Thursday, April 17, 2008


Yes, I made up a word. I do that sometimes. But I think it describes the 2008 Men's Basketball banquet perfectly.

Walking out of men's basketball banquets in the past, I've usually been left with the impression the banquet itself mirrored the personality of the team it celebrated in general and the seniors it honored in particular.

This year was no exception, and perhaps was the strongest example of that trend. Rob Kurz has always been a get-it-done, humble person who prefers the accolades to be aimed at his team rather than himself. Although from a technical perspective, this was among the most "advanced" hoops banquets I'd attended (multiple screens, good video production), the atmosphere was that of, for lack of a better phrase, a simple celebration of a group of players who have shown since August they like nothing better than each other's company.

Schedule conflicts meant I'd missed the last two banquets, so it's possible what I saw last night has been done before. But the sense of community on the team was unmistakable, with, as Jimmy Durante might have said, everybody wanting to get into the act. The individual awards were given away by the assistant coaches, including Gene Cross, who got emotional in his goodbye to Irish basketball. Rob Kurz spent his entire speech talking about everyone but himself. It seems everyone's response to a congratulations was "But did you see what [teammate] did?"

All that humility, however, was impregnated with what Sean Kearney described in a player as an "infectious enthusiasm". This "infectiasm", as I've dubbed it, applied to more than that player. Dr. Kevin White was more animated in his remarks than I've ever seen him at an ND function, commending the team for its accomplishments and expressing excitement at what next season may hold. ND president Fr. John Jenkins, who delayed his trip to see the Pontiff to make sure he'd have a chance to address this team, talked about the pride these young men should feel in themselves and we should feel in them, not only for what they've done but for what they're going to do.

This infectiasm is welcomed, because when a team accomplishes as much as this one has, it deserves the enthusiasm of its leaders and fans. Two straight seasons with no home losses, which hasn't happened since the 1940s, and a home court consecutive win record on the verge of falling. The third-most number of wins in a season in Notre Dame history, second in the modern era behind the 26-3 1973-74 squad. 18 Big East home wins in a row, which has only been bested by one team in the 30-year history of the conference, in an era where the Big East is among the (if not the) best conferences in the country. A two-time Big East Coach of the Year, and a sophomore Player of the Year. A second-place finish in the conference, and the best record in the conference since that disastrous 1-8 start two seasons ago.

Humble or not, this team and these coaches have a lot to be proud of, and it was good to see others taking pride in them.


Of course, it wouldn't be a basketball post from me without facilities comments.

I was disappointed last night arriving at the event to see no pictures or other renderings being displayed. Given that we're on the cusp of the nape of the precipice of the edge of getting started on this project, I would think they'd be all about showing off the plans.

My disappointment faded, though, as Associate AD Bill Scholl took to the mic to talk about the plans and what fans can expect.

(As an aside, this was a perfect example of the some-people-can't-joke-about-some-things philosophy. When former player and Monogram Club prez Marc Kelly joked that team orthopod Fred Ferlic had been with Notre Dame "since before we started fixing these seats with duct tape", it got a good laugh. When Bill Scholl talked about duct tape companies going out of business as a result of these renovations, on the other hand, a lot more silence. Players and fans can joke about the tape. Admins, on whose shoulders the responsibility rests to make the tape unnecessary, should not, especially with these upgrades as late as they are)

The presentation had plenty of pictures, including an alternate view of this shot. The new atrium has changed a bit from the original design, and meshes with the football stadium. The new area will be built out to the south of the JC, and seems to include a single entrance. The seats will be brought right to courtside, although Scholl didn't mention if students would be in those seats or not, and every seat will be a navy blue chairback.

My objections to the priorities of this project remain -- I'll happily remain in my bleacher seat if there were more in this effort that directly benefitted the student athletes. But hopefully that's to come, and if the pictures they showed last night come to fruition, Purcell Pavilion certainly will be a cleaner, nicer-looking place to watch a game.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Show Me the Money

My buddy Rock had a post today without comment. Rock is sometimes content to leave things unsaid. I, on the other hand, usually am not. That's a failing, I realize, but it makes me more fun at parties.

As I looked that ad over, skin crawling, I started to think about how the athletic department makes its money these days, and how it compares to days of yore.

When Kevin White arrived at ND, he had a reputation as a budget-balancer and fund-raiser. But we had an idea about the source of such acumen, and the good doctor has proven proficient in this regard. The Blue Gold game is now sponsored. Notre Dame now has "partners" and "teammates", not vendors. Only backlash from the old guard on campus prevents ads (and a video screen on which to show them) from showing up on the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium.

As we watch the Golden Dome being parceled out in this manner, one could reasonably ask: Where are the donation-driven finances for athletics? Why are we watching the Roman soldiers of commerce cast lots for Touchdown Jesus when ND has never wanted in the past? Back in the day, names like Rolfs, Loftus and Eck were lauded for stepping forward and making improvements to Irish sports possible with their generosity.

Where have all those flowers gone?

It's a lot more difficult to convince people to part with their money for the good feeling it engenders rather than the chance to put a label on something, and Kevin White is proving he's not up to that task. Think about what we've seen during his tenure:

  • The Gug. Built, to be sure, but so far behind schedule they had to break ground or risk losing the leadership gift that made it possible.

