented progeny of Fighting Irish alums end up playing somewhere else. It ain't natural. I'd love to see big O wandering the halls of the Joyce Center with former teammate Tim Andree, both watching their sons write a new chapter in ND basketball history.

Back Up the Backhoe

Speaking of the JC, Mike Rothstein of the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette (which always has surprisingly good coverage of ND athletics, considering the distance), dropped a content bomb on us this morning with the news there's a tentative start date for the long-awaited facelift for the Joyce Center.

The project, according to the article, would take two to three years to complete, which would allow for them to schedule the work on the heavily-used sections (i.e. the playing arena interior) when it will least disrupt their scheduled occupancy. This, I believe, is a good thing, because it means they won't rush the entire project in order to fit some arbitrary schedule.

What we still await, however, is a concrete plan of attack. Other than the original documents released at the "Phil Purcell is giving us money" presser and this (admittedly kickass) picture), there hasn't been a comprehensive release of details on what this project will entail. I like that Mike Brey is talking about the right things in the article (e.g. an improvement in gameday atmosphere). Now the admin must put those things into practice. I expect such info will come out when they officially announce the start date, which hopefully will be soon.

And speaking of practice, also no word on new practice space being included in the big hockey arena upgrade. The primary concern from past communiques is the loss of the banquet space, but we hold out hope the new hotel space in the planned Eddy St. development will mitigate any issues those will cause.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Be the Boy Scout

In a little more than 48 hours, Billy Donovan has gone from a man perfectly content to be in Gainesville to a man perfectly content to be in Orlando, or so a press conference at 11am EDT today will tell us. Such is the speed at which the coaching carousel can move. Life, indeed, comes at you fast.

In this Age of Quickness, preparedness becomes paramount. And if the reports coming out of Gainesville are accurate, Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley isn't letting the grass grow under his feet. Reportedly, he's already asked permission to speak to Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant, a former Donovan assistant, about the job opening, an opening at which Grant is expected to jump with both feet.

This is why I (and others on the NDN boards) harp on the importance of an athletic director being prepared in areas which fall under his purview, such as succession planning. Here you have one of the most currently high-profile basketball programs with a job opening, and thanks to the quick thinking and decisiveness of its school's responsible party, there won't be an opportunity for the jackals to get their jollies. Contrast that with the last two job openings --football and baseball -- at Notre Dame. It's not pretty.

Sure, Grant could turn down the offer, or the reports might be off and Foley could decide to go in another direction. Nothing's done until the signature is on the dotted line.

Grant's also a risky choice. VCU had a great year, to be sure, and 10 years under Donovan as an assistant for the Gators means he's familiar with how things work there. But he's only been the lead dog for one season, and Virginia Commonwealth ain't in the SEC. Matt Doherty showed what can happen when a long-time assistant tries to jump too far too fast, and given how Florida has improved from the time Donovan took the job until today, the jump Grant would attempt is much larger than the one his predecessor made from Marshall way back when. Florida wouldn't have been criticized for looking for a high-profile coach to continue the momentum of the program, and given how much talent is moving on this off-season, Grant will have to get up to speed very quickly.

But Foley has shown an M.O. of confidence and preparedness that, frankly, I envy. Perhaps if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympic bid in 2009 and Kevin White's role with their committee drastically expands in scope, Fr. Jenkins should consider a call down to Gainesville.

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