Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Hour

My previous post on the personnel changes in the Office of Residence Life at Notre Dame generated a few comments. Some reminded me that the folks at "Res Life" are good Notre Dame people who are just trying to do their jobs enforcing the rules. That's fair enough, but while I am not questioning the good intentions of the recently departed, I do reserve the right to question the manner in which they exercised their discretion and their authority.

Other comments were more in the nature of dancing in the streets. The recently retired Notre Dame Leprechaun (no, really) asked if students got "res-lifed" in my day? In "my day"? What the heck is that supposed to mean junior? I'm not THAT old. Am I? Get off my lawn you dang kids. By the way, you should check out the Leprechaun's new blog, Irish Creed, when you get a chance. Great perspectives from a couple of newly minted ND graduates and one current senior.

But seriously. Yes, students did get "res-lifed" back in my day. But you had to try just a little bit harder than today's students to get in serious trouble back in the early eighties. The story below should help contemporary readers understand where I and my peers are coming from when we bemoan the draconian approach the Administration has recently taken toward discipline generally, and alcohol in particular. The story is taken pretty much verbatim from a post I wrote several years ago over at, a web page for Carroll Hall alumni. I'll admit that our experiences in Carroll Hall were not necessarily in the middle of the mainstream back then, but we weren't that far out of the norm either.

The story is called "Happy Hour":

I arrived at Notre Dame and Carroll Hall in August of 1982, having come all the way from California, alone. The bus from O'Hare dropped me and my trunk at the main circle, and I needed some help to find out where Carroll Hall was. I had seen it on the campus map the University sent me, and it seemed like it was sort of far from the rest of the buildings on campus. I didn't know the half of it. I was literally living a dream being able to attend Notre Dame, but I was a little bummed with the dorm I got.

No worries. I carried/dragged my trunk from the main circle all the way to Carroll, and the RA's greeted me and showed me to my room. It was a big cube of a room on the first floor, right across from the rector's office. My roommates were three New Yorkers (geeeeeez). John "Basil" Hayes and Jock Brody Mutschler were both from the Rochester area, and Scott Kiley was from Long Island. Basil, Jock, and myself were Navy, Army, and Air Force ROTC respectively. Scott was not the military type. Neither was Jock for that matter, but that's another story.

The most striking feature of our room was the plush wall-to-wall whorehouse-red carpet that we had inherited from the previous occupants. Those previous residents had dubbed the room "The Love Palace" and the name stuck, although I'm not sure we really deserved the tag. With four of us living there, and the rest of the Vermin wandering through because of our central location, it wasn't really a quiet place for getting to know that special someone. It might have been called the Insomnia Palace. I swear we never got a wink of sleep before 3:00 a.m. that whole year.

At any rate, I settled in with my new roomies. Before long, a couple of big bruisers came through the door and started demanding money from each of us. Turns out these were some seniors in the dorm, and they were collecting cash for the Happy Hour set for that Friday. I don't recall exactly, but they wanted $5 or $10 from each of us. At the time, that was a lot of money for me. My parents had me on a $50 per month allowance, and I hadn't been picked up on my ROTC scholarship yet. Plus, I wasn't much of a drinker, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go to some party. How naive I was. But these guys weren't taking "no" for an answer. After the shake down was over, some other dorm vets clued us in on what the Happy Hour was all about.

Here's the premise: On weeks of home football games, all during the week in classes, etc... you invited every desirable (or near-desirable, or at least breathing) girl you met to come on out to Carroll on Friday afternoon for our Happy Hour. Good music, free booze (and lots of it). A good time to be had by all. Chicks come, chicks drink, chicks get happy, maybe guys get lucky. The Carroll Happy Hour had a good reputation in some of the girls' dorms, and amazingly enough come Friday afternoon, the dorm was rocking! When you walked back up the drive to Carroll after Friday classes, the music was blasting across the lake. Inside (and often out on the front lawn as well) the kegs had been tapped and the beer was flowing. Inside, there were at least two bars set up. One was usually serving blender drinks (Sea Breezes made with ice, vodka, 7-up, and some sort of juice concentrate), the other was something else (I can't remember because I was usually working the Sea Breeze bar, and performed quality control as well.). These parties started at maybe 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. They would die down a bit as dinner hour came, and then as people left for the pep rally. But they usually went on at least at a low level until about 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning (I think Parietals kicked in at 2:00 a.m. on the weekends, so the ladies had to leave at that time). Although the first floor was the epicenter of the action, the Happy Hour really encompassed the entire dorm. Some partied in big groups downstairs, other partied in more intimate groups on floors two through four.