  • The Joyce Center. Six years late, even a leadership gift by Philip Purcell hasn't been enough to really get things rolling. They're breaking ground in September, but still a couple hundred thousand short according to reports.

  • The hockey project. An anonymous $15m gift (thanks to Coach Jackson, not AD White), and they're still $5m short of the goal.

  • The softball stadium. Made possible by the legal settlement following the sudden death of a former player. Not exactly standard fundraising fare, although God bless Melissa Cook's parents for their generosity in a time of great pain for them.

And that's it. Granted, you have the completed indoor golf facility and the soon-to-come crew boathouse. But on the grand scale, those are minor (though much-needed) projects rather than T. Boone Pickens-style windfalls.

What does it say about Kevin White's ability to schmooze alumni and friends of the athletic programs that Frank Eck, he of the tennis pavilion and baseball stadium that bear his name, and who seemed to always be there with a helping hand when Notre Dame needed him, gave over $41 million to Notre Dame during White's tenure ... with none of it going to to athletics, even with major projects looming and late?

We have a tardy basketball project that will end up spending more on a commercial Varsity Shop than on the student athletes. A hockey program coming off a title game appearance with the crappiest rink in just about any NCAA division. A championship-level Fencing program that practices in a virtual broom closet. A list of projects for track and field gathering dust on the drawing boards. And sports like tennis and baseball, recipients of previous gifts, whose physical plants are showing their age. All of which calls for a plan and for the solicitation of generous, Irish-minded folks who want to help make those projects happen.

And where is Kevin White, the alleged financial wizard? Putting another piece of Irish tradition on eBay on the cheap. Because when you do that, you don't have to demonstrate you understand Notre Dame as much as you understand how much someone will pay for part of it.

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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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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Raison D'Etre

Fred Thompson probably wasn't describing his foreign policy philosophy when he said, "Russians don't take a dump without a plan". But as I've noted previously, it's a good philosophy. Spending money without a well-conceived end in mind is money, as a red-headed friend of mine would say, flushed down the loo.

With the ND Board of Trustees meeting imminent, we probably stand to see some more details revealed about the Joyce Center project. We've already had the timeline announced, which is good progress in that we finally have some dates to work with. According to the article, the final design plans are being completed, which most likely means they're getting ready for admin blessing at either this BOT get-together or the Winter meetings (probably somewhere warm, they tend to trend that way).

With luck, those plans will be pleasing. But from reading what has been released so far, it's more like disconcerting. So I'm taking one last chance to review this hypothetical plan in the hopes of firming it up. If we can find the raison d'etre behind the expenditures, we can figure out the intent.

According to the article, ND is going to spend $26.3 million on this project. That's a significant outlay of cash, and while you could easily argue it's overdue, it's being spent now and probably represents a high water mark, of sorts, of expenditure on the basketball program for the foreseeable future. Logic dictates this money be directed towards the neediest needs of the program, in order of priority in the overall plan. So let's examine what the neediest needs apparently are:

The first phase of the project, to begin next September, involves construction of a new three-story structure at the south end of the arena. That structure will include a new two-story lobby, the Notre Dame ticket operations (approximately 4,500 square feet) and a varsity shop to sell apparel and souvenirs (approximately 3,000 square feet), in addition to a new club seating and hospitality area.

According to this, ND is going to create a huge atrium to house tickets sales and a store to sell things and a club area where people will pay a premium to have dedicated concessions and a view of the game. If logic dictates the important things be done first, all three of these most important things have only one thing in common: revenue generation.

A major ND policy shift is driven by the desire to wring more dollars out of the fans. Color me shocked.

No doubt, the ticket processing areas at ND are more than outdated (just like the rest of the Joyce Center), and Josh Berlo and his outstanding crew have needed extra space and overall upgrades for a long time. But that has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, other than making it slightly easier for people to walk up and buy tickets. Their current space isn't big enough to do anything basketball-related, so vacating it will not benefit the program. In fact, due to its positioning in the JC right next to the Athletic Director's offices, it'll benefit Kevin White most of all by giving him more cubicle space to usurp.

There's already two varsity shops in the Joyce Center, one in the North Dome and one between the domes. I can understand them wanting more space for the one adjacent to the basketball area because it's a little small, and chances are the North Dome one will be affected by the hockey upgrades. But it's not like the lines during basketball events are oppressive. With the plethora of ND home basketball games, combined with the fact ND hoops fans tend to be local, I don't see a huge uptick in tchochke sales simply because the venue is more airy. Of how many of those 20 opportunities to buy a Notre Dame keychain does Kevin think the season ticket holders will avail themselves?

I've wanted to get the fat-cat no-shows out of the gold loge seats for long and long, and if the "new club seating and hospitality area" gets that done, it's probably a good thing. But should it be among the highest priorities? Not when the team practices in a cinder-block basement.

The article doesn't mention how much money is going to be spent on those three endeavors. But right out of the gate, they're going to spend money and time on things that won't benefit basketball in any way, shape, or form. Ticket Sales' physical plant is a cost center. Knick-knack hucksterism is rampant enough at football games, and the local fans are unlikely to make it a consistent stop. And the "club area" will benefit 10 percent of the attendees, most of whom don't make a lot of effort to support the team as it is.

