Wednesday, April 14, 2010

South Bend Spring: Football's in the Air

A terrific article by John Walters that covers a lot of spring football topics (predictable), but also some topics on the evolution of Notre Dame in general. A taste:

Kelly has come to Notre Dame as an outsider and discovered, as has this 1980s era alumnus, that the school and its players are not representative of the Fighting Irish he grew up cheering for. [...] Kelly put up a print of the painting "The Original Fighting Irish" (by former Notre Dame lacrosse player Revere La Noue) in his office.

"You don't see faces," Kelly told Schabach. "You see blue-collar. You see a bit of a swagger. You see toughness. Growing up as an Irish Catholic in Boston, that's what I remember Notre Dame being. That's been one of our goals every day -- to get that fight back in the Fighting Irish. It's good because that's who I am anyway."

It is not, however, what Notre Dame has been for some time. It has become, in the past 15 to 20 years, elitist. Kelly has spoken of a "sense of entitlement" and that comes directly from the top.

Take tuition, for example. Notre Dame was once one of the best bargains around in terms of an undergraduate education. Today, it is closer to Ivy League schools in terms of cost, which has affected the general demographic of the student body. While the school raised tuition just 3.8 percent for the coming academic year -- the smallest percentage increase since 1960 -- the cost of attending Notre Dame (tuition plus room and board) for the first time will exceed $50,000 annually. Cost of "The Shirt" is not included.

About "The Shirt." In autumn of 1988 two enterprising undergrads thought up, designed and then manufactured the legendary "Catholics vs. Convicts" T-shirt for the epic Miami game. That shirt made the pair a small fortune. It also embodies the sharp contrast between Notre Dame students of my era -- and the previous decades -- and those of today.

I can easily picture my classmates and I forking over money for an underground T-shirt that was irreverent and funny without being profane. I can't imagine any of us, though, hiking over to Hammes Bookstore to purchase a T-shirt that the administration has decreed to be the official student body uniform for home games. I understand that proceeds from "The Shirt" go to worthy causes. We all did the Urban Plunge, too. But we also placed a premium on innocent mischief to counter interminable hours of study and the inhospitable climate, both meteorological and social.


This is an assertion based on opinion as opposed to data, but it seems that Notre Dame has for years been killing off its undergraduate middle class. While opening doors to minorities, as it should, the institution has raised prices to a level where few except the sons and daughters of the wealthy (and minorities who are there on need-based scholarships) can afford it.

The school's average Joes -- students from the top 5 percent of their high school classes who were reared in middle-class Catholic families -- were once its backbone. The core of its identity. Students such as Jack Swarbrick, Charlie Weis, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger and Tim Bourret (a co-creator of Bookstore who is now an associate athletic director at Clemson). Alumni who, by the way, have told me, "I couldn't get into Notre Dame today."

In 1978, Rick Telander visited Notre Dame to do a feature on Bookstore Basketball, which was born in that decade, for Sports Illustrated. He described a scene in which one student struck golf balls across St. Joe's Lake as another stood across the lake with a baseball mitt, shagging the drives. Telander concluded that Notre Dame would have been a fun place to go to school for a sports-addled guy like himself.

That demographic is being sacrificed in order that Notre Dame may ascend the list of U.S. News & World Report's annual "Best Colleges" rankings. One consequence of this maneuvering, as Kelly may be discovering, is that Notre Dame is no longer the bastion of the plucky underdog. It is aspiring to become, and its administrators would probably be pleased to hear this, the Duke of the Midwest.

And while Duke is an excellent university, Notre Dame's identity was forged by doing more with less. Now that its students are so relatively pampered -- have you stepped inside The Gug? -- you wonder just how tough a football team they can be. Kelly, coming from a Cincinnati school whose facilities were lacking but whose players' determination never was, must find it somewhat ironic that his last job is much closer to the Notre Dame he envisioned than the present one happens to be.

Maybe that was more than just a taste. But very well done. Read the whole thing, as they say.

South Bend Spring: Football's in the Air


Titus said...

That's a really fantastic article. The "we want to be Duke" thing is entirely too true. If the university is concerned about liability it should have broader waivers in the enrollment contracts: trying to micromanage everyone's life isn't a good way to go about it.

