Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's About Common Sense

If you'll excuse me one (hopefully) final post on the current rule enforcements at ND, I'd like to share some prose with you. As much as I'd like to take credit, it comes courtesy of NDN poster Irish Apache. Posts come and go, but blog entries are forever, and I felt this deserved a wider and more permanent audience.

In September of 2000, I sat in the auditorium of the New York City Police Academy with about 500 other fresh faced rookie cops. After seven and a half months of training, we were only about three weeks from graduating.

The class would be hitting the streets at which time, undoubtedly, the precinct commanders would utilize these fledgling officers to generate a large portion of their measurable activity. This has been the way of things for some time in the NYPD -- new officers are given high demands for summonses and arrests because it is both part of their training and their probationary status dictates increased compliance with the general directives of their supervisors. Precinct Commanders love rookie cops. By leaning on them to churn out summonses and arrests, a Commanding Officer can make himself look good in the eyes of the Department hierarchy.

It was this general policy that was the topic of a stirring lecture in that auditorium eight years ago. However, the presentation was not delivered by the Police Academy staff. All instructors and supervisors had quietly left the room knowing in advance the content of the lecture we were about to receive -- an action which was actually a silent affirmation of the upcoming message. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (the union) was there to address us and one particularly large and portly veteran delegate took the stage.

"I’m here today to talk to you, because at this point everybody in this room has made it through the academy and will be graduating," his voice boomed. "In three weeks, you will be out on the streets ... no more silly gray academy uniform, you will be wearing blue, and with this transition comes an increased responsibility.

"In your actions you will be representing the City of New York, the Department, and your fellow Officers. Particularly, as rookies, there will be a lot asked of you. You are going to be asked to write a lot of summonses and make a lot of arrests. Because of this demand, and because you will now be representing your fellow officers, I came here today to talk to you and teach you the Secret of Law Enforcement.

"It’s simple: It’s about common sense.

"Go out there and write your summonses and make your arrests, but dammit, be smart about it. For better or for worse, the public will associate your actions with not just yourself, but every other cop on this job. One of you screwing up makes the rest of us look bad!

"When you are out there generating your activity, realize that your most powerful tool for public relations is your discretion. You did not come here to be revenue generators or nannies; you came here to be cops. Remember this when targeting your enforcement.

"A good cop does not take the easy road and enforce every violation he sees. Rather, a good cop takes action when he thinks his action will make a positive impact on this city. I’m telling you that there are a lot of good people in this city and you're not there to make their lives more difficult. It’s about common sense.

"Don’t go and write easy parking tickets to the truck drivers, deliverymen, and the contractors who try to do business in the city. They are the working men who make this city move and they deserve better.

"Don’t go and pull a guy or woman over in their car and write them a moving violation when their kids are in the car with them. Parents are heroes in their kids’ eyes, and you are not there to tear them down with a lousy ticket.

"Don’t target the expensive car because you figure the owner can afford to pay a fine. There is a good chance that owner worked very hard for that nice car and he does not deserve to be punished because of it.

"Do find that group of drug dealers on the corner and be merciless with your enforcement. Hit them with every violation you can apply and take back that corner.”

The PBA delegate went on to discuss various “do's and don’ts” that seemed so plainly obvious to so many of us, yet are often forgotten by law enforcement agents that are overly focused on generating activity. It was (and still is) the concern of the PBA that police officers who do not utilize appropriate discretion in their enforcement duties can alienate a portion of the public whose support we could otherwise depend on. Correcting a condition and problem solving need not always be accomplished by the issuance of summonses.

The delegate concluded, “You are now Police Officers in the NYPD, and if your authority is challenged, no matter who it is, you better take charge of the situation and do what needs to be done. We don’t get pushed around. However, keep in mind, we are there to protect and serve the public, not preside over them. We need to respect the good people in this city and by doing so they will return that respect to us. You can do this by getting out there, working hard, generating good summons and arrest activity, and using your discretion. You can make this city a better place by being a good cop. A good cop enforces, but wisely. It’s really not hard. It’s about common sense.”

I have never forgotten the message that was delivered to us in the Academy auditorium that day. I have done my best to both abide by the “do’s and don’ts” and to encourage the young police officers I supervise to operate in a similar fashion. To be honest, I think I probably would have done the same had I never even heard the lecture the PBA delegate delivered eight years ago. It seems a basic fundamental that should be instinctive to anyone interested in being an effective cop: Successful policing requires that in all initiatives a common sense balance must be found between enforcement and the application of discretion. Too little of the former will lead to an increase in crime or unwanted conditions. A lack of the latter will create a resentful public. It is the goal of community policing to strive to achieve this equilibrium.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a current lack of common sense at Notre Dame. A flood of complaints expressed on the ND Nation forums concerning both policy and enforcement justifies this assessment. Although I am quite sure that certain testimonials are tainted with exaggeration, the sheer volume of chronicles detailing negative interactions with authorities and their relative increase should be cause for serious concern.

Dismissing these accounts as mere histrionics is inappropriate and irresponsible. There is a building resentment. The alumni, students, and subway alums have too often become the target of strict and costly enforcement championed by the Administration and various supporting law enforcement agencies. Finding a solution requires understanding the root cause of the problem.

How did we reach this tipping point? What is driving the creation of strict policy and the accompanying “zero tolerance” enforcement? It has been suggested by members of these forums that the underlying rationale was born out of the desire for revenue generation or fear that in today’s litigious society the University is at financial risk without such a draconian strategy. Although these may be ancillary motivations for the tactics employed, finding the root cause requires examining a series of events that occurred in 2002.

At that time, Father Malloy was still actively involved in the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He was appointed to this government committee by President George H.W. Bush and was co-chair of the subcommittee responsible for publishing an extensive report calling for a call to action to curb college drinking in April of 2002.

The timing of the NIAAA’s report was unfortunate, however. In late March of 2002, Harvard’s School of Public health released the findings of an eight-year study that identified a rise in binge drinking and particularly noted that institutions structured like Notre Dame were prone to increased alcohol abuse. The Harvard study received media attention prior to the release of the NIAAA’s call to action and resulted in a sense of embarrassment for certain Notre Dame officials. It seemed contradictory that the University’s figurehead was a key member of a committee espousing one course of action, while (according to Harvard) the institution actually operated in a quite different manner. With the release of the NIAAA report, the policy at Notre Dame was rewritten and the drastic and immediate measures taken were well documented.

It was at this point where a more puritanical approach to alcohol consumption was employed. Certain key members of the administration were tasked with implementing policy, and they used every available resource at their disposal to do so. This has been the trend in effect from April of 2002 to present day.

The results and the impact on student life are debatable. Although the University effectively and drastically reduced on-campus binge drinking, a consequence of such action was that students increasingly turned to off-campus venues for social interaction. This has resulted in students being placed in undesirable situations.

Most recently over 40 students were arrested for a variety of petty violations during a raid on a house party by the Indiana Excise Police. There have been numerous reports of students falling victim to robberies as they venture off campus- even a 2003 robbery in which students were held at gunpoint by perpetrators armed with automatic weapons. Also in early 2003 was the tragic incident in which a young freshman who had ventured off campus for a social function was found dead in a nearby river. One can only wonder how many of the cited examples could have been avoided if a more liberal alcohol policy encouraging on-campus socializing had still been in place.

If the impact and results of the revised alcohol policy on student life can be considered debatable, the results of these guidelines on the Notre Dame Football experience can be considered unacceptable. There is a substantial difference. Those students affected by this trend have chosen to attend the school and by doing so elected to abide by the principles outlined in DuLac. The current alcohol policy may be poorly contrived, but all prospective students are now well aware of the high expectations placed upon them and the relative social inadequacies of current day campus existence. Whether or not the vigorous enforcement of the alcohol policy is sound decision making by the administration, the University hierarchy has the absolute right to impose its restrictions on those that choose to dwell there for four years. This same absolute right does not translate into license for authorities to “preside” over those that flock to South Bend to see a football game. Fall football Saturdays are singular social events that draw in a diverse national fan base who are by and large upstanding and established community members (alumni, families, working people, professionals, etc).

The obscene amount of enforcement for minor alcohol related violations committed on game day in the stadium and parking lot facility is analogous to embarking on a course of action that the PBA delegate warned us rookies of years ago -- don’t make the lives of the good people more difficult. Those who attend Notre Dame football games are good people and they deserve to be treated with dignity. There are now numerous examples in these forums of a failure to do so by the various agencies tasked with enforcement, especially the Indiana Excise Police. What remains infuriating about the path the University has chosen to follow is not just that it is bad policy, it is the arrogance employed.

The administration has allowed the Excise Police to take the lead in these enforcement efforts. Representatives of this agency never seemed to have been privy to an appropriate tailoring of the “Do’s and Don’ts” lecture. They apparently need to hear it. Such samples to be included in this instruction might include:

  • Don’t ticket at 20 year old student and his father who are enjoying a beer and a burger together. The young adult is already supervised and the moment does not require police presence to make it special.

  • Don’t be demanding and aggressive if you need to see an ID. You’re at Notre Dame and courtesy is a mandate.

  • Do conduct enforcement at student tailgaters and on large groups of students drinking in the parking lot. People over 30 will appreciate this because we would prefer to enjoy a pleasant tailgate without the awkwardness of being next to groups of drunk and rowdy 17 and 18 year olds.

  • Don’t be so quick to handcuff people and remove them to jail. Good people need not be exposed to this (especially students). Utilize summonses instead.

  • Don’t continue with the videotaping of people and license plates. It’s creepy and unnecessary for such minor violations. Save that kind of tactic for mass protests and riots, not football tailgaters.

Sadly, it would be doubtful that such a speech would even be effective given the mission of the agency. A more appropriate moniker for such individuals would be the “Indiana State Excise Code Enforcement”, because as my Captain is fond of saying, “There are those who might be in law enforcement, but they ain’t the POLICE.” This designation should rightly be reserved for those who handle themselves in a more honorable fashion than is being reported. It is hard to rationalize why their very presence is being permitted given the bad publicity they are generating.

The Excise Police are obviously not alone in needing a “do’s and don’ts” speech. The NDSP and Stadium Ushers need to improve their relationship with the game day patrons. At their core, these are both honorable groups of people and are a valuable part of the Notre Dame family. However, the administration’s policies and drive for total enforcement are straining the relations between these groups and the community they serve. The examples recently posted of bad encounters have been difficult to swallow.

There must be an immediate cessation of sending people to jail for public intoxication without good cause. Public intoxication was removed from the law books as a violation in New York and many other states. It seems odd that there would be such fervent (yet seemingly random) enforcement of a violation whose status is so inconsistent nationwide. Violence and disorder can not be tolerated, but can not be confused with enthusiasm and exuberance. This seems to be happening all too often. Additionally, an individual who is incapacitated from intoxication should be removed to a hospital, not a holding pen. This is simple and sound law enforcement.