So here we are well into 2008, according to this timeline, and we have yet to spend a dollar on something beneficial to the basketball program. Doesn't sound like a basketball project to me.

Replacement of the Joyce Center arena seating, including installation of chair-back seating throughout the arena, is expected to take place after the University's Commencement Exercises in May 2009. The project is scheduled for completion in January 2010. The arena is expected to re-open by mid-October 2009, in time for the start of the men's and women's basketball seasons and the end of the women's volleyball season.

Finally, a basketball benefit, starting 18 months from now, so Gody and his classmates might get to play a game or two there before they graduate. Certainly a key benefit, as permanent seating, while reducing overall capacity, will make the overall fan experience better. The JC doesn't have a bad seat in the house, and now those seats will look and work better. It'll also serve to keep more of the noise in the arena, since the concrete on which the seats will sit will serve as a stronger noise barrier and prevent the sound from escaping out into the concourses.

But so far, that's it. Nothing about practice facilities, floor area improvements (aka Chuck the Duck(tape)), press technology, or relocation of the student seats, all of which should jump in front of ticket offices, club seating, and another on-campus Barnes and Noble when it comes to how $26.3 million should be spent.

And the estimated timeline is squirrelly as well. I believe eight months to be an incredibly ambitious time frame for getting the project done, particularly if they plan to reopen the arena in mid-October and have basketball games there in December and January (which makes the meat of the project a five-month effort). A much better idea would be to ask the Big East to front-load the men's and women's home schedules in the 2008-09 season and start on the project the minute the whistle blows to end the last home game. I understand it would mean relocating Commencement and all its related activities out of the arena for one year, but that's what we have Notre Dame Stadium for. Besides, if they believe they can have basketball games while finishing this project up, why couldn't they suspend construction for Commencement?

I realize practice facilities can now be put on the potential donor list, particularly once they've figured out how much of the North Dome the hockey project will take. But that still means a critical need is stacked behind the alleged dollar generators, which is a bass-ackward methodology. How long is it going to take them to draw the line bisecting the dome? I'd like to think it'd be done by May of 2009.

What we've seen of the plan so far makes it abundantly clear its author is not focused on what will make Notre Dame basketball better but rather on trying to wring as much money out of the program as he can. Recruits who come on visits will not be impressed by a ticket office. Coaches who ND wants to employ really don't give a damn about T-shirt sales. They want to know they'll be spending their time, both in games and outside them, with quality places to meet, watch film, train, practice, and become top-flight participants in a top-flight program.

ND basketball's physical plant has been overdue for an upgrade for decades. They get $26 million dollars, and the results, seemingly, will be a store, a cool ticket window, and a place for rich guys to sip lattes. There's much wrong with that picture.

I read a lot of interviews of Kevin White on various topics in various media outlets. Next time one of the media creatures has a chance, perhaps at Basketball Media Day on Wednesday, I hope one of them has the chance to ask him about this basketball master plan and why he decided these revenue-centric boondoggles were more important to the program than the things players and coaches care about.

I doubt I'll like the answer, but hope springs eternal.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Mr. Ambassador

Had that dream again ... you know, the one where you're looking for the room your final exam is in but you don't know where it is and you didn't go to the class all semester but it's too late to drop the class? But it always seems worse when I have it, because in addition to looking for the exam I know about, it's always Tuesday in the dream, meaning I missed at least one exam I didn't know about. Fell asleep in front of the TV, and "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" was on when I woke up, so that might have done it.

Anyway, NDGravy went to an Alumni Club meeting last night, and usually the best info comes out of those Q&A's, especially when Doug Marsh is involved. Since posts age off NDN after a while, I want to make sure what he said gets saved:

Doug Marsh was there to talk about construction on campus. I talked with him briefly at the end of the night and here is what he had to say regarding construction at the JACC:

1. The expansion of the South Dome will begin next fall. This will include the new entrance where current Gate 10 is, as well as the ticket box office, etc.

2. After commencement after the 2008-2009 season, the entire arena make over will occur. This will include moving seating court side (including students?) and moving the press up to a press box area. All chairs will be replaced and made a uniform color at that time. This should be complete by October 15 for basketball practice for the 2009-2010 season.

3. $15 million for hockey is first "real" gift. They still need another $15 million to get to the point of doing the new arena within arena in the North Dome. Of course, I don't quite know how much knowledge Marsh has on the actual fund raising, but he believed the North Dome was two years off.

4. With the space left in the North Dome, plans are currently there to start fund raising for practice courts only after the hockey arena is finished. So I am guessing 3 -4 years out.

I am not going to act like I am an expert or have any real knowledge about what is going on, but that is what I got from Marsh at the end of a presentation he did regarding construction of campus. Thought I would pass it along as it is very pertinent to the current topic of conversation.

Pertinent indeed, and very much worth discussing.

The South Dome project will have multiple phases. I'm not surprised the exterior phase will start first, since that can go on independent of any other events going on at the arena. Unfortunately, it's also the phase I find to be the most superfluous to the true needs of the program, but c'est la vie.

