Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's That Time of Year...

...when the CSC's love
all those checks appear-
ing that say
"This Donation
for the current year gets me
in the tix lottery!"

OK, Kate Smith it ain't. It's not even the Carpenters. But like their children penning letters to ol' St. Nick, ND grads around the world these days are writing to ol' Fr. Jenkins and sending their donation checks to make sure the mailman brings them that magic Scantron form come April.

Last week, I was one of them. Sure, we had to plan a little more this year because my company moved the annual bonus from December to March, but write the check I did.

But this year, I wrote it a little differently, and given all the complaining about ND's athletic funding policies I've done here (and here and here and here ... well, you get the picture), I wanted to share the how and why.

Those of you who read NDN (The Pit in particular) know the poster FontOKnow to be a quality contributor. He and I don't disagree on much, but our strongest arguments have been about my aforementioned criticisms. His believes I should put my money where my mouth is, saying if I organized a funding campaign via NDNation, I might see ND take some of the steps I've called for in revitalizing ND basketball's physical plant.

For the record, I still disagree with him on the general point. Even if I were to get people to pledge a million dollars over 10 or whatever years, the 70-100 rule would prevent ND from using that money for seven years, and by then, whatever had been planned would be almost a decade closer to obsolescence. Besides, as I've said many times, the fans of other sports at ND don't have to self-organize to see the playing and practice needs of their teams met, and the prospect of going hat-in-hand to ask ND to support a sport that makes money for the school, to be frank, pisses me off.

But I gave the matter some thought. For the last three years, I've been a member of the Sorin Society, meaning my gift to Notre Dame was unrestricted. And for the last three years, I've watched little to no progress on the Purcell Pavilion.

I decided that's inconsistent of me. As much as I don't like the way ND is handling this project, blogging about it don't feed the bulldog. I need to, as Font wanted, put some cabbage behind the rants, because every little leaf helps.

So that's what I did. My check for 2007 was restricted to the construction and maintenance of practice facilities for the Notre Dame basketball programs. Yes, I won't have improved access to football tickets next year, but I always seem to find some somehow. And if I don't, that's what bbdome's tailgater is for. Meanwhile, the project is infinitesimally closer to becoming a reality.

Who knows ... if enough of us infinitesims do the same thing........

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If you want something done right...'ve got to do it yourself. That's the best way to live your life, because if you're not going to look out for you, you can be damn sure no one else will.

Non-Irish fans get hot and bothered when we talk about ND's unique place in college sports, football in particular. But there are some ways in which that uniqueness must be acknowledged, even by the most virulent hater. And one of those ways is the school's relationships with other schools and conferences.

When it comes to football, Notre Dame is a Conference of One. As such, the person in charge of the Notre Dame athletic department must be both an athletic director and a conference commissioner. That person is responsible for protecting Notre Dame's best interests regardless of the situation, and must always take the necessary steps to provide that protection even if it means challenging relationships with friends.

But lately, it seems this vigilance is yet another victim to ND's jones for outsourcing important things.

Case in point: Stanford, and David Grimes' spectacular touchdown catch. I call it a TD catch because that's exactly what it was. It was called that way on the field, and all available video replays at worst showed nothing to contradict that call and at best clearly showed Grimes' hand under the ball as he hit the ground, making it a completely legal reception worth six points.

But in a stunning act of what could most generously be called ineptitude (and least generously something far more sinister), the Pac-10 crew in the video replay booth overturned the call made by the Big East referees. Citing some random video angle, to which the rest of the sports universe apparently lacks access, they decided all by themselves Notre Dame should have six fewer points in the game.

ND ended up winning, so one might be tempted to overlook the "error" as, in the end, not having mattered. I'm not tempted in that manner, however, because in a game won by a touchdown's margin, an error that grievous could have been very influential in determining the game's outcome. At some point, a similar error may cost Notre Dame a game, and it's hard to seek justice in that instance if you haven't sought it before.

So from where should this justice come? An admission of error would be a good start. Last season, when a similar officiating gaffe led to an undeserved victory by Oregon over Oklahoma, the Pac10 officials responsible received a suspension and the conference apologized to the OK program. I think that kind of public responsibility goes a long way towards preventing future problems.

Yes, ND still won the game, but the mistake was still one of high-magnitude and the players cheated out of their accomplishment still deserve the proverbial pound of flesh. Notre Dame's officials should be seeking that justice for their players and show those players that when they're wronged, their school has their back.

Trouble is, neither Kevin White nor anyone else at ND is doing that. Why, you ask? Because all officiating matters of this sort are arbitrated on our behalf by the Big East. You know, that conference we're not a member of in football, and whose interests in areas like bowl bids and national rankings more often than not conflict with what would benefit Notre Dame. They're in charge of determining if we were somehow damaged by officials' errors (or outright misconduct) and what, if anything, is done about it.

Since when is that someone else's job? Since now, I guess. I couldn't believe Notre Dame would be willing to kowtow and yield control over its own interests to that extent. But it was all confirmed for me in an email exchange with the ND athletic department.

