Saturday, September 12, 2015

Notre Dame football...

...was in the Times yesterday (how's that for a shameless example of "Search Engine Optimization"?) in a piece by Dan Barry, "Notre Dame President Stands Firm Amid Shifts in College Athletics."

The author has a conversation with the university's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins (above, right), regarding:

...the growing demand that student-athletes share in the revenue they generate; the calls for N.C.A.A. reform; the push for unionization; academic fraud, sexual assaults, seamy cover-ups.

There's so much here it's hard to know where to begin. So let's take it point by point. 

The first is one Joe Nocera beat me to in his column this morning, "Notre Dame’s Big Bluff." Before I get to Nocera's reaction, what did Barry's piece say? (All emphasis mine.)

[Jenkins] adamantly opposes a model in which college sheds what is left of its amateur ways for a semiprofessional structure — one in which universities pay their athletes. “Our relationship to these young people is to educate them, to help them grow,” he says. “Not to be their agent for financial gain.”

And if that somehow comes to pass, he says, Notre Dame will leave the profitable industrial complex that is elite college football, boosters be damned, and explore the creation of a conference with like-minded universities.

That’s right: Notre Dame would take its 23.9-karat-gold-flecked football helmets and play elsewhere.

“Perhaps institutions will make decisions about where they want to go — a semipro model or a different, more educational model — and I welcome that,” Father Jenkins says. “I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, and I think there would be schools that would do that.”

Pundits scoffed when Jack Swarbrick, the university’s athletic director, voiced similar sentiments this year. No way would Notre Dame — practically French for college football — set aside its national ambitions and settle for Saturday matchups against, say, Carnegie Mellon.
Think of it, they reasoned. Television and sports-apparel contracts would dry up, alumni generosity would decline, and the best athletes would go elsewhere. Notre Dame would no longer be ... Notre Dame.

The scholar-president disagrees. Notre Dame will remain Notre Dame no matter what, he says, fully aware that he is on the record.

Nocera thinks he's bluffing:

Would Notre Dame actually turn its back on something as central to the university’s identity just because it would have to pay a handful of its students?

Not long ago, the University of Alabama at Birmingham — a nobody in football terms — tried to cancel football but quickly reinstated it after a huge outcry. Can you imagine what Notre Dame would face if it de-emphasized football?

And my point about Jenkins is this: Who in the heck does he think he is? Notre Dame football is much bigger than any one individual. Jenkins is the president of Notre Dame, not the pope. Can the president make a unilateral decision about the football program, or is he answerable to a board of trustees? And as for "boosters be damned," seriously? A wise man once told me that everyone has a boss. Someone else once said, "follow the money." So aren't boosters and alums Jenkins's bosses?

If you'll recall, back in 2004 Notre Dame's board ignored its president and athletic director and fired football coach Tyrone Willingham:

As Notre Dame continues its search for a new head football coach, the university's outgoing president yesterday boldly criticized the university for firing Tyrone Willingham after three seasons as coach.

The Rev. Edward A. Malloy, who will retire as Notre Dame's president on July 1, told a sports forum in Manhattan that he and Athletic Director Kevin White wanted to give Willingham five seasons to prove himself, in line with university precedent.

"In my 18 years, there have been only two days that I have been embarrassed to be president of Notre Dame, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, because I felt we had not abided by our precedent," Malloy said, referring to Willingham's dismissal. Malloy's remarks were reported by and The Sports Business Daily.

Malloy criticized what he called "a strong presence of the board of trustees" in the firing of Willingham, whose team went 6-5 this season. Patrick McCartan, who is the chairman of Notre Dame's board of trustees, and Philip Purcell, who is the chairman of the board's athletics committee, were two of the seven administrators who met on Nov. 29 to determine Willingham's fate.

So that's point number one: If colleges start paying football players, Jenkins is kidding himself if he thinks he has the power to stop that at Notre Dame.

Next: Are Notre Dame football players "student-athletes" or professional athletes?

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