On the one hand, I'm glad the interior makeover (the meat of the project) will start in reasonably short order. I'm concerned, however, they believe they can wait until the third Sunday of May to start and yet still expect it to be finished by October 15th. I don't imagine replacing the seats would take a long time, but there's also the task of putting permanent seating in place of the bleachers, as well as creating this "press box area" (which would have to be much larger than the crow's nest seats behind Section 101, and all the other things supposedly in the plan. That's all going to get done in five months?

Five months is not a long time for a renovation that is supposed to make a huge difference in the appearance of the Joyce Center. As comparison, Stanford's $30m renovation of their Maples Center in 2004 (which, to be clear, created an excellent space) started on March 1st and took nine months. While they finished slightly ahead of schedule, it's always better to be safe than sorry. What happens if things run long or the plans change? It's not like you can suddenly move home basketball games. I had figured ND would ask the BE to front-load the home schedule that season to enable the earliest start date possible and move graduation activities to the Stadium or Century Center for one year. God bless 'em if they can get quality work done in that time, but it's going to remain a concern.

On to the last point. Again, on the one hand, the fact that the fundraising arm of the projects knows how necessary practice facilities are is a good thing. However, I do not like the statement that fundraising for those facilities won't even begin until the hockey work is complete (assuming that's true). That's incredibly short-sighted. I understand not starting construction, but not even starting the fundraising? Considering this group took eight years to get the original project funded, I really don't want to wait another three to even start asking for money for an even more crucial effort.

But as the old saying goes, ask and ye shall receive. No sooner did I begin typing this section, than former hoops walk-on Khadaffi had a brilliant suggestion:

Mike Brey has actually been quite good about trying to build a sense of camaraderie among alums of the program. During football season (a tip of the cap to the reality that very few basketball alums will trek to So. Bend during the winter -- and certainly not en masse), MB hosts gatherings. But MB has a day job. He is not and should not be the lead fundraiser. The recent tribute to the top all-time players (many were named by you) was also a good event. There remains a need for a pied piper -- someone within the University framework who can work with Mike Brey and the fund-raising infrastructure.

A truly excellent suggestion. And I have the perfect guy in mind: LaPhonso Ellis.

All things equal, the best candidate for that position would be a former coach, preferably retired. Unfortunately, ND isn't in a good position there. Digger tends to be either incredibly popular or incredibly unpopular with folks, and a polarizing figure such as he would be a bad choice. John MacLeod is still employed in the league, and isn't a good candidate for such a position anyway. Matt Doherty barely had a cup of coffee with the program, and all the other possibilities are deceased. So that route isn't available.

If it's going to be a player, Phonz is, as the radio ads say, the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. He carried the flag for ND in the NBA for years during the Decade of Dereliction on campus. He's already involved with the program via his radio gig. He's an incredibly engaging personality who seems like he'd be at home in a boardroom, a classroom, or a living room. He represents the best ND has to offer both on the court and off, and if someone like him can't sell the virtues of ND's basketball program, no one can.

The various SNAFUs with the current Joyce Center project have shown how badly ND basketball needs an ambassador. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have in the job than Phonz.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Same Old, Same Old

As I've said before, it's never a good thing when someone starts an email warning you you're going to get pissed.

But a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine on campus sent me one warning that the hockey program had received a $15 million donation towards their facility upgrade from [name redacted], but they weren't going to announce it just yet because there was concern how Mike Brey and Muffet McGraw would react to hockey getting their nest egg filled before basketball.

At first, I was more sanguine. Hockey's current playing area is a complete dump and needs an upgrade more than the hoops side does (which is really saying something). The price tag I was quoted for the arena-within-arena project was $15 to $20m, so this would mean their project is funded and attention can once again be put towards getting the last few hundred thousand so ground can be broken on the basketball project. It's not the hockey program's fault there's a well-to-do subway alumnus who likes Jackson and the job he's doing (although one wonders where the hoops version is, considering it's been more popular for much longer at ND).

Then I heard the budget for the project had jumped from $15m to $25 or $30m. No problem, I thought. The practice facilities ND needs for basketball will cost somewhere around $10m to really do right, so maybe they've decided to reward Mike and Muffet for their patience and make that part of the North Dome renovation.

Then I read this, specifically:
It turns out that the $15 million price tag was only for the base model of a new arena. A juiced-up model, one with all the bells and whistles of an elite national program, goes for considerably more -- actually, about $10 million to $15 million more.

Let me get this straight, thought I. They have full funding to give a non-revenue-producing sport a good-quality arena. But instead, they're going to go out and find a couple more million (or tens of millions) to "juice it up" and give it "bells and whistles". It'll still be an arena-within-an-arena, just like the original plan, but now it's going to have bling out the wazoo even though the R.O.I calculations on the project will get even worse. Meanwhile, the project to give a revenue-producing sport it's first meaningful physical plant upgrade in 40 years continues to languish for want of $700,000, and that plan still won't include the desperately-needed practice facilities.

And my head exploded.

The good news, if there is any, is they won't be taking up the entire North dome. They'll still be in half of it, but it'll be permanent space. This means, hopefully, there's still room to put the practice facility in there, which is the optimal solution, provided the same fundraising apparatus that can't come up with $700,000 for the arena can get the money for it.