It is a shame that in recent years so many members of the Notre Dame family have become the targets of a questionable enforcement initiative. The alcohol policy as it pertains to Saturday needs examining and immediate revision. The ND game day experience is already an expensive one. Why make it more costly for the attendees with mounting fines, incarceration, and ill will? These are the good people of the world. They are the donors, the tuition payers, the graduates, the loyal fans, and the faithful. They deserve a safe and comfortable tailgating/stadium environment without the burden of total and excessive enforcement. There will always be summonses and arrests, but such action need only be taken when a positive result for the Notre Dame community seems a guarantee.

Employing discretion and better problem solving techniques is not a hard thing to implement. It’s about common sense.

Labels: , ,

Them's The Rules

As a result of all the discussions yesterday and today, I was contacted by a current Usher to clarify some points. The person who shared this with me, obviously, does not want any names or positions used for fear of retribution or other hassles from both the public and the school. But he felt it important to get this info out there, so I volunteered to take the hit on this one.

I’m going to use the pronoun “he” for the purposes of description only, although I believe the vast majority of Ushers are men anyway. I’m also not going to copy the things he sent me verbatim so as to reduce the risk of identification.

This person has really enjoyed the people with whom he’s directly worked on the Usher team, and is concerned based on what he’s read here and elsewhere that the Ushers are getting grouped in with the problems going on outside the Stadium in the tailgating areas.

He, along with a lot of the Ushers with whom he works, believes his first job is to assist visitors, regardless of affiliation, in a way that helps them enjoy their Stadium experience, doing things ranging from helping them find seats to helping them find restrooms to taking pictures and so on. He has escorted fans out of the Stadium for alcohol-related issues, but does not believe that to be his primary mission, so he does not seek them out unless they’re causing trouble or otherwise overtly breaking rules. Nor does he believe people should be kicked out or hassled for standing during a football game unless they were also obviously intoxicated and/or using profanity.

While he believes the Usher Captains are under pressure to seek out and handle rule breakers, there is no direct quota he’s aware of or has been communicated to him by anyone in the hierarchy. He believes the more senior Ushers have noticed an increased desire for “pro-active rule enforcement” from the upper level, but don’t agree with or necessarily enforce that policy as it makes them feel more like police officers than ushers. This makes them uncomfortable, as it’s not in the spirit in which they volunteered for the job in the first place.

In closing, he copied the Alcohol Policy for the Stadium, which I’ll summarize:

ND’s policy of alcohol possession and abuse in the stadium is zero-tolerance.

Fans caught with alcohol in the stadium will have tickets confiscated and then be removed from the stadium through the closest gate, with the violation listed as reason for expulsion. Students will be taken to the Public Safety office, their booklets confiscated by NDSP, who will write a report and “finish the removal” (yes, that’s exactly how it’s termed).

Fans attempting to enter the stadium drunk will lose their ticket and be referred to one of the police officers at the gate in question. Fans in the stadium who appear drunk will lose their ticket and be taken to the Public Safety Office.

Students who appear intoxicated are sent to the Public Safety office. Again, booklets go to the NDSP officer, who writes the report and “finishes the removal”.

I wanted to summarize the final paragraph, but couldn’t find a way to do it justice, so here it is verbatim:

“Occasionally, violators of Stadium rules (e.g. smoking after warnings; profanity after warnings; etc.) will appear to have been drinking. As long as they are not intoxicated, if they are removed it shall be in the same manner as alcohol container removals. Students in this category shall not have their tickets confiscated. An alcohol sticker will describe the violation.”

We wondered what the policy was, now we know. And as GI Joe would say, knowing is half the battle. Some thoughts, all mine:

First, it really disturbs me there is nothing in that policy to indicate any kind of measuring standard for "intoxication". The exact wording is people who “appear to be intoxicated”, and if you violate that, your ticket is gone and you’re sent right to the tank. It may be defined elsewhere, but if it were, I would expect a reference to that definition somewhere in the regulation. It's not there, so either the regulation is poorly written or that standard doesn't exist. Neither possibility is comforting.

Second, given that lack of definition, why is the first and only move a hand-off to South Bend's or St. Joe County's finest? Those people weren't any less "intoxicated" standing by their cars 15 minutes before they walked into the Stadium, yet people aren't being arrested en masse during pregame. There's also the possibility people could be detained without true cause.

Finally, where does the infamous "campus ban" crap fit in to all this? The regs go so far as to describe the actions of the NDSP people in cases of student infractions. South Bend and St. Joe cops aren't authorized to ban anyone from campus. So where does that little cherry sit on this sundae? Or is that an improvisation on Bill Kirk's part, much like the police badge story reported on the board yesterday?

All of this strikes me as a very poorly put together policy borne of a lack of imagination in the upper echelons. My hope is with the arrival of the new General Counsel for ND this week, such things will be better handled.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 29, 2008

Do's and Don'ts

Lots of discussion on the NDN boards today about our own little version of Troopergate. I'm sure those discussions will continue, especially with the Fall Board of Trustees meeting on campus later this week. But I believe now is a good time to go over some of my do's and don'ts.

Do I believe people who make dumbass statements to police or security officers are asking for trouble? Yes, I do.
Do I believe "what a waste of taxpayer dollars" qualifies someone to be arrested? No, I don't.

Do I have a problem with drunken or otherwise unruly people being escorted out of Notre Dame Stadium? No, I don't.
Do I have a problem with policemen and security officers hanging out in the student section bathrooms to ferret out "offenders"? Yes, I do.

Do I have a problem with officers of the law keeping the peace reasonably in the parking lots? No, I don't.
Do I have a problem with officers of the law skulking about waiting for an underage person to touch a beer? Yes, I do.

Do I think being an usher at Notre Dame Stadium is an easy job? No, I don't.
Do I think they make their own jobs more difficult at times? Yes, I do.

Do I believe it's a bad thing to keep Notre Dame Stadium orderly? No, I don't.
Do I believe it's a bad thing to have quotas for locating "unruly patrons"? Yes, I do.

Do I think people who get in trouble should see consequences for their actions? Yes, I do.
Do believe those consequences should include a ban from campus, especially via a document signed by someone as cosmically specious as Bill Kirk? No, I don't.

Do I believe sometimes ND students and fans need protection from themselves? Yes, I do.
Do I believe that protection has to come via unwarranted home invasions and physical assaults? No, I don't.

Do I believe that everyone who has shared a story with us in the last 24+ hours is lily-white innocent? No, I don't.
Do I believe the vast majority of those people were treated more harshly than their situation deserved, regardless of their fault in it? Yes, I do.

Do I have family members who have known Cappy Gagnon for a long time and have respect for him? Yes, I do.
Does that stop me from thinking his participation in conversations today with alums has been incredibly wrong-headed and inappropriate and made me question his suitability for the post he holds? No, it doesn't.

Do I respect law enforcement officers who hold a sometimes thankless job? Yes, I do.
Does that respect extend to those who act the way the Indiana State Excise Police have been acting lately? No, it doesn't.

Do I hope something positive is going to come out of this? Yes, I do.
Do I hold my breath over it? No, I don't, although I don't live a "No Surprises" life, so....

On my next few trips between Chicago and South Bend, do I plan to set the cruise control at the speed limit to avoid any unnecessary confrontations? Yes, I do.
Do I believe that as a result of all this, the first time I show up in my basketball season seats (Sec 101, Row 4, Seats 7 and 8, for the record), I'm going to find an ND security officer telling me I've been banned from campus? No, I ... hope not.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quid Pro Quo?

24 hours after the high-quality victory over the Boilermakers, the subject du jour on the NDN boards has gone from what happened on the field Saturday to what happened off of it ... specifically, the ever-escalating unreasonable behavior being exhibited by the State of Indiana's Excise Police force before, during, and after the game in the parking lots surrounding the Stadium.

My journalistic partner, SEE, did his usual bang-up job summarizing the issues. The anecdotes shared so far are sobering, pun partially intended. Even more alarming is the seeming acquiescence of Notre Dame's administration towards the practice, even going so far as having the ND po-po start singing from the same hymnal.

Reasons for the new jack-booted philosophy have been tossed around, including the possibility Notre Dame is over-reacting to allegedly having been sued over the actions of a drunken fan at a football game. But there's another possibility I'd like to explore, and it's a familiar theme: money.

ND's single-minded pursuit of the 7-4-1 model is a continuation of their goal on having as many home games as possible. The purpose of 7-4-1 is to give NBC a night game to go up against ABC's juggernaut, which the network desperately wants and the CSC desperately doesn't. But to give the Peacock it's pound of flesh in return for the filthy lucre, we're now playing Washington State deep in the heart of Texas.

It's depressing and senseless. But it also makes me wonder if the greenbacks are beind the ISEP invasion as well.

Last season, we started hearing complaints from the municipalities in South Bend about how much all these home games were costing, particularly for overtime paid to the police in areas such as pre- and post-game traffic control. Granted, the games provide a big financial shot in the arm for the local economy, but not a lot of that goes into South Bend's coffers (or the state of Indiana's, for that matter). That money goes to the businesses, and until they pay taxes or fees or whatever, the city, county and state see none of it. So the $116,000 they spend today they won't necessarily see back quickly.

During all the Excise discussions, a number of folks familiar with how the state (and Excise) works have contended the practice is a cash cow for Indiana. The pre-trial diversion programs bring in around $500 for each person, not to mention the fines paid for tickets issued to underage or overserved consumers.

And that makes me wonder: Is the sudden avalanche of ISEP on and off campus a method of payback?

Think about it. Notre Dame does not want to screw around with special ticket taxes or other fees, and it certainly doesn't want to set the precedent of paying South Bend directly for some of these services. But at the same time, they need the locals to make sure the gridlock doesn't leave people sleeping in their cars, and it's only a matter of time before the push-back from both the city and state government (and applicable police forces) upset that apple cart.

The solution? Give the Excise Police free rein to write their bullshit summonses and haul otherwise law-abiding Notre Dame students and alumni to jail. The state can milk some dollars from those poor schlubs, while Notre Dame keeps its money and still gets the services it wants.

Everyone wins. Except us, of course. But nothing's new under the sun.

Edit: Two viewpoints were shared with me since I posted this, both of which I share without edit or commentary:

1) Consider the possibility ND is trying to "clean up tailgating" so they can have the night games that the fans and NBC want and we won't have to play "depressing games deep in the heart of Texas".

