“Notre Dame is no longer relevant.” That’s a fashionable phrase among sportswriters and the bloggerati as we head into a new college football season next week. Rick Reilly kicked up the dust like many others before this past week with his “Demoting Notre Dame” column. His argument is that Notre Dame hasn’t won anything for a long time, therefore:
(1) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve “special treatment” from the BCS.
(2) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve its NBC TV contract.
(3) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve all of the preseason hype.
(4) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve to be independent and needs to join a conference.
These statements have been made by many people many times before, with the only difference for Reilly is that he gets to trumpet his view on the front page of ESPN.com.
Of course, the mere fact that so many people feel the need to proclaim that Notre Dame is “irrelevant” is de facto proof that they are very relevant. Sportswriters might take some time to review the latest hookers-and-blow scandal at Miami, but no one has written that the Hurricanes are “irrelevant”. When a whole host of power schools went through down periods over the past decade, including Alabama and Michigan programs that will be playing a massive opening weekend game at Jerry World next week, I don’t recall anyone complaining that they were still on TV too much or living off of their respective histories.
Look – I’m an Illinois alum that lives and works in the Chicago area. Unlike the vast majority of college football fans, I actually have to deal with Domers (actual Notre Dame alums as opposed to subway fans) on a daily basis. To say that they have an inflated sense of self-worth about their school is an understatement – the football elitism that comes out that school makes Texas, Michigan and USC look like humblebots.
However, it has always bothered me when sportswriters and college football fans claim that Notre Dame doesn’t “deserve” all of its bowl perks and TV money. Whether Notre Dame deserves anything has little to do with whether it has performed on-the-field since the Lou Holtz era. The free market says that Notre Dame is valuable and it is rewarded accordingly. It’s as simple as that. NBC offered Notre Dame a TV contract as opposed to the other way around, so for Reilly to suggest that the school should “do the right thing and not renew” it is asinine. All of the Nielsen metrics suggest that the Pac-12 should not be receiving anywhere near the money that it will be taking in under its new TV deals that being this week, yet would Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott be hailed if he “did the right thing” and took less money for the conference? Of course not! He would have been proclaimed an idiot and fired on the spot. Even the critiques that Notre Dame’s TV ratings have been dropping (which is true) don’t account for the fact that NBC televises all Irish home games, whether they’re playing Michigan or Tulsa. If any national network had to average in Florida vs. a Sun Belt school or Ohio State vs. a MAC school, it’s doubtful that those power schools would draw the audiences that Irish are able to draw when playing cupcake games (with the caveat that Notre Dame has been losing a large number of those cupcake games lately).
At the same time, Notre Dame’s “special treatment” from the BCS has long been overblown. Reilly rails against the Irish receiving a “bonus” of $1.3 million when it doesn’t go to a BCS bowl game, yet ignores the fact that schools such as Indiana, Washington State and Vanderbilt receive the same type of “bonus” from their respective conferences whether they are 12-0 or 0-12. For practical purposes, Notre Dame is receiving about the same amount from the BCS each year as any random member of a power conference, which is hardly “special treatment”. As for access, all that the current BCS rules state is that Notre Dame receives an automatic bid to a BCS bowl if it ranks in the top 8 of the final BCS standings. This really doesn’t mean anything since a top 8 Notre Dame team would almost certainly be snapped up as an at-large bid immediately by a BCS bowl regardless of any auto-qualifier rule. Most importantly, the Irish aren’t getting forced upon anyone. The top bowls want Notre Dame because what matters to them are ticket sales and TV ratings, which the Irish provide in spades. (In contrast, the Big East and non-AQ schools were definitely forced upon the BCS bowls.) That’s why the Orange Bowl appears to rather have a tie-in with Notre Dame in the new postseason system that is replacing the BCS as opposed entire non-power conferences. Even the other power conferences, such as the supposed rival Big Ten, get a financial benefit from including Notre Dame in the power structure that they don’t get from, say, Boise State. As a result, Notre Dame is still with the “in” crowd. (I guarantee you that Jim Delany would rather have a Big Ten school facing Notre Dame in a playoff or top bowl as opposed to Boise State 1000 times out of 1000.) Once again, this is simply the free market at work.