But that's all the good news to be had here for hoops fans, as we watch our pays-for-itself program get cut off by yet another money-losing Olympic sport at the funding trough. Golf has that all-weather driving range that's so critical to their success. Hockey will now be getting "bells and whistles". And if the rumors I hear are true, women's crew (a sport barely above club-level) will be getting a boathouse at a cost somewhere (perhaps significantly) north of a million dollars.

All while basketball practices in a columned concrete box in the Joyce Center basement with no weight or training machines, and plays in an arena whose floor is held down by duck tape, whose seats are worn, whose concessions and bathrooms are 25 years out of date, whose press facilities aren't even high school level, and whose latest locker room upgrades are almost a decade old and were only done because the previous coach threatened to quit if they weren't.

I've long said one of the reasons I want Mike Brey to succeed at ND is to prove that nice guys don't always finish last. But I think, in this area, that's working against him. He and Muffet have been waiting eight years for these promised upgrades ... way too long for a project that will not include practice digs, will still have wires going across the floor, and will focus more on the fat cats in luxury suites than the players toiling on the court.

So if I were Mike and Muffet, I would walk into Kevin White's office and inform him on January 1st, there's going to be a press conference down there on the Joyce Center's (inadequate) floor, at which one of two things are going to happen:

1) He will be announcing the timetable for a fully-funded and ready-to-start renovation of the basketball facilities at Notre Dame, which will include not only the long-promised seat replacements and improvements to the arena physical plant but also practice space and dedicated weight and training areas for both basketball teams.

2) They will be announcing their joint resignations as head coach for Notre Dame's basketball programs, explaining that after being lied to for eight years about the plans for the program's future, they could no longer see their way clear to working for a school that obviously doesn't care about basketball. After said conference, they and their agents would be placing calls to every coach they know warning them about the lack of support they'd receive if they took a job in South Bend.

It's time to take the gloves off. It's time for the school to explain to long-suffering basketball fans why they can't figure out how to get money raised for the second-most popular sport at ND. To explain why there aren't even architectural drawings yet for a project that has been on the boards for over eight years. To explain what it is about all these in-the-red Olympic sports that makes them more deserving of multi-million-dollar projects than a basketball program that actually would have a chance of paying for their upgrades over time.

We want to know, Kevin. We deserve to know. What's your answer?

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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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Monday, March 05, 2007

A Thousand Words

A poster on NDN shared a slide show the participants at JPW saw a few weekends ago concerning the "campus plan" and everything in the short and long term that will be built or improved on campus.

One of the pictures in that show, graciously extracted by FontOKnow, shows the new Joyce Center interior. I'd put a copy of it here, but it's too big to effectively show.

Lots and lots to like:

Enclosed arena. Part of the problem with the noise level in the JC is the open upper concourse, which allows sound to escape into the rest of the building where it does no one any good. Enclosing the arena will help to keep the sound where it belongs and helps.

Permanent seating of a uniform, dark color. Looks much cleaner (and better) both in person and on television, not to mention making a better fan experience.

Unobtrusive video scoreboard. Keeping them at the edges of the arena allows everyone to see them while not affecting television coverage or views of the overall arena from all seats. I also like they're keeping the traditional "over the exits" boards.

Loge seating that doesn't disrupt sightlines. Instead of being at half court where everyone can see if they don't show up, the box seating is now in the first part of the upper level where no one but them will know if they're there.

Down-to-sidelines seating. The free space around the court is effectively filled, with the press under the basket and seats on the sidelines coming all the way down to the playing area. This will make the arena look a lot more intimate (and, hopefully, intimidating).

Edit #2: A clean, standardized floor. The floor in this rendition looks very clean and uniform. One hopes a part of the plan is to get rid of the Foxworthy-esque "working floor on top of the non-working floor" setup and install the quality floor as it should have been from the get-go.

One thing I can't quite tell from the picture is seating level. It looks, to my untrained eye, like the concrete barriers behind the current floor-level seating have been closed (if not pushed back a couple of rows) and the seats behind them raised slightly. If that's the case, it could mean availability for student seating courtside, but we'll have to see.

Edit: What I find interesting is the placement of the loge section. Previous pictures had the raised seating section, but also had glass "skyboxes" under them. This picture doesn't show them, but rather shows concrete. If those seats are really raised that high, you could easily put the student section along the sidelines all the way up to the upper concourse. Again, we'll have to see.


Friday, March 02, 2007

If You Build It....

I was at SportClips last night with my son, and while he was getting his haircut, I took a few moments to admire both the huge-screen television they had in their waiting room and the men's basketball game playing on it.

Virginia and Dave Leitao, to whom I gave much consideration for Coach of the Year on my USBWA ballot before voting for Kevin Stallings, took down Virginia Tech and Seth Greenberg (another coach doing an outstanding job) in their new John Paul Jones Arena. During the half hour or so of game coverage I watched, the WWL took a few seconds to pan through the new practice courts connected to the arena, one and a half of which, according to the UVirginia site, is available for each basketball team at all times.

I know this is usually where the article turns into a rant, but relax: that won't be the case this time.

For about five minutes, I decided to check out the arena rather than the game. Virginia had been mentioned on the list of quality physical plants on The Pit, so I wanted to check it out more fully to see if it was a good template for Notre Dame. Could or should Notre Dame build its own JPJA?