2) If ND isn't complicit in this, why is it you never see Excise cops in the Stadium lot? It's only in Joyce and Tower. I guess they don't want to run the risk of bumping into anyone connected to a really big check at ND. But who told them that's where the big money parties?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

100 Days

To: Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Director of Athletics
From: Mike Coffey, ND alumnus and semi-random blogger

Dear Mr. Swarbrick:

Congratulations on your new position. As someone used to inefficient action coming out of South Bend, your hiring has come as a breath of fresh air to me and I hope portends a new methodology under the Dome.

I realize as an alumnus, you probably have a closer understanding of Notre Dame's position on things than an outsider would. But you've had your own life to lead the last couple of years and may not be familiar with how things have been going in ND sports lately. Some things have been good, but other high-profile things have not been.

Presidents often are judged by their first 100 days. Presumptuous as it may be, as someone who has watched ND athletics closely for the past decade, I'd like to suggest some actions you can take in that period which could reverse recent and long-standing problems and get the alumni and fanbase energized.

First, break out the cell phone, because there are a couple calls you might think about making.

The first call is to Joel Maturi, your counterpart at Minnesota. He's a fellow alum and was at least considered for the chair in which you're now sitting, so I imagine you'd have a lot to talk about. But while you're on the phone with him, remind him our name had come up as a potential opponent for the first game at their new stadium on September 5th, 2009, and you'd like to further the discussion, especially if it means a return game by the Gophers to South Bend in a couple seasons.

The second is to Cary Groth, your counterpart at Nevada-Reno. Explain to her the unique opportunity you have to set something up with Minnesota, but the scheduled game we have with them is holding things up. Obviously something can be done, be it a buyout check or a postponement, right? The tail doesn't wag the dog on these things, and there must be a mutually-advantageous resolution here.

Next on the docket is a conference call with Ron Mason and Morgan Burke, the AD's of Michigan State and Purdue, respectively. Jim Delaney, the Integer commish, can sit in if he wants to, provided he keeps his phone on mute. Explain to these fine gentlemen how much Notre Dame values our relationship with them ... in fact, tell Mason he should stay on the line after the call so you can work out a home-and-home basketball contract. But unfortunately, continued dates in September isn't going to work for either of our series long-term. The first one who agrees to move games to late October or early November gets a 16-year home-and-home contract. The one who comes in second will be put in a rotation with some other Tier 2 schools. If both of them agree, by all means, try to accommodate them.

Once you're off the phone, show us the money. As big a reputation as Kevin White had as a moneymaker, it seems a lot of that was done via selling off portions of the schools at which he worked. When it came to relationships with donors, it was a ham-fisted mess. One-off projects benefited from windfall donations, sometimes as a result of tragedy no one would ask for. But the big projects, like the Joyce Center redo and the still-to-be-funded ice rink improvements and hoops practice facilities, either came in horribly late or continue to wither on the vine.

Previous AD's knew how to relate to the folks who had deep pockets and sell them on the importance of athletics to the Notre Dame community. Those bridges must be rebuilt. I don't know you well enough to know if you're a schmoozer by nature, but if you're not, you need to find someone who is and put them in a position in oversight of athletics fund-raising.

But while you're hiring that person, don't be a afraid to trim a little fat. Seems you can't swing a dead cat around the Joyce Center without hitting an assistant athletics director in charge of men's room toilet paper or something. Division I athletics is big business, to be sure, and I don't advocate overworking anyone. But a little multitasking goes a long way. Go through the employee list and start weeding out the duplication. Not everyone who departed in Kevin White's wake needs to be replaced, and a penny saved is a penny earned, after all.

Not all of this is guaranteed to work, but there's no harm in trying. At the very least, it'll be a warm-up to the next NBC and BCS negotiations, where the rubber truly will meet the road.

ND athletics needs a new and bold direction. Your CV indicates you're a good candidate to provide it. Like so many others in ND history, you're being given an opportunity to seize greatness. It would be great if you took advantage. Or at least interesting.

Thanks for your consideration, and welcome home.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Voting With Their Checkbooks

My wife and I both had early mornings today, so no one was home just after 8am when the phone rang. Turns out we missed a very interesting phone call.

When I got home, the caller ID said area code 574 with a 631 prefix. More often than not, that's someone calling from a campus office to scold me about something posted here or on NDN, so it was not without a certain amount of fatalism I dialed into voicemail.

Turns out it was the ND ticket office, calling for Mrs. Kabong. Preliminary lottery results, said they, showed she didn't get any of the games she put in for (meaning, as of now, nothing for Michigan or Stanford and my dad's friend will not get as many Navy tix as he was looking for). However, followed up they, the ticket lottery for Syracuse had resulted in tickets being left over, and she was welcome to put in for up to four tickets for that game.

Well well well. A crappy late-November game not selling out via the lottery. Quelle surprise.

This is what 7-4-1 hath wrought, kids. People are looking at $65 tickets for these "buy" games and saying, "Nuh uh". And if you think MAC schools or non-descript Mountain West opponents are going to draw any better to an ice-cold Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the season, think again.

(Yes, I realize this isn't a buy game, but the current quality of Syracuse is equivalent to the kind of school ND is looking for for these buy games)

No one demands every game be against a top-10 opponent, as some not-so-bright critics have alleged. No one demands every game be of top interest. But people do demand the overall quality of the schedule be proper, and if Syracuse is any indication, those demands are not being met.

I bring you again a typical 4-4-4 schedule:

Stanford (tier 3)
Michigan (tier 1)
at Michigan State (tier 2)
at Navy (tier 3)
UCLA (tier 1)
at GaTech (tier 2)
Purdue (tier 2)
UNC (tier 3)
at Penn State (tier 1)
Air Force (tier 2)
vs Army (Orlando) (tier 3)
at USC (tier 1)

For those of you a little slow on the uptake, that's the 2006 schedule slightly rearranged. Quality games scattered throughout the season, two at home, two on the road. Not a lot of home games at the end of the season when it's crappy out. And gee, I think ND did pretty well against that slate, don't you?

As disappointing as the announcement regarding the NBC renewal (and its apparent codification of 7-4-1) was, it's not too late to fix it. And it needs to be fixed.

By the way, the conversation that ensued when I passed the phone message along to my wife:

SHE -- When is the Syracuse game?
ME -- November 22nd
SHE -- To hell with that.

I wish I could marry her all over again.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Quiet Men

An Irish story, indeed, except instead of a man fighting for his wife, these men are charting the future of Irish athletics.

I was chatting with a good friend on campus last week, and the first words out of his mouth were, "It's so quiet right now". I guess he had anticipated an inquiry on the search for a new Athletics Director, and obviously I need a new year's resolution to talk to some folks about more than just ND sports happenings.

But he was right. This truly is the radio silence time of year at Notre Dame, regardless of what's happening. Between graduation day and the third week in June, not a lot is happening on campus. The summer sessions haven't begun, and most of the time is spent decompressing from the last school year before the ramp-up for the next begins. So people tend to use their vacation, schedule off-campus meetings, and otherwise scatter far and wide.

But that's what makes the info hard to come by. Though the mice will play when the cat's away, it's also hard to tell what kind of catnip he's buying while he's gone.

That doesn't mean there's no new info. As my dear friend Rock posted yesterday, ND has not been idle during the quiet time. They've retained an executive search firm (unsure of which specific one) and have started the vetting process. Joel Maturi, like Gene Smith, has taken himself out of the running (in a classy and deferential manner, just as Smith did), which is too bad, but at least it gives the new AD a specific first task in calling Maturi and getting that stadium-opening game set up.

From what I've been told, we can expect the search to "heat up" a tad as the month progresses into July, with school starting up again and more campus activity. If I were a betting man (and this is based completely on a gut feel from offhand talks with a couple people, not any specific info), I would put my money on Steve Orsini being named by the end of July with Rick Chryst as the dark horse. Then again, there's a good reason I don't live in Las Vegas.

This whole process got me thinking about a number of things.

The entire concept of executive search firms befuddles me, especially when they're used to search for a coach. It seems to me a lot of the functions they would serve, like vetting candidates and whatnot, used to be part of the job description of the appointed searchers (like an AD or an EVP). I know the ND folks have more on their plate than finding Kevin White's replacement, and there's a lot of administrative bullshit you have to pour through when you're handling this kind of stuff. But it seems like an effort to distance the searchers from the searchees, making the whole thing really impersonal and CYA-governed. It's reassuring Fr. Jenkins has affirmed it'll be his decision and the buck will stop on his desk, so we'll see how it all turns out.

The difference between coverage of a coaching search and coverage of an AD search could not be more stark. Compare the jungle-animal-instinct masteria of Decembers 2001 and 2004 with today. Right now, Michael Rothstein might have a blog blurb about someone either promoting or excusing themselves. But the rest of the media world seemingly couldn't be less interested. The Decembers of our discontent, on the other hand, had multiple articles every day talking about the ND coaching job and its alleged perceived viability in the known universe. I guess sensationalism sells because effort isn't required. Nobody tell Grantland Rice, he'll cry.

I think there's a site out there that makes some ND admin folks more uncomfortable than we do: FlightAware. Back in the post-Willigham daze, some administrati were getting itchy over the number of posts tracking the ND plane -- "Don't your people have anything better to do with their lives?" was a question posed to me. Now ND is back in the human resources business, and we've already had two threads about where N42ND is or is not headed, so I can hear the scratching from here. Of course, the problem could be solved if they flew commercial. As George Carlin once said, see how often the simplest solutions will elude us.

I still believe handling a relatively-high-profile football program is a good prerequisite for the job, which is why Orsini is high on my list. I realize there are commissioner aspects to the ND job, but I don't think Rick Chryst has enough on-the-ground time at a specific school. Besides, the number of irritated voices from the MAC football group gives me too much pause.

Happy Father's Day to one and all.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 02, 2008

¿Dónde Están los Huevos?

So much for not eulogizing.

Let me start by saying I'm not bogged down by any personal animus towards Kevin White (not that I'm accusing anyone else of it). The few times I met him, he was nothing but cordial and friendly, and I haven't met anyone who has proclaimed him a bad person. He was very accommodating to me when I wrote the book, and we had a very nice discussion at the Austin Carr induction ceremonies. Ergo, I don't feel he was any kind of an ogre or deserving of any personal criticism, and to this very minute, like him personally.

He was, however, a bad fit for Notre Dame. And while we can argue until the cows come home how involved he was or wasn't in the major issues of his tenure, they all carried one common thread that always bugged me:

With Kevin White at the bargaining table, I never got the feeling ND had any balls.

It seems in just about every fracas, discussion or discourse ND engaged in during White's time in office, the Fighting Irish ended up on the short end of the stick. They ended up paying a lot more money to Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham than they were worth, and both men left ND in much better shape financially and professionally than they should have. BCS revenues were cut, with Notre Dame losing $12 million over the last two seasons. NBC seems to have an awful lot of authority in the current contract, with some people on campus saying they're demanding more and more from the school. adidas didn't give Notre Dame the "most favored nation" status Michigan got. Nevada and SDSU were given games in order to move a game with a WAC school. Vendors have more control over ND imagery than they should. The list goes on and on.