At the same time, the shenanigans of the 70's and 80's aren't necessarily the best models for what student life should be like. We'd probably be better to look to the 30's--50's: I'd bet we'd find students who had more fun and were a lot more responsible at the same time.

Goberry said...

Will Notre Dame be getting a waiver to the new rule prohibiting messages on eye black, or will the Adidas sponsorship be removed?

Voice in the Wilderness said...

Great essay, OC Domer. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that ND has become too elitist. When only about a dozen seniors refused to go into the JACC to hear 0bama the Butcher's speech at the '09 graduation, I was aghast. When I was a student most kids would have protested a pro late-term abortionist receiving an Honorary N.D. Law Degree.

Jim Schmidt said...

I was directed to your blog through a link at Blue/Gray Sky. Although my own blog ( is not ND sports-oriented it is ND history-oriented and may be of interest to your readers, esp. those who attended ND or who (like me) are among that enduring crowd of "subway alumni"…I would be most pleased and honored if you would put in a plug for my blog and forthcoming book. I will be adding other ND blogs - including yours - to a blog roll very soon.

All My Best,

Jim Schmidt

OC Domer said...

Dear Voice ITW: To be clear, the excerpts here are part of a longer piece by John Walters (please follow the link to read the whole thing). I just believe that John captured some really important thoughts so I wanted to share them here as well. All credit goes to him!

OC Domer

OC Domer said...

Jim: I'd be happy to plug the book once it is ready for release. Just send me a note when it's about to hit the bookstores (or Amazon, etc...).

OC Domer

Dana Payne said...

As a 1974 grad of ND , the students I encounter today continue to impress me.

I was a member of one of the last all male classes to enter ND, and even upon Graduation coeducation was minimal.

I think the virtually all male Catholic character is what distinguished ND from other its traditions and on the gridiron.

Being an Ivy League wannabe is great, when it is confined to having the funds to recruit top scholars and students.
Being an Ivy league wannabe can have a negative side, when it is perceived that ND is minimizing,
if not repudiating its Catholic heritage.
I think much of the Obama controversy has this element. Catholicism is parvenu.... somewhat less than Evangelical Christians. Neither is rational nor intellectually rigorous enough for some quarters

You won't be in the club , unless you fit the profile.

The other, probably greater reason, is the politically leftword tilt of the Administration.
A more disturbing news item, was Fr. Hesburgh's efforts to secure Rep. Joe Donnelly's support of the Obamacare Bill. He was a so called pro-life Democrat representing South Bend and environs. He voted for the Bill

In fairness, the Congressman's office claimed that Fr Ted told him to vote his conscience. News sources seem to agree that the call was made at the request of Speaker Pelosi.

Father Ted stands shoulder to shoulder with Sorin as ND's greatest.

If these accounts are accurate, people like myself who took a vacation from donating , might conclude that ND has changed permanently to a University that doesn't reflect its founding values.

Voice in the Wilderness said...

I did not know of Hesburgh's activism on 0bamacare. That Nancy Pelosi has Ted's phone number is disturbing, but his doing her bidding makes me hurl.

Like you, DP, I haven't given a contribution to the university in many years. I don't even pay my Monogram Club dues anymore, and haven't been on campus to see a football game since '07. It is beyond distressing to watch our Alma Mater endorse Socialism.

Dana Payne said...


It was an article in the American Spectator by Joseph Lawler on 3/27/10.

There was an element in the back of my mind that thought that past Presidents of ND would not have bought into alot of this.

Doubt if you will see a write-up in ND magazine either, on the topic.

Scott Appleby's musings comparing favorably Islam and Catholicism will get your blood boiling ....indeed I would venture that most Catholics AND Muslims would echo my sentiments

Appropriate he directs the Kroc institute. {albeit I would spell the name differently.}

Dana Payne said...

Jim Schmidt:

I am a Civil War buff, and an ND alum so keep us posted when your book is in print.

I am in the proccess of exploring your site.

One of the more interesting controversies was whether W. T Sherman converted to Catholicism in his lifetime. Be interested in your take on that.