At the end of that five minutes, I concluded: No, they should not. And here's why.

As I've pontificated on numerous occasions, Notre Dame basketball has a rich tradition on ND's campus, and, current waffling notwithstanding, can and should enjoy strong fan support. But the JPJA seats almost 16,000, which I don't believe is a good option for ND. That would be a good 4,000 seats over the high end I think ND could consistently fill, assuming all other program support is maxed out as it should be. Crowd size for alternate acts that would appear there does not enter in to my calculus, because the fact it would be sold out for a U2 concert or whatever doesn't help ND's home court advantage.

I've checked every campus map I can, and I'm still unsure where a new building could be put that would keep it within the "athletic footprint" currently on campus. I don't want basketball/volleyball student-athletes walking all the way out to Angela and 933, and that land isn't an option anyway. Ditto Stepan Center. And wherever you build the thing, you'll have to provide plenty of parking, and you wouldn't be able to utilize the Joyce Lot to their fullest extent. Lots of fans walking a long way is not the preferred method to drum up program support.

Yes, I still believe there's economies of scale for a new arena versus a refurbishment. However, I'm coming around to the redo idea, provided they include the practice facilities so sorely needed for the student-athletes. It stems from what about the renovations is important and not important to improving the fan experience.

That Which Is Not Important:

The facade. I really hope ND doesn't spend a lot of money changing the exterior of the Joyce Center. It's not like the building is an eyesore for the grounds or anything like that. The brick is in good shape, and the design is not philosophically offensive. As long as the interior changes don't require modification to the outside, it should stay the way it is.

The capacity. I realize much has been made of the 1,600 or so seats that will be lost converting the bleachers to chairbacks. I don't think it'll be a problem, however. For the basketball games, it makes for a tougher ticket, which makes for a more involved fan who had to work a little harder to get to the game. For non-hoops games (which, as I said, isn't on my concern list for this), it may not be tough either. ND just announced their graduate and doctoral graduation will now be separate from the undergrad, eliminating 500 or so graduates and 1,000 spectators from the Commencement ceremony.

The seating arrangements. No need to rehash this again. ND needs the biggest bang for its buck, and the important stuff should be fully funded out before any money is spent on moving constituents around.

That Which Is Important (after practice/lounge space, of course):

The entranceways. The double-door setup creates confusion and long lines. It would be nice if there were more waiting space out of the elements for fans attending games. The placement of the ticket windows between the doors is a poor choice as well, as lines to purchase tickets have to mingle with lines to enter the arena.

The interior aesthetics. While seats are seats and a floor is a floor, it's important those seats and that floor look professional. The garish color scheme and poor condition of the seats don't accomplish that. Nor does the raised aspect of the floor and the oft-mentioned duct tape holding it down. All the seats should be replaced with a standard Navy blue, and the floor should be dug up and installed correctly, with all wiring and whatnot professionally "hidden" instead of snaking around the sidelines.

The bathrooms, concourses and concessions. More stalls and a better sink-to-stall ratio are the way to go here. The redone bathrooms in ND Stadium can provide a good template (minus the stadium-wide flooding on the first day, naturally). Wider halls can better accommodate fans, as can better mobility between levels (i.e. ramps, escalators). Instead of carting food from across the street, the concessions in the Joyce Center should be better organized and capable of producing their own product. A broader range of choices makes for a better fan experience, which makes for more fans wanting to enjoy that experience.

The loge location. Thank goodness it doesn't show up on TV because it's below the camera views, but the consistent poor attendance in the gold loge section must be addressed. While people may not be thrilled spending money to set up a "luxury box" section, if it puts the empty seats in an area no one will see or care about while putting fans in that lower arena space, it's money well spent filling a gap. If it means the resulting space can be raised to accomodate some sideline student seating, so much the better.

Links to the past. People may hate the idea of a video board, but if it can show AC highlights or big games like USF to remind the fans of the rich history ND basketball enjoys, I'll deal with the occasional ad. I'm not a big fan of the video-ring-around-the-arena you see in most places these days, and thank goodness ND's structure seems to preclude such a possibility. But what I would like to see is a Ring of Fame or some such device to celebrate the players who helped make ND basketball what it is today. You have a ready-made seeding group in the All-Century team. Bring those guys back, put their names in the rafters, show their accomplishments on the big screen, and remind the students and fans what ND basketball means.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Windfall Redux

A few months back, you might remember I got a little miffed at the ND administration for passing up a JACC funding opportunity. In fact, it was so nice I did it twice.

That was actually the second swing and miss. The first was the allocation of the windfall profit from the sale of WNDU completely to the endowment, meaning none was available to fund this long-overdue project. I'm pretty sure I wrote about that at some point, but can't find it at the moment.

But now I, like ND, have a second chance, because another windfall has come ND's way. Thanks to Google's purchase of YouTube (and the prescience of Scott Malpass, I guess), ND has just fallen bass-ackwards into $18.8 million.

No conditions on this income, like the whole "WNDU supported the endowment so the sale proceeds should go there" thing. This is straight-up manna from Heaven. Big time "is that a wallet there in the gutter?" stuff.