I remember vividly one scene from my first Happy Hour. I was standing in the party room on the first floor, just down the hall from my room, talking to one of the RA's. He was drunk off his ass, leaning against the wall to hold himself up. He was looking a little ragged, and was quite a bit overweight. And he was passing on a little bit of wisdom. "I used to be like you. In shape, great high school athlete. But before long, you'll look like this too." He was commenting on the crop of young, naive, fresh-faced, super-fit freshman that had just joined the Hall. We thought the guy was pathetic and crazy and bitter. Little did we know.

The Happy Hour was the focus of social life in Carroll Hall, and it gave us our identity. It wasn't always pretty. Lots of guys (especially the freshman) got way too drunk and out of control or sick. Hijinks were common (water drops? Pizza heists? Often post-Happy Hour entertainment). Nicknames were earned. The best example of this from my group of friends was Steve (Last name withheld to protect the sloppy drunk), who was from Texas. One Friday afternoon, during a particularly good Happy Hour, a group of us decided that we wanted to go to the pep rally, and Father Steve was going to take us over to Stepan Center in his van. At any rate, sometime between leaving the dorm for the rally, and returning afterwards, Steve got very sick and blew chunks everywhere. Chunks. The name absolutely stuck. While people later meeting him might assume that "Chunks" got his name from being kind of chunky (he was a big guy), we all knew how he really got the name. Do you remember the show Cheers? When Norm walks in? "NORM!" everyone shouts. Everywhere Steve went for four years, his fellow Vermin would greet him with a chorus of "CHUNKS!"

Many of the stories posted on VerminNet have some connection to the Happy Hour. Of course, nowadays the University would consider our behavior reprehensible. Well, they did then too, but we were pretty much out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and Father Steve was very lenient with us.

I believe it was in my Junior year (1984-85) (Father Steve's last year as rector) that the University killed the Happy Hour. New University policy that year essentially prohibited any alcohol consumption by students under 21 (although they would tolerate drinking in your room behind closed doors if you didn't draw attention to yourself). Alcohol consumption at dorm parties was limited to 21 and older, and was relatively strictly enforced.

It was the end of an era. We held a funeral for the Happy Hour. Father Steve let us borrow some vestments, candles, etc.. from the chapel. We had a last party, and then we laid the Happy Hour to rest. We had a funeral procession, some words were said. And a couple bottles of booze along with some mementos were buried in a hole out behind the dorm. We even had a headstone with "R.I.P." on it. I don't know if the headstone or the grave is still there. I doubt it. But I know there are people out there in cyberspace with pictures of the event, and I think I've got a commemorative button in my trunk somewhere (the same trunk after all these years).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead?

The South Bend Tribune is reporting that Bill Kirk is no longer the University of Notre Dame's associate vice president for residence life. This report seems to be clearly related to other news:

1. Mike Ragone will apparently be eligible to play for the Fighting Irish this season despite this incredibly bone-headed move to get arrested for possession of marijuana on May 8th, and

2. Rev. Mark Poorman, vice president for student affairs, announced last fall that he would be stepping down from that post.

Reading between the lines, it appears that University leadership may have come around to the same opinion as Charlie Weis and many disgruntled alumni and students that the "Res Life" office at Notre Dame was out of control and was having a detrimental impact on the Notre Dame community. Thus, an overhaul of the entire organization, with Mike Ragone as the first (and darn lucky) beneficiary of the changes.

I expect that Notre Dame will continue to hold its athletes and all its students to a high standard of expected behavior. But I also hope that these changes are a harbinger of the introduction of some common sense and some compassion into the Res Life disciplinary process.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lack of Institutional Control

The NCAA has finally spoken on the Reggie Bush & O.J. Mayo investigation. In sum, the committee was wholly unimpressed with the NCAA rules compliance efforts of the University of Southern California and actually dropped the "lack of institutional control" hammer on them.

Here is the NCAA's release which summarizes their findings.

Here is the full 67-page report.

I have now read the entire report. Good stuff. Reggie Bush's parents lived in a house provided by wanna-be sports agents rent-free for a year. Reggie got a nice Chevy Impala, with very expensive rims, stereo, and alarm system, from the same wanna-be agents. Reggie and his folks and some of his friends received various benefits of cash, airline tickets, hotel rooms, and limo service from the same wanna-be agents. Then Reggie and his family stabbed the first group of wanna-be agents in the back and started getting benefits, including a paid "internship" and some travel benefits from a second group of wanna-be agents. This really annoyed the first group of wanna be agents, who then enlisted a USC assistant coach (apparently running backs coach Todd McNair) to pressure Reggie into living up to the deal he made with the first group of agents. The assistant coach denies this ever happened and the NCAA flat-out calls him a liar.

O.J. Mayo (and some of his boys) received cash, a 42-inch flat screen T.V., travel, clothes, shoes, meals and other stuff from some scummy "marketers" who acted as go-between essentially representing O.J. in the recruiting process.

