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