Meanwhile, Mike Brey and Jeff Jackson should be wiping the drool from their chins over this. $18.8 mil could not only complete the funding requirements of both the Joyce Center redo and the also-promised hockey upgrades, there'd likely be enough left over to complete the trifecta (or at least get pretty close to it) and give the basketball/volleyball teams the practice facilities in the North Dome they need.

Three birds with one stone, and it won't cost ND a dime in lost fund-raising or other opportunities. The guy from that mortgage company is wrong -- THIS is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part I: Basketball School

Notre Dame is a basketball school.

Or at least it used to be.

Alumni and fans of recent vintage probably have a hard time believing that, but it's true. I spent three years of my life proving it.

But history only goes so far, and as the arguments on the Pit the last couple of months have shown, a lot of fans of the basketball program have wandered away over the years since the Fighting Irish were last consistent winners. Whether it was because of never regaining interest after the debacle of the 1990s, or the lack of consistent success since then, the flower of hoops fandom is not flourishing and lacks the strong roots it once had.

There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I'll address in the coming days, but the reason I will fight to my dying breath is the excuse that "we're a football school", which somehow excuses a lack of enthusiasm for basketball on Notre Dame's campus.

I would hope Florida's victory last season in the NCAA tournament would put that lame rationalization to rest. The most football-crazy school in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation won the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and no one cried they couldn't get to games because "we're a football school". That they are now the first school to hold the men's hoops and football titles simultaneously is proof positive success in one area does not preclude success in the other.

In short, "football school" is the result of lazy thinking and half-assed analysis.

In fact, let's take a look at the latest AP polls for hardwood and gridiron and see if we can find some overlap:

Florida (#1 football, #2 basketball)
Ohio State (#2 football, #5 basketball)
LSU (#3 football, #13 basketball)
Wisconsin (#7 football, #3 basketball)
West Virginia (#10 football, #21 basketball)
Texas (#13 football, #25 basketball)
Notre Dame (#17 football, #21 basketball)

And this doesn't count teams that received votes in the hoops poll like USC (#4 football) and Arkansas (#15 football) or teams that received votes in the football poll like Texas A&M (#8 basketball) or even also-rans in both polls like Maryland.

Over a quarter of the poll. That's a significant overlap.

Granted, there are some things ND can't do. For example, all of the other schools on the overlap list are state institutions (some in more ways than one). They have large student bodies and a large alumni base within a reasonable drive. Therefore, it's possible for them to show strong support for midweek games without having to depend on non-alumni fans. There's nothing ND can do about that (but then again, ND has always had that disadvantage, and was able to overcome it before).

But the other thing those schools are doing is supporting their programs with money as well as bodies, and God knows ND and its $3.4 billion endowment can do plenty about that.

The facilities list we had thumbtacked on The Pit prior to the renovation announcements featured most of those schools prominently. In the lead by far is Florida, which has spent $22.5 million in the past 10 years on their basketball facilities. Ohio State and Wisconsin both play in state-of-the-art facilities less than 10 years old. Texas built a new practice facility and renovated their arena in the last five years. LSU has had renovation projects going on for the last three seasons. West Virginia is in the final stages of a capital plan to completely revamp their hoops offerings.

Each of those schools made the decision to have a championship-level basketball program, and each of those school put their money where their mouths are.

ND has announced the renovations project, and that's certainly good. But we're still sitting on the damn funding, and there's still no release of concrete plans months after the project was allegedly kicked off.

And now, we have rumors flying around of a new hockey rink. If (and it's a big "if") that results in the basketball programs getting room in the North Dome for the practice facilities they still need, it's palatable. Not arousing, but palatable. But trust me, gentle readers, nothing is going to push me over the edge faster than a cost-center sport with no tradition getting a fully-funded state-of-the-art arena while a profit-center sport still goes begging.

Because that will lead to some very awkward questions I don't think anyone on Juniper Road is prepared to answer.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

70-100 Percent Wrong

Jason Kelly takes up the cause of the JC upgrades today, and as usual, did a bang-up job. He notes the lack of initiative taken by the ND administration in cases of athletic infrastructure needs, illustrated by things like the use of Fiesta Bowl funding (broken out in a previous blog entry here), taking them to task for the financial brinksmanship that seems to be the rule of the road on the east side of Juniper.

The details from Kelly's column are the best evidence yet that the University's 70-100 fundraising commitment is a poor strategy for operating an institute of higher learning in the 21st Century, particularly an institution as financially strong as Notre Dame. The school's athletic programs are cast in a poor light by the miserly attitudes of its administrative leaders, which can have both short- and long-term deleterious effects.

For those unfamiliar with the rule, Notre Dame's 70-100 funding philosophy says no physical plant project can begin until 70 percent of its budgeted cost is in hand via donation and 100 percent of its cost is pledged. For example, if Notre Dame is to spend $25 million on a Joyce Center basketball court upgrade, the project cannot begin until donors have pledged the full $25 million and Notre Dame has received $17.5 million of those promised funds. This means even if the project has $24.9 million promised to it, nothing is going to happen until that last $100,000 is accounted for.

For a school that boasts one of the largest endowments in the world and, thanks to wunderkind Scott Malpass, typically receives one of the best annual returns on investment for that endowment, their reluctance to engage in a much-needed improvement over such a relatively paltry sum is embarassing to me as an alumnus.

