July is killing me. Football is still more than a month away. Baseball is in the boring middle part of the schedule. The insufferable NBA & NHL are finally over for another year. As bad as both sports are to watch, at least they give sports fans something to listen to as background noise while they go about their lives. The top sports stories in the news are (1) NFL superstar Michael Vick is a sadistic prick, (2) An NBA referee making about $250k per year was gambling on and apparently influencing the outcome of NBA games, (3) A UCLA assistant football coach has been arrested for suspicion of residential burglary, (4) Matt Leinart either is or isn't a bad father, (5) Hank Aaron's home run record is about about to be broken by one of the biggest jerks to ever play the game, and (6) The drug scandals of the Tour de France make MLB's steroid problems look quaint by comparison.
July sucks. For college football bloggers trying to keep their blogs fresh and interesting, this is a very tough time. How tough? Blue-Gray Sky is the best blog in the blogosphere on Notre Dame football. The guys over there are original, creative, talented, tenacious, meticulous, and fanatical about the Fighting Irish. But July is so bad that the folks at BGS have resorted to posting a series of "what if" articles about key moments in Irish history. What if the Irish had beaten USC in 2005? What if Urban Meyer had landed in South Bend instead of the Southeastern Conference? Don't get me wrong, the articles are very thoughtful, detailed, and well written. But it kind of reminds me of the guys sitting at the bar after a few beers who start talking about high school, and about how different things might have turned out if only Coach had given me a fair chance to be the starting fullback. Or how life would be so much better if only that cute cheerleader had gone with me to the prom instead of that good-for-nothing Matt Leinart. It's a great discussion, especially with the beer flowing, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean a whole lot. You didn't get that scholarship to State U, and Betty has been a pretty good wife to you despite your being a knucklehead.
There a couple of Notre Dame related items worth commenting on:
1. Coach Weis lost his medical malpractice suit against the doctors who nearly killed him. Not a big surprise. This case was always a bit of an oddity. Given his current financial position and his professional position, I never thought the case was about money for Charlie. I always felt it had to be about principle. I have assumed that Coach Weis really felt that his doctors badly botched the surgery and should be accountable for that, or that he was so angry about the pain his coma and near death caused his family that he felt he owed it to them to try to get some satisfaction. In any case, his lawyers have said there will be no appeal, so Coach can now return his focus 100% to football.
2. I wrote earlier about my hope/prediction that Notre Dame would schedule Alabama as our opponent for one of the two "barnstorming" games to be played in Orlando in 2011 and 2014. Apparently Coach Saban and/or Alabama fans are only kidding when they say they want to play Notre Dame, because when I floated the idea to Crimson Tide Nation, they came up with all sorts of reasons why my idea just won't work.
There is no way Alabama is going into a one off game for an appearance fee, even if it is against Notre Dame.That sounds almost as weak as our own "I don't know where we'd put them." Let's be honest, 'Bama fans, you'll never agree to play the Irish unless it's in your house. You won't come to South Bend. Heck, you won't even come to Orlando. So please tell Coach Saban to stop flapping his gums about scheduling unless he really means what he's saying. Which would be the first time he has ever meant what he says.
As appealing as the idea of playing ND in one of these open spots is, it is largely unworkable though because we already have out of conference road games in 2011 (at Penn State) and 2014 (at Georgia Tech) and I don't see us playing six road games in a year. I think only playing four road games a year is too little, but playing six is way too much. The only way the 2011 or 2014 dates could even conceivably work would be to do a 50/50 revenue split (which would also include splitting the tickets evenly) since that would leave us with only six home games.
3. The Notre Dame recruiting class of 2008 is now "standing room only." The latest verbal commitment brings the total already on board for next February's signing day to 19. Steven Filer is a highly rated linebacker from Chicago. Let's parse that sentence. "Highly rated" means four or five stars, depending upon who you ask. We are starting to take these four and five star guys for granted, but it was not long ago at all that we were recruiting three-star classes with a light sprinkling of four-star players. "Linebacker" is significant because our recruiting on defense has not been up to par in recent years. Filer is yet another top recruit on the defensive side of the ball. The strength of this class on defense is what will set it apart from Coach Weis' first two classes. "Chicago" is the hometown of new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. Under coaches Davie and Willingham the pipeline of Chicago-area talent into Notre Dame had been almost completely shut off. Coach Weis has committed to re-opening that pipeline, and with the arrival of Coach Brown the Irish are now drinking from a fire hose, figuratively speaking. All signs point to this class of 2008 being one of the most important recruiting classes in Notre Dame history. I have two major questions about the Irish this Fall, and they are both relevant to this recruiting class. First, will Coach Brown be as good a defensive coordinator as he is a recruiter? If Corwin can coach these kids as well as he woos them, we'll be a very good defensive team very soon. Second, are the young kids we are recruiting good enough to get onto the field right away? Notre Dame has some areas of need, and our success over the next couple of years will be determined by how quickly we can get the young kids on the field.