I was told Notre Dame has to have a relationship with a league in the interest of getting officials to do its games, and this arrangement was all part of that relationship. Obviously ND found another way to do it for years and years when we didn't use Big East officials for our games, and I don't remember hiding under the skirts of the Integer when we were using (and getting screwed by) their crews.

I asked why, considering how the various conferences have interests and needs that conflict with ours, we didn't use neutral officials in all games. I was told using a neutral conference was "not realistic" because the conferences don't have extra officials "sitting around waiting to be assigned to games", and a neutral conference wouldn't have the incentive to send their best crews to do games outside the conference. Given the lack of consequence should the Big East not protect our interests, I'd rather take my chances of creating that incentive by paying neutral officials well than continue to hope for the Big East to get religion and cover our behinds (not that it should be their job to do that).

Official observers are at every game making sure there's no malfeasance, and ND's official position is our interests are protected. But when I asked what the point was of having this kind of relationship if the Big East wasn't going to bat for us, the response talked about politics and internal processes and how conferences aren't in the business of publicly acknowledging the mistakes of their referees. My position remains if the refs who screwed up so galactically in a potentially game-changing situation knew they'd face scrutiny for it, they'd take a lot more time to consider their decisions to make sure they got it right and a lot less time worrying about what the guys in the conference offices thought of how they "protected the family", so to speak.

Any ND fan worth his salt can point out instances of Pac-10 crews in the Coliseum bending the Irish over and taking away wins. Unfortunately, the Big East can't be trusted any more than the Pac-10 can, as our game against Pittsburgh in 2004 proves. And the next time the Integer goes to bat for us will be the first.

The days of conference affiliation for football officials has to end. They've made that change in basketball, which has a lot more refs participating in a lot more games for a lot more schools, and it's worked out very well. Take away even the hint of impropriety, and let the market and performance of the officials become the determining factor. Have the officials overseen by the NCAA to ensure what's best for the game takes precedent over what's best for the conference or an individual team.

Some program with strong cachet and a national bully pulpit should lead the charge for that reform. Too bad it can't be us -- we've rented our pulpit out.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

They Call Him The Streak

I'm not a superstitious man, although I understand why folks won't talk about no-hitters and the like while they're going on.

So I'll risk upsetting that group and the Sports Luck Deities and talk about the momentous event most likely taking place around 9pm on Saturday. When the Northern Illinois game ends, Mike Brey's squad hopefully will have set a new Joyce Center win streak record with their 25th straight victory in that duck-taped edifice.

A couple weeks back, I talked about the streak, and at the time, I didn't think much of it. But as the date drew nigh, I realized I didn't want to give Rob Kurz, Tory Jackson, Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney, and all their teammates short shrift if they were entitled to a taller one.

So I decided to set the wayback machine for February 3rd, 1973, the day the current record streak of 24 games started. The previous home game had been an 82-63 loss to UCLA, in which the Bruins had set a record of their own -- their 61st consecutive win. The streak started with a blowout of Xavier, 94-68, and the Fighting Irish held serve until Bob Knight's Hoosiers ran off a 94-84 win in December of 1974. Along the way, we had the big 71-70 win over UCLA and a 69-63 nailbiter against #5 Marquette. The undefeated-at-home season of 1973-74 was ND's first in 14 seasons.

So let's look at how the current streak compares:

Last season, ND went undefeated at home for only the second time since that 1973-74 slate (1985-86 was the other). That's a pretty damn good accomplishment. Some ND teams played tougher home schedules in those 33 seasons, but others didn't, and none of them pulled off what this team did in that third of a century.

ND went 684 days between losses back then. Assuming the record is set on Saturday, ND's last loss will have been 652 days prior. Not sure what that means other than this streak team played more home games in their seasons than the prior one.

It's hard to top UCLA as a crown jewel for the current run. But the 24-gamer had a total of four ranked teams -- #19 South Carolina, #1 UCLA, #5 Marquette, and #7 Kansas -- while the current streak features three -- #4 Alabama, #21 West Virginia, and #16 Marquette. Teams like DePaul and Villanova were victims in both streaks.

Any dispassionate analysis of both streaks would indicate the slate of the prior version was tougher overall, but it's not like the current streak was against Division II opponents. To that end, my prior commentary linked above was probably too harsh, not to mention incorrect ... Indiana and Kentucky weren't home games during that streak, and Michigan State wasn't ranked.

Mike Brey and the guys have worked hard to put this streak together, and a second look tells me there's more to it than I thought. I hope to be there on Saturday to cheer them on and celebrate the win, but if not, I'll be watching on UND and quaffing a beverage in their honor, and I'll catch them up at the San Francisco game.

Next on the docket: ND's overall home win streak record of 38 games, set by the 1943 through 1948 squads in the old Fieldhouse. If the Irish can finish this season undefeated at home as they did last season, they'll have won 37 in a row and can tie/break the overall record next year. To do so, they definitely will have earned it -- WVU, UConn, Marquette, Pitt and Syracuse stand in their way. We'll check back on this one in February.

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