Never in any of those situations did I feel Kevin White at least went down swinging. The impression was always we were "being good neighbors" or a similarly conciliatory position. There seemed to be more a concern about the "landscape" or the "game" or (in the case of applicable matters) the "conference" than what Notre Dame needed or wanted. And the minute there was any push-back on issues, Notre Dame seemed to be the side showing their tummy and making concessions.

I don't expect ND's athletic director to be bombastic or caustic, and I certainly understand the value of compromise. But I do expect a better batting average in negotiations than I saw in the last eight years. I also don't claim detailed knowledge of everything Kevin White had to work out in that time. But I'd expect to see more positive results if my position were not correct.

A friend of mine used to say, "You can tell a lot about a guy by the amount of blood on his shirt". I couldn't shake the impression the last eight years that Kevin White was more interested in keeping his jersey clean than he was getting results. At the very least, he seemed to have a pretty light laundry bill.

No one wins every battle, but you never win the battles you don't fight. I might be able to handle the state of affairs better if I had the impression White was fighting to the last man or had at least drawn some blood from the other side in the process. But that's never what it looked like to me. I never believed the other side walked away from the table wishing they hadn't had to give up (A) to get (B). They always looked like they were having their cake and eating it too.

One might argue KW didn't have much to work with. ND football was down, goes the response, so he had to make the best of things. Well, if ND football was down, who was responsible for that? The buck is supposed to stop on the AD's desk. If the poor state of the program was putting him in a disadvantageous position, why not do something to make the position stronger, like make better hires or be more demanding for results? Instead, we got "Sunday through Friday" and multiple examples of a lack of a "list in the drawer".

Accountability is key and results trump all. I can't think of any examples of White holding anyone accountable, nor can I cite any overwhelmingly positive results as a result of his decisions or actions. Instead, it was all about not rocking the boat and keeping everyone happy, be they ND coaches or conference mates or fellow directors.

Well, success sometimes means making people unhappy in the short term. Hopefully, White's successor will see that.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friends, Domers, Countrymen...

While the current momentum of the hoops squad more than bears talking about, sometimes affairs of state must take precedence over affairs of state. This is one of those times.

Last night, WNDU brought us the momentous news that Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White would be leaving that role to take the same position at Duke University. Given that ND has had only five non-coach AD's in its history, turnover in the position is always a big deal. However, this time around, it's an even bigger deal than usual to a good number of folks, because this time, it's a true barometer of where ND is heading.

The discussions of Jumbotrons, 7-4-1, and other schemes seemed to show Notre Dame's focus was on making money rather than maintaining the quality of the brand that had stood so well for so long. Trouble was, it became difficult to determine the source of that mindset. Some people felt it was the brainchild of Fr. Malloy and Fr. Beauchamp, and yet it continued when they were gone from the scene. Others labeled Kevin White as the Svengali of Swag on campus, citing the football scheduling change as the most egregious of offenses on that score.

But now, we'll know for sure. KW is on his way out the door. Who will Fr. Jenkins, John Affleck-Graves, and the BOT name to succeed him, and, more importantly, what will that person do with regard to football scheduling, revenue generation, and the like? If it's the same-old same-old, we'll know where the truth lies.

Much will likely be made of White's ND tenure in the coming days and weeks, and I plan to leave those eulogies to others for the time being. I'm looking forward, not back, and it's time to think about the next guy in the chair.

I don't necessarily have a list of names. I'm more concerned about a list of qualities, two specifically:

A solid, confident personality. Setting the course for athletics at a place like Notre Dame is a unique position. As I've said previously, in some ways, you need to be an AD, while in others, a conference commissioner, because ND is a conference of one. Notre Dame needs to look out for its own interests while balancing the general good, and that can be a thin tightrope to walk. You're not going to do that well unless you've got the moxie to enforce your will sometimes. Notre Dame's AD needs to pull the strings, not dance to them.

An understanding and appreciation for the Notre Dame family. Among his many unfortunate malaprops, Bob Davie once used the words "people who count" when describing his support on campus. Other ND administrators have been similarly dismissive of the alumni ranks when talking about how the school and its programs operate. That's not the way to get the job done, nor is it a way to get people to support what you're doing. A while ago, having a Notre Dame alumnus in the position was seen as being too insular. Now, it seems insularity might not be the end of the world.

So who's on my list? Not sure. But I know a couple things I don't want:

1) A segregation of responsibility. The "football-only AD" idea has been floated a number of times, and I remain dead-set against it. Separating football into its own fiefdom in the Athletic Department is not a solution, and puts the school on a slippery slope. What football does has to remain in the context of the University as a whole, and vice-versa. Besides, things like scheduling games and negotiating with NBC aren't things that go on every day, every month, or even every year. Paying someone to be a full-time AD for the football program is a waste of money, and cutting Athletic Department bloat is something I hope the new person has on the top of the list on the first day of work.

2) Lou Holtz. I love and respect Lou with my whole body, and will do so until the day we're both dead. But he's a football coach, not an AD. The pining for Lou is borne of dissatisfaction with the performance of the football team in recent years, and while that's a genuine and important concern, it shouldn't lead to bad decisions.

Some names, in no particular order.

Jim Lynch, ND '67. NDN board readers should be well familiar with this name, and it is on that basis I list him first. Certainly lots of pros -- savvy businessman, confident personality, understands and appreciates how ND works, etc. But he's reportedly very happy in KC, and (if you believe the stories) has already turned the job down twice. Go after him, certainly, but it's certainly not a failure if he demurs. At the very least, you want him involved in finding the next guy.

Joel Maturi, ND '67. He certainly got good stuff done, not the least of which was MN's new football stadium, has plenty of experience as an AD, and is certainly decisive, evidenced by letting underperforming coaches go mid-season. His nabbing of Tubby Smith was certainly a coup. He also knows Ara and likely would seek his counsel on important matters. Might be enough for the top of my list, although Minnesota alums might be a little too happy to see him go for my taste.

Steve Orsini, ND '78. Moved up the ladder, with stops at UCF and now SMU. Certainly outreached his grasp when he hired June Jones to coach football there. And Notre Dame would be the next step in a progression upward. Definitely worth the phone call.

John Paxson, ND '83. Running an NBA franchise certainly requires a solid confidence, and he definitely would understand ND. No doubt his hiring would give some football fans the vapors.

Mike Bobinski, ND '79. He's been at Xavier for a while, and has made some quality hires. But Xavier doesn't have a football program, and that's a crucial hole in his resume.

Rick Chryst, ND '83. My only concern would be he's never been an actual AD anywhere, spending his career in conference management. It's a different kettle of fish. And not to be unkind, but the MAC ain't Notre Dame. This would be a multi-rung move up the ladder. Would he be ready?

Not a comprehensive list, but the one off the top of my head. May we live in interesting times, indeed.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

It's hard to get away from Spygate these days, but given my lack of predilection for New England Patriots news, I've been pretty successful thus far.

That is, until today, when the Trib's Brian Hamilton brought it up. He doesn't accuse Weis of wrong-doing, but wonders why he's been so silent on the subject. He was on the Patriots' coaching staff during that time, wasn't he? Why isn't he explaining himself, and why aren't the fans pressing for an explanation? What does all that say about Notre Dame's integrity?

Well, allow me to answer on behalf of the queried: It doesn't say a damn thing. In no particular order of importance, here are my reasons as a Notre Dame alumnus and fan why I really don't care about Spygate:

It's not a Notre Dame matter. I realize that phrase is giving some pundits a facial tic, but that's the crux of it. Much as it might run better if we did, Notre Dame alumni don't rule the world. I can't control what people do in external positions, and as long as what they do doesn't affect ND, I don't have room in my brain to care.

I've talked in the past about ND accountability in the media. I'm not looking for a snowjob. If there's wrong-doing in South Bend, let me know, because I want it rooted out at all costs. And with this, there was no wrong-doing in South Bend. This was something that happened years ago in New England. I don't see the relevance.

No one is perfect. While I expect coaches to come as close as possible to that standard when they're employed by ND, the before and after really aren't worthy of my attention. Granted, I don't want someone like Kelvin Sampson or Dennis Erickson getting a job on campus, and we likely dodged an ethical bullet with Meyer, but those represent the extremes of thought. As George Carlin once said, somewhere between "Live Free or Die" and "Famous Potatoes", the truth lies.

Next, Weis is not a Patriots employee anymore. This one may not seem intuitive, so I'll explain.

There's nothing I hate more than when a former Notre Dame coach pontificates about the state of the various programs. Yes, they have a unique perspective on the position, and there's a value to that perspective when discussing how things are going. But by the same token, the state of both Notre Dame and the various sports it fields changes over time, and things like scholarship limits and scheduling concerns and scholastic standards may not be the same as they were when the coach in question is under the Dome. They didn't like being second-guessed during their tenure, so why put the shoe on the other hand now?

I can handle it when someone like Lou or Ara or Tom Pagna or Digger does it, because those men contributed a lot to Notre Dame in their lives and Notre Dame had great success as a result. So if they want to share their thoughts, I'm willing to listen to them. But when nitwits like Bob Davie or (even worse) Tyrone Willingham go off the reservation, I need to break out the calamine lotion. Gerry Faust gets a five-minute window per year to prairie-dog his philosophies, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So I can understand why Weis wants to stay out of it. He's not part of that organization anymore. The Patriots are dealing with the situation as they see fit, and for a former employee to suddenly start chiming in is disrespectful. If I were a Pats fan, I would give less than a damn about what he thought about Spygate, particularly since....

Weis wasn't the head coach at the time. If the entire thing was Weis' brainchild or he put together the initiative, I'd probably be more concerned. But the responsibility for wrong-doing, such as it was, has been laid by the NFL at the feet of Pats' management in general and Bill Belichick in particular. The buck stops with him. I find it odd that Weis gets singled out here, yet as far as I know, Romeo Crennel -- who is still in the NFL and has had a much poorer performance as a coach since leaving the Pats than Weis has -- has not been pursued in this manner. Considering offensive signals were taped as well as defensive, I'm guessing that means the NFL sees Crennel as a soldier who was doing what he was told, much as Weis would be were he still there.

This is why the analogy of George "By God, It's" O'Leary breaks down. O'Leary wrote his own resume, and had ample time over the years to fix it. By submitting that resume to Notre Dame, he directly lied to the people who hired him. I don't know what Weis has been asked about Spygate, but knowing Notre Dame as I do, I'm pretty confident questions have been asked and I'd imagine whatever answers were received were to Kevin White's, Fr. Jenkins', and John Affleck-Graves' satisfaction. If it comes out later that Weis was not truthful in that case, I'm sure that will be evaluated just as O'Leary's situation was, and if that ever happens, wake me and let me know because I won't be interested until then.