According to quotes from Kevin White in Kelly's column, Notre Dame is less than two million dollars short of the needed total for the Joyce Center upgrades. The same school that probably earned in the neighborhood of $300,000 this Spring in interest on its football ticket lottery proceeds is suddenly rooting through the pockets of its laundry in search of forgotten bills to make the JC project go. Never mind that the basketball teams pay for themselves and also return some money to the school coffers ... income that could go up significantly if the teams' performances improve. No risk allowed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dome, Jeff Jackson and his top-five hockey squad await the quality rink that was promised to the coach when he arrived in South Bend two years ago. (Don't hold your breath, Jeff; Mike Brey's been waiting seven and Muffet McGraw longer than that.) That project, according to reports, will run $15 million, and might have an effect on hoops as well, as there's talk of using the other half of the north dome for eagerly-awaited practice facilities for both the men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams. But they, too, must obey the 70-100 directive.

Faint heart never won fair lady. And weak commitment never won basketball games.

I was really jazzed up when the announcement for the JC project was made, and even more encouraged when it was made clear ND wasn't going to ignore the need for things on the practice side. But here we are, two months later, and we're still at Square One. I wasn't expecting the bleachers to be torn out by now, but I was expecting some kind of progress towards the end result. Instead, ND is wringing its hands over an endowment rounding error.

This isn't a community college here, kids. I don't want to read articles canonizing Malpass right next to whining about donation schedules. ND is supposed to be a leader, so let's get to it.

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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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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.


Friday, September 15, 2006

My Message to Garcia

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

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

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

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

Dear Kevin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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

Sincerely yours,

Mike Coffey, '91

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


Sunday, September 10, 2006

I Can't Get No.....

Last week, I talked about how my satisfaction with Notre Dame's plan for basketball facilities would depend on the degree to which it addressed the student athletes' needs rather than revenue generation. I'm disappointed to report in the wake of ND's big football win over the Penn State Nittany Lions, I received news that indicates I will not be even remotely satisfied. It seems once again Notre Dame will prostrate itself at the altar of revenue generation at the expense of tradition and good business sense.

Any time I greet someone at a tailgate party and his first words are, "You're gonna be pissed", I know I'd better have a beer handy. But I was unprepared for the degree of not-good I was going to get from my friend in ND's development office on Saturday morning.

He started with the good news. The Joyce Center upgrades are indeed a done deal, he told me, with the announcement coming shortly. I was gratified to hear they were finally going to get moving, and internally wondered why he expected me to be pissed.

Then came the bad news: The planned upgrades will have minimal changes to the practice venues because the entire focus of the project is revenue generation -- so much so that part of the plan is to put a new section on the back of the building for hockey in hopes it will become a new revenue-generating sport. The locker room spruce-up back in 1999, according to the planners, is all the creature comfort modification basketball requires.

I hold out hope my guy was operating with outdated or inaccurate info, even though he's been very accurate in the past. But if this ends up being what is announced, I lack the vocabulary to express my disappointment.

There's a reason Kentucky is building a new practice venue for their players. There's a reason Duke continues to play in dated Cameron Indoor Stadium while their players enjoy the ir own space Schwartz/Butters Athletic Center for meetings and other off-court needs. There's a reason St. John's built Taffner Fieldhouse rather than create a home arena for their games. The powers that be at those schools are wise in their operation of their basketball program and know just as well as I do that in hoops today, it's recruiting uber alles, and players are going to go where they feel the most love.

If ND plan does not include improvements to the every-day environment for its players, that plan is ultimately doomed to failure. What will the coaching staff tell recruits who have just come to South Bend after visits to Duke and Texas and tours of their palatial practice facilities? When those recruits ask where the player lounge is or the meeting rooms or the weight training equipment, what will the response be? "Well, the people who come to watch you will have cushy seats"? Good luck with that.

Sure, they should clean up the bad seats and eliminate the high-school-style bleachers. Sure, they should get the floor set up in such a way that they don't have to tape it down. Sure, a video screen and modern scoreboard would be nice. All those things should have been done long ago.

But in the current atmosphere of college basketball, all those things need to take a back seat to practice facilities. That ND's recruiting opponents have done a better job of keeping up the general physical plant and are better able to respond to this need doesn't mean Notre Dame can ignore the reality of the situation.

And the reality is this: No one comes to games because of their seats or the type of nachos they get. No one comes to watch the video screen. They come to see wins, pure and simple. So any money spent on things that affect wins in a tangential fashion at best is money wasted, and money spent on things that will be used as a precursor to ticket price increases or the reinstatement of paid parking is even worse.

There's a potential silver lining here. If hockey is moved out of the north dome, you've got a huge space that, because of all the rec sports space available on campus, is completely wasted. That's a lot of space that could be utilized for something of quality that will show basketball recruits ND is serious about them and their success rather than the money they can bring to the school. All it'll take is someone in the Notre Dame athletics administration with vision and courage and a desire to build a strong foundation for a strong program rather than an obsession with revenue generation.

I'm not holding my breath.


Friday, September 01, 2006

In My House?

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter what, this will be an interesting season.