In both cases, what got USC in hot water with the committee was its utter lack of curiosity when confronted with serious clues that NCAA rules were being broken. Time and time again representatives of USC (football coaches and basketball coaches mostly) had information that would have led any reasonable person to conclude that something fishy was going on, and in every instance they chose to essentially ignore the information rather than engaging in prudent follow-up to determine whether there was a problem the University needed to address. The NCAA notes that for most of the period in question the compliance "staff" for the entire University was two people, and that at one point the compliance staff was just a single person. Given the high-profile nature of the USC athletic program and the athletes it recruits, the NCAA strongly felt that USC needed to allocate significantly more resources to its compliance efforts.

To me, the biggest message the NCAA is sending with this report is that the "ostrich" approach to potential NCAA violations by member institutions is not sufficient to shield them from responsibility. Sticking one's head in the sand when the evidence of corruption is swirling around you, so that you can later claim you didn't know anything about it, is no longer an option. I'm looking at you, Pete.

The NCAA was also disturbed by the environment and the atmosphere surrounding the football program and football players at USC. This led to one of the more interesting sanctions imposed: The ban on non-university personnel traveling with the team or being at practices, on the sidelines, or in the locker rooms before, during, or after games. College football's version of the Showtime Lakers just got canceled. Sorry Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg.

As for the sanctions themselves, I don't think anybody will seriously argue that USC got a slap on the wrist. They are labeled a repeat-offender and the committee states that the decision on whether or not to impose a total T.V. ban was a close one. As it is, the Trojans can only award up to 15 new football scholarships (and carry no more than 75 total) for the next three seasons. They are banned from post-season play for two years. All wins in which Reggie Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season are vacated. This means that USC had a combined record of zero wins (all 12 wins are vacated) and one loss (The BCS title game loss versus Texas still stands) for the 2005 season. Unfortunately, USC's loss is not Notre Dame's gain, as a vacated win is not the same as a forfeit. The Irish still record the loss, although I would advocate for a giant asterisk next to the "Bush Push" game in the N.D. media guide. Those are the most significant of the twenty-five different sanctions imposed.

No word yet, as far as I know, regarding the BCS Championship USC won in January of 2005 in the Orange Bowl over Oklahoma. If Reggie played in that game, it stands to reason it would have to be vacated unless the BCS is not bound by the NCAA ruling. Also still waiting to hear from the New York Downtown Athletic Club.

Basketball got hammered as well, and even women's tennis took a hit. Cheating in football and basketball is one thing. But cheating in women's tennis is simply depraved.

It's really, really tempting to gloat. I'll admit I have gloated a little, mostly privately. But to me the big picture here is that the NCAA did something very important today. They took a stand for the integrity of college athletics, and they severely disciplined one of the geese that lays the golden eggs in college football. A cynic might say that they cut off their nose to spite their face. I am instead reminded of the biblical passage:

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.
What does all this mean for Notre Dame? Well, we get to put an asterisk in the media guide, as noted above. We'll get a bit of a recruiting edge against USC for a few years because they won't be able to offer as many scholarships, and the taint of this scandal will hamper them for a while with some prospects. The bowl ban and the scholarship limits will likely hurt USC's on-field performance for a while, which should give the Irish a chance to restore the proper balance to the USC-ND series. Life for a Notre Dame alumnus in Orange County will be a little more pleasant as hopefully today's report will help to tone down the arrogance level of the many USC alumni and bandwagon fans in the O.C.

But I can't help but wonder what Charlie Weis thinks of all this? Notre Dame ended the 2005 regular season at 9-2, the only blemishes on their record an overtime loss to Michigan State (epic comeback from a 21-point deficit) and the "Bush Push" loss to USC. What would have happened if Reggie Bush, who has today been ruled ineligible for that entire season, didn't play that day? He ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns in that game. If USC hadn't played an ineligible player, the Irish probably defeat USC, ending their 27-game winning streak in what would have been one of the biggest wins in Notre Dame football history. The Irish end the regular season at 10-1. Would they have played in the BCS Championship game?

The rap against Charlie was that he never got that "signature win." A win against USC in 2005 would certainly have qualified. Nobody would have questioned his contract extension. Team confidence would have soared. Recruiting would have been even better. Maybe even good enough to prevent, or at least moderate, the disaster we saw on the field in 2007. Things might have been a lot different for Coach Weis. I think I'll probably drink a cold one for Charlie tonight.

Interesting side note: Do you remember Missy Conboy? Missy Conboy is the Deputy AD at Notre Dame and actually served as interim Athletics Director before Jack Swarbrick was hired. Well, it turns out that Ms. Conboy is also a member of the NCAA Committee on Infractions and is a signatory on today's report. I'd love to buy her a drink or two and just get her talking. I'm sure it would be very entertaining.