And finally, I don't see what the big deal is. The contests they taped were part of public record. It's not like they were sneaking into practices. Had the allegation they had taped a walk-through been proven correct, that'd be a horse of a different color. But now we have a major metropolitan newspaper apologizing for suggesting it happened.

Sign-stealing happens in every team sport that uses them. Catchers change them up when there's a man on second, and no one bats an eye. Sure, it's on the unseemly side, and my preference would be that it not happen. But I'm not that naive.

Besides, how much did it really help? You're asking someone on the sidelines to read the opponents' signals, get them to the applicable coach, who then has to call a play quickly and relay that to the captain before the play clock runs out. I think it's interesting that the game so much of being made of was a Patriots loss. If you only score 16 points and you allegedly know the plays your opponents' D is running, the guys from the Jewish house are telling you all the answers you had were wrong.

I think obsession with Weis on this is more than a little goofy. Are we so desperate these days to keep salacious commentary in the news that we continue to beat Eight Belles long after the fact? Notre Dame's integrity is rooted in the fact it follows the rules of college sports and holds its people accountable on the field, in the classroom, and everywhere else, not the degree to which an assistant coach participated in a resolved matter from the NFL five years ago. Those Haughian nit-picks tend to skew gratuitous.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One for the Road

It's a tale of two cities on the Notre Dame scheduling front. Last week, the University of Connecticut backed down from a previous ultimatum, and agreed to sign a six-year deal with Notre Dame for football games that included their home games played at neutral sites. This week, Rutgers went the opposite way and backed out of negotiations because Notre Dame wanted the RU games played at the Meadowlands.

And now Harvey Araton of the New York Times tosses his two pennies into the fray. Good for Rutgers, says he, and fie on the Irish for pushing such unfair terms. What does the Big East need with Notre Dame anyway, since they look down on the conference with such disdain.

Setting aside for the moment the inherent instability of the Big East, it's perceived lack of value in football, and precarious standing in the BCS and bowl system to begin with, all of which Notre Dame salves with various signed agreements and association with the conference, and the pluses Notre Dame brings to the conference in the non-football sports, his overall point is good. I'm long on record with my opposition to 7-4-1. As a scheduling philosophy, it sucks cold diarrhea out of a dead cat's ass. Not only does it make for uninteresting matchups, it fails any litmus test of fairness, which the Notre Dame I grew up watching seemed always to be about. If you're going to play games against any school, you should be willing to play on their home turf at least once.

Just because people are willing to sell themselves to you for money doesn't mean you should take them up on it. I read stories like Ohio State canceling or moving games that were supposed to be played at Cincinnati, and it really rubs me in the similarly wrong way. It smacks of flop sweat and fear. God forbid the powerhouse program in the state test itself away from home. Perhaps if the Bucks weren't playing eight games at home every year, they wouldn't get waxed in bowl games the way they do. Just like ND's basketball scheduling philosophy, the 7-4-1 philosophy is rooted in revenue maximization, and even though "Come Sweet Cash" is an ND joke older than I am, it's still extremely off-putting to see it exhibited in such a bald-faced manner. A pimp dressed in green and carrying a shillelagh is still a pimp.

The only way to fight this tendency, both at Notre Dame and elsewhere, is to let the market speak. On the one hand, Connecticut decided the payday and exposure of a Notre Dame series was worth the PR hit with its fans by not bringing the Irish to Rentschler (which, it should be noted, isn't on UConn's campus either). On the other, we have the Scarlet Knights telling Notre Dame to take its ball and go home, literally. That's the best way to convince ND 7-4-1 is unworkable, although it's going to cost Rutgers in the short term. Maybe then when Alabama calls, Kevin White will find he has room in the schedule.

Having said that, the attitude Araton takes in the article is just as moronic as the 7-4-1 philosophy. It boils down to him criticizing Notre Dame for trying to leverage its prestige in order to gain terms more favorable to it. To try and brand ND as the only sinner in that congregation is a foolish enterprise. There's a reason the New York Times charges $330 to deliver in my neighborhood while I get my village's paper for free. I guess if Araton were running the organization, I'd have the Times on my doorstep every morning gratis, because, after all, it's not fair for the big bully NYT to force people to pay more for its content. I'm sure the folks who write for the Idaho Statesman or the Bangor Daily News would queue up to get Araton's salary --- why should he use his degree or his skill to demand a higher rate? I realize borderline Communism coming from the New York Times is hardly man-bites-dog, but they should keep it out of the sports pages.

When even mopey NYT scribes are hitting the mark on their Notre Dame hair-pulling, it's time for the Fighting Irish to re-examine their priorities. Would it kill them to go to Hartford or Piscataway at least once? Are they so focused on "no more heavyweights" in pursuit of the almighty dollar that we're doomed to slates of MAC teams? God I hope not.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nothing Like Evidence

I originally made this point as a comment to the last entry. But I think it bears a little more scrutiny, so I made it a post.

If you need evidence that 4-4-4 works and is necessary, look at the title game this season.

LSU played in the SEC, a tough conference without a doubt. Few, if any, tier 3 teams in there, and even the 3's can be tough outs. They played a total of seven games against teams ranked at kickoff. Non-conference, they played VaTech, then had Florida, Auburn, and Alabama during the regular season. Then they went through Tennessee to get to the title game itself. No shortage of challenges there. Even with two losses, their strength of schedule and win in their conference title game got them to the BCS championship.

tOSU played in the Integer, usually decent but this year way down. Their non-conference schedule was a joke, including Youngstown State and Akron. They had no games against top-20 teams at all. But they won all but one, and managed to get into the title game based on one loss and the fact their conference doesn't play a title game.

The results of that game speak for themselves. The tempered, challenged team blew the doors off the team that had scheduled itself into the game. tOSU hadn't played anyone of note, while LSU had been challenged throughout the year. Their experience meant they knew how to respond when the chips were down.

You can't play six or more games against crappy competition and limit yourself to a max of two quality teams each year. It doesn't work. You may end up in the title game if you back into it, but you're not prepared. Eventually, the selection committee sees through your act and you don't get considered anymore. By then, there's a layer of rust on the program that might be difficult to remove.

Labels: , ,

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........

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If you want something done right...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The other day, I wrote about how NDN could be viewed by the electronic community. One commenter noted I hadn't been so circumspect during the previous coaching regime, and asked me why it was OK to criticize a black man on our boards while seemingly giving a white man a pass.

I didn't approve the comment, one because I didn't see how it was relevant, and two because the questioner obviously hadn't been on NDN during the Bob Davie era to see the parallels. However, the question stuck in my mind, and I'd like to try and answer it.

The last two football coaches at Notre Dame, in their heart of hearts, didn't want to be there. The first pursued the job because of its high profile and potential for personal mobility. The second took the job not because he wanted to but because he felt he had to -- it would mean a great deal to a lot of other people for him to be in that position. So each made the "sacrifice", of sorts, to move to South Bend from an area in which he was a lot more comfortable.

Unfortunately, neither took that "sacrifice" to its logical conclusion. It's not enough to do the job halfway, but that's where they stopped. They didn't truly want to be at Notre Dame, and it showed in everything they did.

The first spent too much time trying to turn ND into the place he really wanted to be, and was foolish enough to react in a dumbfounded manner when ND people didn't like it. He was so focused on where he would be next, he didn't take the time to concentrate on where he was then, and the results were predictably haphazard. He had some acumen but not enough experience, and wasn't interested in applying either to making Notre Dame better long-term.

The second, since he wanted to be at ND even less than the first, didn't work hard on the field or off. He didn't make an effort to get to know many people on campus, even those who went out of their way to make him feel welcome. He developed no affinity for or relationship with the alumni, even going so far as to push some of them away.

The top priority for each was not if ND won or lost, but rather how he looked to his prospective next employer. He would be at Notre Dame as long as it took to give the people who wanted him to be there what they needed, giving his career a boost in the process, and then he'd be off for what he believed to be greener pastures.

Compounding the problem was an administration who didn't have winning as their focus. They were more concerned with how the coach's employment played with those they wished to impress rather than how he was performing as an employee, the second coach especially. They put wins low on the priority list, and when those wins didn't stack up, those administrators really weren't bothered. They were scoring points with the people that mattered to them, and that's what counted.

The combination of those two factors -- a head coach and an administration both focused on things other than the advancement of the Notre Dame program -- made it necessary to get the people involved removed as soon as humanly possible. An atmosphere such as the one being created in South Bend was not going to lead to long-term stability or success. Any short-term gains would all go to waste under the poor leadership of people distracted by concerns that competent leaders would consider tertiary.

Now we have an administration willing to take perceived PR hits to put football back on the right track. We have a head coach deeply vested in the Notre Dame philosophy who has shown although he may sometimes be defeated, it won't be because he didn't work his ass off. The only constituency that matters to any of them are the players, alumni and fans who have supported the program through thick and thin.

Both the coach and the men he works for are capable of (and have made) mistakes both large and small. But those mistakes are borne of action rather than passivity, inspired by a chance to promote Notre Dame rather than an opportunity to advance their own agendas. While it's no guarantee of success, it's a much much better model for it than the previous regimes used.

This coach and these administrators are not doing de facto damage to the program by their presence and actions on campus. They want what we want. They bleed when we bleed. They care when we care. None of that has anything to do with the color of the coach's skin or the accent in his voice, but rather the focus of his mind and the desires of his heart, which are much more in sync with us than they were with either of the two men who preceded him in the position.

Does that mean I'm being more forgiving now than I was then? Probably. Like so many other situations in life, I'm going to reach out to the person willing to meet me halfway. Bob Davie got lost on the way to the meeting point, and Tyrone Willingham couldn't be bothered to take any steps in that direction.

Charlie Weis, on the other hand, has virtually sprinted to where we are and given us plenty of reason to put our faith in him. So that's where my faith is. If either of his predecessors had done the same, I (and many others) would have responded in kind. But they didn't. So here we are.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Institutionalized Dumbness

As predicted, ND's 0-3 start has brought the Weis-to-Willingham wolves out in force. I can only imagine what it'd be like had Washington defeated Ohio State.

Most of the hair-pulling is so much tripe and not worthy of reading, let alone commenting on. And let's be clear: the reason for that is not that I disagree with their point (although I do). The reason for that is those columns don't represent true opinion.

If the authors had covered ND and its football program for a long time, had insight into the situation, and were trying to communicate a closely-held belief on their part, I could respect that. But guys like Pat Forde and Bob Kravitz and most of the ABC/ESPN talking heads don't have closely-held opinions on the subject. They'll write just about anything about just about anyone within the boundaries of legality and (sometimes) taste if it gets them attention, eyeballs glued to their words, and advertising or other revenues for their papers and websites. Their mantra is it doesn't matter if they're saying bad things about you, just so they're saying things about you. Effectively, they've whored out their writing talent, and I really can't respect that.