As for Notre Dame’s preseason hype, it’s Reilly’s employers at ESPN along with other TV networks that know that they get an immediate influx of viewers every time that they mention the Irish that are to blame there. Heck, Reilly is guilty of it himself since he knows full well that he wouldn’t have received even close to the same reaction if he wrote a column called “Demoting Miami” or “Demoting Tennessee”. I’d be more than happy if SportsCenter would stop talking about Notre Dame (and for that matter, a sub-.500 Red Sox team and our Lord and Savior backup Jets QB Tim Tebow*), but it’s ridiculous to see a media member shill blaming the school for hype that is entirely generated by the media itself.
(* I’ll admit that I love NBA trade and free agent rumors, which is another prominent source of complaints from many fans about SportsCenter. If the Lakers hadn’t fleeced the rest of the league yet again, I’d still be eating up every Dwight Howard trade scenario. This is sports crack to me on par with conference realignment.)
Finally, Notre Dame is free to be independent. They shouldn’t be forced to do anything that they don’t want to do, including but not limited to joining a conference. As long as they have a TV contract and what they deem to be a suitable home for their non-football sports, then more power to them. There are plenty of other schools that would do the exact same thing if they had the ability to do so, but they simply don’t have that ability. One of these days, market forces might persuade Notre Dame to join a conference (although note that BYU was able to get its own TV contract with ESPN, so any thought that NBC is going to drop the Irish at any point is soon is misguided). However, it should simply be left to that free market to decide Notre Dame’s fate as opposed to some shakedown from the NCAA or other conferences.
Now, before all of you start thinking that I’m some sort of Notre Dame apologist, let’s get to what should truly be causing a crisis of confidence in South Bend: these historically awful uniforms where I had to look away for fear of turning into stone. This is what happens when Ed Hardy and a leprechaun have a love child. These uniforms might only be used for one night, but that one night can cause a lifetime of nightmares a la Bjork. There has been an Ebola-like spread of color-blind fashion in college football uniforms lately, but never in my life did I think that Notre Dame (of all schools) would stoop to such cheap gimmickry. It’s as if though Jack Swarbrick said, “Maryland’s uniforms are waaaay too understated.”
Let’s face it: shoe and apparel companies such as adidas, Under Armour and Nike (whose Oregon uniforms now look like Brooks Brothers suits by comparison) love to design ugly ass shit because young people are fashion idiots that will buy it all up. I’m not hating on just today’s generation: my junior high school years featured vintage Zubaz pants and a superintendent-ordered ban on kids wearing massively baggy jeans backwards because of so many Kriss Kross imitators. (We did have great taste with our Starter jackets and gear back then, though. This Blackhawks Starter jacket was the best piece of outerwear that I’ve ever owned.) Meanwhile, my parents’ clothing from the ’60s and ’70s can be used unironically as Halloween costumes. ’nuff said. It’s simply the circle of life* and the shoe titans know it.
(* My kids have watched The Lion King and listened to its soundtrack so much in the past year that I’ve caught myself inserting phrases from the movie into adult conversations without even knowing it. I’d be horrified to look at a scan of my brain activity right now.)
Therefore, it is the duty of schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama and USC that actually have great classic traditional uniforms to resist the unwavering urges from their shoe partners to mess them up. adidas will always argue that a football uniform designed by a drunk Lady Gaga is a “good idea”. It’s up to people with a working pair of eyes with actual standards to put a stop to it. Sadly, Notre Dame has fallen into the trap of believing that being “relevant” today means using horrible helmets when such a large reason of why they continue to be relevant despite some putrid years on the field is their history and tradition. I’m happy that Illinois appears to be working with Nike in going the other direction.