4. Put OC Domer down as a "NO" on the 7-4-1 scheduling plan. Many Domers have been calling for Kevin White's head for several years. A persuasive case can be made that for all the good he has done for the athletic program as a whole, he has botched some key decisions when it comes to football. I have generally given AD White the benefit of the doubt in the past. It has been my feeling that he has done a good job overall of improving the facilities for the athletic department as a whole (including football). I feel that the across-the-board competitiveness of Irish teams in men's and women's sports has been very good under White's tenure, despite the disappointment we have felt with the football program. I do not agree that Dr. White does not get the "Notre Dame Way." Under Kevin White, the academic success of our student-athletes has been excellent, and the integrity with which he and the coaches have run the program has been largely beyond reproach.
Originally, I thought Dr. White's "barnstorming" idea was intriguing. Let's get out into the countryside and play some opponents we don't normally face. It will help recruiting, and it will give our fans in other parts of the country a chance to see the Irish play. Unfortunately, the implementation of the plan has been flawed. The major flaw is that Dr. White is treating these "barnstorming" games as virtual home games. Thus, virtually all gate revenue, concessions, parking, and television revenue would belong to Notre Dame. Which sounds good, until you walk through the ramifications. For "virtual" home games you can only schedule teams who would essentially be willing to play you at home (in South Bend). These teams come in two classes. First are high-caliber programs that Irish fans would love to see a game against. This class of teams will not come to Notre Dame Stadium (or anywhere else) on a one-time basis. They will not risk recording an "L" in a tough road game without some serious "quid" for their "pro quo." The "quid" is almost always a "home-and-home" agreement. But Dr. White can't offer "home-and-home" agreements for these virtual home games because it knocks the 7-4-1 concept all out of whack. You end up a 7-5 home/away schedule every other year, on average, which defeats the whole purpose of the neutral site games. The other "quid" that might work would be a 50-50 revenue split. For the national exposure, the recruiting exposure outside their home markets, the chance to play Notre Dame somewhere other than in South Bend, top teams might well meet us in Orlando and risk an out-of-conference "L" for half the cash. To me, this makes the most sense. We already have the revenue of seven home games locked up, and a marquee neutral site match-up would bring in a lot of money even at a 50% share. Add to that the benefit of playing top opponents at neutral sites and you have a winner. Sadly, AD White wants his cake and he wants to eat it too. He wants all the neutral site revenue for the Irish. This approach effectively rules out any chance of playing high-caliber opponents.
Which leaves the Irish with the second class of teams - those that would be willing to come to South Bend on a one-time basis for a decent check. This option is unacceptable.
If I am lucky, I get to one Notre Dame football game per year. When I get to see the Irish play, it is special for me, special for my family. Usually I see ND vs. USC in the Coliseum. Sometimes it's against Stanford on "the farm." If the Irish play in the Fiesta Bowl or other nearby bowl game, I try to get to that. Every once in a while I get back to Notre Dame's campus for a home game. Here's my philosophy on going to a Notre Dame football game: If it's a great game against a traditional power, I would gladly go anywhere to watch it. If it's a game a against a lesser opponent but at a neat venue (like a cool college campus or historical stadium), I will go to enjoy the overall experience of visiting another school. If it's a home game, I will gladly go back to South Bend to see the campus again despite a weak opponent or bad weather. But if we're playing a lackluster opponent in Orlando or San Antonio I'm not spending a nickel to see that game. I will sit at home and watch the game in high-definition on my new 60" widescreen television. Why in the world would I travel to San Antonio to watch ND play Washington State? I've been to San Antonio. It's overrated. Way overrated. If I'm going to watch ND play WSU, I want to go to Pullman, Washington and see another Pac-10 campus that I haven't visited yet. I'm willing to watch the Irish play some of these lesser opponents, if there is a good reason to go.
Give me a reason to go to the games: (1) great match-up, (2) chance to see Notre Dame campus again, (3) fun road trip to another school. The way Dr. White is putting these games together he is adding neutral site games that would be more appealing if they were either true road games or true home games. More appealing for fans, anyway. If you want to play in Texas, schedule a home-and-home with A&M. If you want to play in Florida, schedule home-and-home with FSU. If you want to play the Crimson tide, what would be more fun than a home-and-home against Nick Saban? We can make room. We don't need to play Stanford, Purdue, USAFA, or even Michigan State every damn year. We don't have to play UM every year, if we are picking up 'Bama or Texas instead. But under Kevin White's "plan" Notre Dame gets the revenue of one more home game every year, instead of every-other-year. Notre Dame has a history of being pretty shrewd financially, but a pure money grab for the sake of just the money is not the "Notre Dame Way."