Writers I do respect like Terence Moore, Malcolm Moran, Jason Kelly, and others have written plenty of critical things about Notre Dame. Some I've agreed with, some I've not, but in all cases, I know they're writing from a position of trying to inform and educate the reader. Therein lies the difference. They're not trying to make their bones at Notre Dame's expense.

I'm more than willing to discuss arguments entered into in good faith. And I read one today that, while I have plenty of issues with its content, at least seems to be coming from that perspective. In today's Rocky Mountain News, Paul Campos discusses Weis' current situation and believes it to be an example of "institutionalized racism" rather than the overt variety. You can read the entire article here.

As I said, there are overt errors here with which I don't agree and which have been discussed in this space before. Charlie Weis has beaten plenty of "good opponents" -- it's not like he won 19 games in his first two years against the MAC. There's little mention of his first two seasons in the article, and Campos makes it sound like Weis has been bad since he got to ND, which isn't true. There's also no reference to the marked improvement in recruiting since Weis arrived. And I'd like at least one of the people taking on this subject to at least mention the fact that not only does ND graduate African American players at one of the highest rates in D1 football but also is the only D1 program to have African Americans in both coordinator positions, but I'm not holding my breath.

But this is the meat of what I wanted to discuss -- a portion of the article where Campos quotes a friend of his whom he calls "JJ", referring to Weis' extension in his first season:

"I'm not saying ND's AD and president are sitting there saying, 'Well, Weis sucks, but he's white, let's give him another chance.' Obviously that's not what's happening. But I do think there's plenty of institutional racism, and this is a good case. Weis isn't getting another chance because ND's administration is overtly racist, it's because everyone at ND is just more inclined to think highly of Weis and poorly of Willingham."

I understand where JJ is coming from, and I agree with him there's a problem with racial viewpoint when it comes to coaching in America. But I don't agree with him that Notre Dame is an example.

First, if Weis is getting "another chance", it's because his first two seasons were very good, resulting in BCS bowl bids, something his predecessor playing a similar schedule never achieved. That, as I said last week, buys you goodwill when things don't go well. And it's not like that goodwill isn't being used up, because at some point in the (near) future, the well will run dry and we'll see what we shall see.

Second and more importantly, I don't believe the contract extension Weis received was the result of people at ND being more inclined to view him positively because of his race. I think it was the result of Notre Dame, when it comes to matters of handling coaches, having a very clear track record of being stupid.

Up until the late 1990s, Notre Dame was still operating under the five-and-one model -- a five-year deal to start with, then one-year "handshake agreements" after that -- with all coaches in both football and basketball. It was a horribly antiquated methodology, and I know on the basketball side, at least, it was damaging to recruiting and the stability of the program.

They finally entered the 20th century on this issue just as it was ending, but it was a bad transition. Kevin White, barely into his job himself, gave Bob Davie a contract extension after a nine-win smoke-and-mirrors season, only to watch the team absolutely implode in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State. Supposedly, that extension was necessary because the first contract Davie had signed -- also the first in ND history that wasn't on the five-and-one model -- was so poorly structured it had no termination provisions. They fired Bob Davie, stepped on their cranks with Jon Gruden, and hired George O'Leary and his MadLibs resume for about a week. As a result of that two-week circus, they had to overpay an unspectacular Tyrone Willingham to take the job, who immediately set new standards in lack of effort both on and off the field. Once again, a firing followed by a PR disaster, this time with Urban Meyer, before landing Weis.

So when Weis started out with a high-powered and well-thought-out offense, organization and success on the recruiting trail, and an air of stability around the program, I can understand why White would want to lock him up. But doing it so quickly and for so long was, like so many similar decisions in the last decade, stupid. Weis was already on for six years and had a buyout provision. If he was really the kind of guy who was going to bolt after a season, is that the guy you want at ND anyway, stability notwithstanding? It's much more likely he and his agent decided to shake the tree a little bit to see how much fruit was still there to fall, never dreaming they'd find themselves in the middle of Pete's Produce with a blank check thanks to Kevin's acumen (or lack thereof).

And it's not like the ineptitude has been reserved for football. John MacLeod begged for years for a longer-than-one-year deal to give his staff some stability. Matt Doherty was able to bail for North Carolina in the middle of July recruiting after one year at ND without it costing him a dime. Then there were the travails of replacing baseball coach Paul Mainieri last year. We still don't know what happened with the golf coach that mysteriously resigned.

I can understand why JJ may feel there's a tendency to view white coaches better than black ones because I do believe that's true in some places. The linked article talks about Norv Turner, and I completely agree it's stupefying how he continues to get work when there's a mountain of evidence he can't get the job done. How many times was Rich Kotite hired?

But in ND's case, I think it's more an unfortunately typical attack of dumbness.

Labels: , ,

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?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 30, 2007

Credit Where It's Due

Kevin White's been taking a beating on this blog recently, so fairness dictates he receive the praise due him when so warranted. And now so warrants.

ND announced a 20-year contract extension to ND's football series with the University of Michigan, which means ND and the Wolverines will meet on the gridiron uninterrupted through 2031. According to folks on campus, one of the prime movers in this deal is telling folks that not only will the regular home-and-home schedule continue (meaning White did not acquiesce to Bill Martin's request to switch the order), this deal does not replace the reported series with Oklahoma that will take place in 2012-13.

With all the commentary about 7-4-1 and barnstorming coming out the Joyce Center in the last month, this is a breath of fresh air. This ensures ND will have at least one marquee opponent at home each season and will have at least two overall each year. It also shows a willingness to go beyond the two, although how that will jive with the other announced plans (three Big East squads, Integer responsibilities, 7-4-1) remains to be seen.

As it stands right now, this is a Good Thing, and when people do Good Things, they deserve a pat on the back. So this is mine. Excellent job, Kevin. Keep it up.

Labels: , ,

How About A Little Fire, Scarecrow?

I can't believe I spent an hour over the weekend putting together my strawman list and still forgot the most galling of them all:

ND's recruiting is improving ... they must have lowered their academic standards

[smacking head on keyboard repeatedly]

This is probably one of the biggest canards in the ND universe -- that the Fighting Irish lower their academic standards when they want to get good and then raise them again when they get nervous about becoming a football factory.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm willing to assume there is always an inverse correlation between the academic achievement of high school juniors and seniors and their athletic ability, even though it's something I don't necessarily believe to be true.

The measure of admissions standards seems to be set by the average GPA and standardized test scores of the athletes ND admits. When those scores go up, the theory goes, ND has tightened the noose on its coach in an effort to reclaim some kind of accountability for classroom performance. When those scores go down, ND has realized they need to admit the quality athletes to succeed.

That all sounds great in theory. The problem is, it only measures the student athletes who accept a scholarship offer to Notre Dame, not the full range of student athletes who were offered a scholarship, and it's the offer range that truly determines what Notre Dame's "admissions standards" are.

Players want to go where they believe they will succeed in the areas they deem important. They want to play in the pros, and they want to make sure during their college careers they get the proper instruction and exposure that will maximize the chances they'll end up there. Therefore, they're going to be attracted to and sign with strong programs.

When Notre Dame is perceived as strong, they're going to sign good athletes. If you believe my assumption above that the good athletes are going to bring correspondingly low academic scores, the overall ratings will go down. When Notre Dame is perceived as weak or otherwise non-optimal, they're not going to sign good athletes. Once again, if the assumption is true, the overall ratings will go up. It has nothing to do with what Notre Dame has intended, but rather what they have achieved, which is not the same thing and not subject to the criteria being evaluated.

The current mantra is that ND somehow loosened the strings for Charlie Weis, and that's why he's pulling in top classes. The reality, however, if you talk to recruiting gurus, is ND bent over backwards to accommodate Bob Davie, and bent even further for Tyrone Willingham.

Remember that for the most part, student athletes cannot be offered a scholarship without the approval of admissions, and over the past 10 years there have been more than a few "question marks" that got (or accepted) offers to come to ND. The difference is, a lot of them didn't accept that offer, so their scores are not factored in to the data for their recruiting class.

Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were allowed to make plenty of offers to blue-chip athletes who still had academic issues to overcome. Aldo de la Garza went so far as to sign a letter of intent for Davie's squad, but never made it to campus after Clearinghouse issues. Justin Forsett and Jonathan Stewart were not what you'd call academic hotshots in high school, yet Willingham was permitted to pursue them and make the offer to them.

And academics didn't have anything to do with some of the other problems. Reggie Bush, who had his academic house in order, chose Southern Cal over the Irish, which had nothing to do with academic standards and everything to do with ND not being an attractive program under Willingham's leadership. Think TW's ND record would have been better with Bush in the backfield? Can't blame that one on admissions.

Does this mean ND never tightens the academic reins? Of course not, because they have in the past. But they usually do it more to affect the viability of a coach than to make some kind of overall statement. ND has goosed the standards up to push Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Digger Phelps out the door when firing them or otherwise terminating their contracts might have drawn hue and cry from the alumni and fanbase. But I don't believe they've ever done so to quiet complaints about being a football factory, because the only people who make those complaints are (or at least should be) irrelevant when it comes to ND charting its overall course.

As long as a coach keeps lines of communication open with the admissions office, he (or she) should have no issues with recruiting. When you keep those lines open, as Weis has, you benefit. When you don't keep those lines open, as Willingham didn't and Davie did haphazardly, you don't.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Burning Down the Strawmen

Some folks have expressed frustration at the repetitive nature of Rock's House these days. Way too much Kevin White bashing, they say. You've made your point, isn't it time to move on to something more interesting?

All other things equal, I'd be inclined to agree. There's only so much talking one can do on any topic, and it's certainly possible the discussions regarding our Athletic Director have reached critical mass, meaning it's time to either talk about something else or stop talking and take some action. And that's certainly being mulled over.

But last night, I got a lesson in why we need to keep these topics on the front burner when I attended the annual NDNation White Sox outing. Along with the camaraderie and good time had by all, I had a very sobering conversation with one of our regular posters.

He informed me at his place of business is an ND alum who spends a lot of time trying to convince him and the rest of the Subway Alumni there that "those guys are just Internet crazies. They don't know what they're talking about. Things at ND are going just fine; they're just looking for a reason to bitch."

This is the kind of thing we're fighting against. This is the complacency or downright state of denial in which some of these folks live, and they're spreading that condition to people who consider them to be experts merely because they're in possession of a South Bend sheepskin. This is why we have to keep up the fight and keep these topics out there and keep people talking about them.

So in the interest of eliminating some of the hurdles in our path, allow me to burn down a couple of strawmen that this guy (and others) tend to erect when talking about our ilk and our position:

Everything Kevin White / the ND administration does is wrong. Untrue. Notre Dame is like any organization of its size. In the sheer volume of decisions and policies made or set in any given day, some of them will be good and some of them will be poor.

But just as not every decision will be a poor one, not every decision will be a good one either. And when a number of poor decisions seem to be emanating from the same source, logic dictates the suitability of that source be examined. Past targets of this scrutiny have shown themselves to be worthy of it, so don't be quick to dismiss criticisms as being some sort of smear campaign. We have lives, and lack the time to waste on such things. When we analyze problems (such as ND's business dealings with Adidas and the procedures used to hire and fire coaches), we analyze the actual data.

A lot of people love Notre Dame, and the natural feeling for most people is not to criticize things they love to avoid a sense of somehow "devaluing" that thing. People of intelligence should be able to do both and know that it's not to be done frivolously. Those with children have (hopefully) done it all their adult lives.

They won't be satisfied unless ND is playing five top-ten teams every year. Again, patently false. Last week, I did a scheduling analysis that I believe represents, overall, the wishes of the Ilk. That schedule follows a 4-4-4 model: four games against top-tier teams to challenge what should be a talented, well-coached Notre Dame football team (e.g. SC, Michigan, Alabama); four games against what should be token opposition given the schools' comparative abilities to attract coaches and talent (e.g. Duke, Stanford), and four games against traditional "mid-range" schools that, while they should be capable of giving ND a decent game, more often than not will come out on the losing end (e.g. Purdue, Michigan State, Pitt).

A Notre Dame football program operating at its top efficiency should have no problems with a schedule like that. It ensures at least one or two enticing football matchups in South Bend every year, and also ensures any ND team that participates in quality postseason play is not only tempered and ready for that ultimate challenge but has also truly earned the right to be there.

No one is saying the schedule has to be littered with the Top 10 and no other game will do. They're saying limiting ND's quality opponents to two a year, which is what the current plan calls for, is both ill-conceived from a preparation perspective and unbecoming to what Notre Dame has done on the field for more than a century.

To say that ND has to schedule more patsys so they can be assured of winning more games and getting to the BCS championship is unacceptable to me. I don't care if other schools are allegedly doing it, because I believe those schools are going to be looking at a backlash in the near future. Ask Ohio State season ticket holders how they feel about spending top dollar to watch this year's non-conference slate of Youngstown State, Akron, and Kent State. Some of them are quite displeased. I'm also not convinced other schools are doing it, as ShermanOaksND's analysis shows.

There's more to Notre Dame athletics than football, you know. Earth to Farmer Bob, come in Bob. This is the ND Basketball Guy talking. I'm quite well aware there's more to ND athletics than football. That's why Cross and I get into it all the time about his "AD of football" idea (which I still don't advocate).

But let's also remember that football is the straw that stirs the drink. That means it requires special attention to ensure it continues to produce the golden eggs that keep a lot of the other sports going. That doesn't mean trying to wring every dollar out of every orifice, but it does mean accommodating football where it reasonably requires it.

Besides, I have yet to see evidence that any of the recent non-football athletic successes at ND are in any way attributable to the current administration. Women's soccer and women's basketball have won titles, but their coaches' tenures predates Kevin White's arrival on campus. The policy of full scholarship funding was originally Dick Rosenthal's idea, and the implementation of that policy began with him and continued with Mike Wadsworth.

What's wrong with a Jumbotron that will show replays and honor special guests?

(yes, I used the dreaded J-word)

Nothing. Except that kind of 'tron doesn't exist.

Screens of that nature cost tens of millions of dollars to build and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain. Is that money going to fall from the sky? Of course not, which means any screen in Notre Dame Stadium will require advertising or other sponsorship money to run.

It's also not going to show any replays of the things the crowd would really want to see. Controversial plays or anything else that might make the referees look bad will not be shown. They're not shown at any other venue, so it's not likely they'll be shown at ND. Think you would have seen the Bush Push in 2005? Think again.

ND football is a unique experience, with the band, cheerleaders, student section, and crowd all contributing to an atmosphere unmatched in college sports. Why distract and detract from that atmosphere with cheesy graphics, TV spots, and Loud Continuous Noise?

There's no evidence that [insert topic here] is in any danger of happening. Not always publicly, no. You can sometimes get a warning bell or two from public comments folks in South Bend make.

But we're fortunate to have people on campus who are on our side. Those people work in myriad departments, including Athletics. They're appalled at some of the things being discussed, and irritated at the ineptitude they observe. Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves have a lot of hot potatoes in their laps, with four Dean positions to fill and having just finished a search for a new assistant Provost. They can't always be watching this sort of stuff, so we're happy to watch it for them. Does that make us arrogant? Maybe, but it's a fault we'll all cop to gladly.

That's the usual suspects all lined up in a row. I may revisit the topic if I think of more, and I've no doubt our loyal comment-makers will remind me of any I missed.

Edit: And sure enough, I missed the biggest one, which I've discussed here.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 27, 2007

When's Gonna Be My Time??

I don't usually quote Kevin Smith movies in the blog, but the title seemed apropos given the headaches of the last couple of weeks. Again and again, evidence of bad planning simply floods out of the Joyce Center and demands the above question regarding how much patience Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves are willing to show with Kevin White's "leadership" in the Athletic Department.

Scott covered the business end of things well, and if you haven't read that missive, you should. ND is tripping all over its collective cranks with these contracts, and as Scott said, the fact that ND is allowing Adidas to dictate any kind of uniform policy while not protecting ND's position in the Adidas hierarchy is an embarrassment. Coupled with the bad contracts for O'Leary and Willingham, the poor BCS negotiations, the lack of ground-breaking for the Joyce Center, and public comment mis-speaks, ND seems to have lost whatever business sense it had and is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But there's also buffoonery on the logistics side. Info on scheduling contracts is coming out bit by bit, and it's not giving anyone the warm fuzzies.

First, we have Wazzu on the Riverwalk. Exactly whom this matchup is supposed to excite I don't know, because I have yet to talk to anyone either in real life or on NDN who is thrilled by it. Washington State is a decent enough team -- tier 2 at this point, leaning towards 3 -- but I fail to see why having the game in the middle of south Texas, where neither team has a strong following, is in any way logical. I have yet to be presented with a reason why I should attend this game in lieu of any actual road games and/or a bowl game, and I suspect I'll never get it.

Quick on its heels, it's the Baptist Battle in Arlington. Apparently ND will return to the Lone Star State in 2012 to take on the mighty Baylor Bears. At least this time the opponent makes sense and is actually located in the state in which the game is being played, allowing a level of logic the previous matchup lacked. However, I still fail to see why I should feel compelled to attend this game, and I know a decent number of people in Dallas, including my ND roommate.

But then, a potential light at the end of the tunnel: The Sooners are Coming!!. ND and Oklahoma apparently have finalized their deal, with games in 2012 in Norman and 2013 in South Bend. Granted, it would be better if Oklahoma supplemented Michigan on the schedule rather than replacing them, but this is a good thing, right?

Maybe not. If the games are set up as the NewsOK article says, this is what the 2012 schedule will look like so far:

Navy (@ Dublin)
Baylor (@ Dallas)
@ Oklahoma
@ Southern Cal
@ Rutgers (probably the Meadowlands)

Never mind that ND is already traveling as far as Dublin that season, already playing a game in Dallas, and looking for a quality home game with SC on the road. They're going to go to Norman, too. Where's the logic in that? It would have made much much more sense to start the series in South Bend, which would provide a good anchor for the home schedule. But of course, that's not what we're doing. Do they expect me to shell out $1,500 for Sorin Society membership for the privilege of seeing Purdue? Not gonna happen.

But what's more disturbing is the groundwork this possibly lays. The biggest bone of contention with Michigan right now is they want ND to change the home-home rotation around so they'll have ND at home one year and Ohio State home the next. Of course, if ND does that, it'll put Michigan on the same rotation as Southern Cal, giving ND the problem Michigan now has. So the logical response to Bill Martin and the rest of his skunkweasels is to work it out with the Integer and move the Ohio State game if they want to continue playing us.

But now we have this Oklahoma setup, putting that big game and SC on the same rotation. What are the chances when we hear that ND and Michigan have re-upped following their two-year hiatus, that new contract is going to start in Ann Arbor, thereby continuing the odd-year rotation? That would mean that Michigan, a school that has done more to try and undermine ND in the past century than any other program, and whose AD embarrassed us with the publication of their Adidas contract details, actually got major concessions from ND in scheduling.

How long, Lord? How long will we have to put up with this never-ending parade of ineptitude? What is it going to take to make Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves and the Board of Trustees to see the light, and when that final back-breaking mistake is made, how much is it going to cost Notre Dame in money, time and prestige to fix?

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Possible Early Returns

With the impending release of the lottery results this week, ND also released a statement on the tix lottery yesterday.

Lots of "good news" for Irish fans, including promised increased availability for lottery participants overall, which is a good thing.

Lost in the kerfluffle of how demands for certain games ranked, however, was a brief mention of refunds:

Beginning July 16, the Notre Dame ticket office expects to mail refunds worth more than $8.6 million to unsuccessful lottery participants (the second-highest total in history, compared with refunds of $11.7 million a year ago).

On its face, this supports the theme of the release that more people got tickets than last year -- again, a good thing. But let's take a look at the math.

ND has the same number of games as last season, has the same home/away split as last season, received pretty close to (if not exactly) the same number of road game tickets as last season, and didn't add any seats to ND Stadium between last season and this.

This means, statistically speaking, the number of overall tickets available was the same in both 2006 and 2007. Assuming 5,000 seats for each road game (even though we sometimes get only 4,000) and 32,000 for each home game, that's 249,000 tickets going through this process (which I mention for the sake of completeness since the specific overall number isn't relevant to the discussion).

All of the games reached "sellout status", meaning the same number of tickets were won this season as were last. Given this equation...

[tickets won] + [tickets refunded] = total demand

...and knowing [tickets won] is the same for 2006 and 2007, one should be able to determine the overall demand change between seasons by looking at the number of tickets that were lost this season versus last. For the sake of simplicity, I'm assigning the ND home ticket price for all lost games, realizing some of the losses were for road contests that might have different prices.

$11,700,000 in refunds / $58 per ticket = 201,724 tickets in 2006

$8,600,000 in refunds / $62 per ticket = 138,710 tickets in 2007

Difference: 63,014 fewer tickets requested, a 31 percent drop from last year.

Yes, the prospects for ND football are slightly less "juicy" this season than last. There's no Brady Quinn Heisman Watch, and not a lot of people have ND in the National Championship race. So it's understandable people might not take the extra step to get to South Bend this year if there are other pressing things in their lives going on.

But I think it has a lot more to do with the compelling nature (or lack thereof) of the games in question. Instead of home contests against Michigan and Penn State, ND has three snorers in a row in November, including a glorified scrimmage against Duke. I'm anxious to see what kind of demand there was for those games, assuming the statistics are released.

The proponents of the 8-4-1 scheduling concept should take note of this precipitous fall in demand for this year. As the BGS guys so comprehensively covered it here, that model requires multiple body-bag games with teams that won't demand a return date in any contracts. In other words, plenty of Dukes, MAC squads, or other non-BCS-level competition. And as ND fans showed this season, they're not going to get their wallets out for crappy slates or non-compelling "neutral site" (in location only) contests.

I think the demand this year was rescued by grudge matches against SC and BC in South Bend, and 8-4-1 doesn't give you that every year -- heck, probably most years. If ND is going to have three or four compelling games every year, they're going to have to be willing to go on the road, just as they've always done.

Saying "we don't know how good we'll be in 2015" as justification for putting together weak slates ignores the obvious answer: keep hiring quality coaches who will recruit quality players, and ND should be just fine in 2015 and beyond, and capable of playing decent schedules.

The gravy train ain't gonna run for Duke and Ball State, that's for sure.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bricks and Mortar

It's getting to the point where the Virgin Mary will have to start wearing a hard hat.

Announcements over the last week highlight ND's planned campus transformation, including four new dorms, a new Law School, a new Engineering building, and, yes, my favorite project, the improvements to the Joyce Center. There was also new information on Eddy St. Commons, including an update on the details that included the diagram below.

Let me be clear, I'm all for progress. Some of the projects listed, particularly the one about which I've ranted for years, are sorely overdue. While I'm not thrilled at the loss of the University Club, of which I have very fond memories from growing up, that's the kind of thing that can be relocated with minimal effect. And I haven't decided whether or not the missus and I are picking up niches in Cedar Grove -- I'd had my heart set on my ashes being scattered all over campus, but a central location is nice.

As usual, however, I have concerns. Those concerns center around the Eddy Street project, and I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that they have to do with ND's ability to follow through correctly on what they plan to do.

Eddy Street, like the Joyce Center project, is one of those "unique opportunity"-type efforts. What ND decides to do (or not do) here will affect the community for decades, if not longer. Although the current Eddy Street plans are part of a more grand plan to redevelop the area down to Five Corners, the retail footprint will be the anchor for everything else that is done, and if the anchor is shoddy, the project will drift with the winds. And one of the things that makes me fear potential half-assedness is ND's planned micro-managing of the tenants in that retail footprint.

ND has said they will not allow "toxic uses" of the area, which apparently has already ruled out bars. There are other rules affecting this, such as the area already being maxed out on liquor licenses, and I'm not in favor of dives like Bookmakers springing up there. But if ND goes too far in interpreting this "toxic use" rule (I know, ND going overboard on something? Perish the thought!), they could end up with a sterile environment that no one finds interesting. Nice restaurants with bars included and outdoor seating areas are a magnet for the kind of participation ND says it wants. They should be included, if not given priority.

Another red flag is the plan for the residential community. The vision, according to those in charge of planning, is a community of "yuppies and retirees". The retiree angle makes sense, as a lot of older ND alums/fans of means have purchased condos in South Bend in recent years. On the yuppie side, the group apparently wishes to pull some of the folks who currently view Granger as their target location.

The problem: Neither of those groups have children.

To be blunt, you can't build a strong community around childless yuppies because they're at that "fancy free" part of their life. If they feel like trying out a new place, they do it. They have no roots holding them to any particular community. If and when Eddy Street loses its charm, they'll move on.

The Eddy Street planners are shooting themselves in the foot by not making at least a token accommodation for children. As a parent, I can say with authority that nothing changes your life faster than having a child, and once that happens, that re-prioritizing leads you to settle down. It's hard to pack up and move to that cool new subdivision across town when you have to consider where little Johnny and Betty will go to school and who they will play with and how the move will affect them. If you want to build a strong community, that community has to include fully-fledged families moreso than vapid 20-somethings.

The yuppie focus also seems counterproductive. While prices haven't been released, those prices will have to be in the range of the current market in order to get the yuppies to buy in. Proximity to ND is of value to people who are currently far away from it, which might get your retirees in the door. But it'll have no value to Joe Schmoe who works in Mishawaka or Elkhart and can get a townhome a lot cheaper two or three miles away. So it's not like the yuppies (or anyone, for that matter) will be willing to pay premium prices. My guess is they'll end up with retirees and people buying units for the purpose of renting them out for home football weekends, and I'm not sure that's what they had in mind.

But the final concern hangs over both of those like a cloud -- neither of them talk about students.

If one of the purposes of the project is the improvement of town-gown relationships, you can't just bring professors or staff people in there and say, "There, problem fixed." The students must be involved. They're usually centrally involved in the alleged problems in the ND/SB tango, and they're the ones to whom both ND and South Bend should be reaching out because they're the ones who potentially can create long-lasting better feelings between the groups.

But that's not happening here. Undergrads will not be targeted for any of the currently planned residential areas, and it remains to be seen what kind of rental caveats will govern the condos and townhomes. The end result could be an island of "adults" on the edge of campus, which will not attract the students, push them farther off campus to "find their fun" (and all of the dangers that creates), and do nothing to help them get along better with the South Bend community.

As I said, ND only gets one swing at this pitch. If they hit a home run, they can make drastic improvements at the school that will affect generations of ND fans both now and to come in a very positive way. If they miss.......

Edit: My apprehension increases when I read reports like this. Note to the ND folks: $300k for a condo and $500k for a townhome ain't gonna fly in the South Bend market.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

If you build it...

Looks like things are moving forward on the Eddy St. development after all. In a press release this morning, Kite Realty Group Trust announced they would be developing the 26 acres.

Hopefully this means some folks at ND softened their stance and allowed things to move forward.

Creating a more seamless transition from town to gown is a goal that should have been realized a long time ago. Hopefully this is the first in many steps to get it done.

Between this and ND backing off on the two-semester suspension, I may have to take down my ND admin effigy. Is there truly a new day under the Dome? We'll see.

p.s. In case you need a refresher as to what the plans are, a PDF is available here. Keep in mind this may not represent the actual finished product, but it'll probably be along these lines.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And so it begins

This article by Gary Parrish is only the tip of the public relations nightmare Notre Dame has unleashed upon itself, yet again.

This is the kind of publicity that is going to give recruiting a kick in the fruitstand, no matter who is coaching here. And for my gridiron-focused readers, rest assured it won't stop with basketball.

For all of the people trumpeting how "he broke the law" and all that, recognize the reality that a blunt in a car is not considered to be a big deal by most people. How players and coaches will interpret this is Notre Dame let a kid who had never been in any kind of trouble dangle in the wind for almost a month and then suspended him for a semester for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal.

Players may not envision themselves as using marijuana, but I'm quite sure they can envision themselves doing relatively harmless things that aren't any big deal. Now Notre Dame has shown they react to those things with very harsh suspensions, no matter how good a person you've been otherwise. Not exactly the most positive environment, especially for 17-year-old kids who are thinking about both their academic and playing futures.

And what do you think if you're Mike Brey? Based on what ND has told you, you've given this kid hope he'd remain in school for the semester. Now not only did ND yank the rug out from under you, they did it an hour before you were supposed to leave for a road trip, leaving you no time to be with a player in your program desperately in need of counsel and advice. Between the renovation delays and now this, I'm amazed he hasn't resigned.

(and for those of you who clap at that possibility, remember other coaching candidates are watching this stuff very carefully, and if you think they'll want to cast their lot with an administration that does this kind of crap for any amount of money, you're crazy)

This has nothing to do with coddling athletes and everything to do with having, as Parrish put it, common sense. This has nothing to do with teaching, which is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about, and everything to do with image, which is what Notre Dame obviously remains obsessed with.

And it needs to be fixed, quickly and publicly, before it does real and permanent damage.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Make Your Voice Heard

There's nothing else to say about the KMac situation that hasn't already been said, other than if you feel the way I do about the draconian and ridiculous measures that have been used by ND's ResLife for far too long and want to make sure the PTB at Notre Dame know it, it's time to get out your pens.

Fr. John Jenkins
President, University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Mr. John Affleck-Graves
Executive Vice President, University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Mr. Patrick McCartan
Chairman, ND Board of Trustees
Senior Partner, Jones Day
North Point
910 Lakeside Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114

Let them know it's time for a change in thinking under the Dome.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Come Sweet Cash, Indeed

Like others, I was excited to hear ND was finally going to create a more college-y atmosphere in the areas immediately surrounding campus. In addition to improving town-gown relations, it represented an opportunity to create stability in the Northeast Neighborhood.

I read with interest the plan to develop Eddy Street Commons, a mixed-use area with 85,000 square feet of retail space along with townhouses, condominiums, and a hotel. The location proximate to ND stadium made this development, to me, very attractive. My wife and I discussed trying to get one of the residential slots in a combination usage/investment plan. A chance to get new construction close to campus in a thriving area? With all due respect to those mortgage guys, THAT is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth.

But I should have known better than to believe this project would go off without a hitch, because once again, Notre Dame has proven it can't allow a penny to pass near it without trying to squeeze every last hair follicle from Lincoln's head.

According to some folks in town and on campus, the development is on hold right now because a couple members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees have decided ND should make a certain profit on the sale of the land on which this development will occur. The price they seek, according to these folks, is "unrealistic for the South Bend marketplace". If the project went through for the sale price these Trustees want, the rents required to cover costs would be outside the range that can usually be secured in that area. As a result, the project isn't going anywhere right now and won't until the price is more reasonable.

In other words, S.O.S. from the C.S.C., leaving us all S.O.L.

It's hard to believe a school with a $4.5 billion (thanks for the corrections yesterday, guys) endowment that just upped the donation levels for booster programs and regained its spot as the top money-making athletic department in the universe can't let a project that will better both the community and the campus proceed because they're not wringing every last nickel out of the deal.

But as the commercials say, this is Notre Dame, and the vision of Ebeneezer Scrooge in a leather football helmet has been de rigeur there for decades. And while the already-rich hold out for what is due Caesar, the properties sit abandoned and useless to everyone and the development project slips further and further down the calendar.

If I live to be a thousand years old, I won't understand how ND find so many ways to waste its money, all while crying poor. If it's not postponements of the JC renovations or wild tuition increases or building cost overruns or construction budget foul-ups or poor project planning, it's a dozen other things.

These are the kinds of stupid things I was hoping Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves would have fixed by now. Apparently, they're still a little busy figuring out the Vagina Monologues while the BOT holds out its change purse.

Oh well. Guess we'll look in Granger.

Labels: , ,