EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill S. hates Notre Dame. Brent D. does not—find out why in Part I.
If you’re a Notre Dame believer, all is right in the universe at the moment. Notre Dame is ranked first in the nation and preparing for a national championship game in January.
Unfortunately, the rest of us are stuck listening to the hype about how Notre Dame’s players are true student athletes and theirs is one of the few programs not corrupted by greed and poor sportsmanship.
To which I say: Don’t believe it.
While Notre Dame is having its best year since its last national championship in 1988, consider the excuses made for all the losing between 1988 and today. Whenever Notre Dame struggles, defenders claim their school faces an inherent competitive disadvantage because its academic standards are so rigorous.
Well, Notre Dame does have a very high graduation rate, but it’s not exactly Harvard. The main thing that distinguishes Notre Dame from its competition is its independent status, and that status means no sister schools with whom to share revenues, and no conference championship game to potentially derail an undefeated season.
More importantly, though, what Notre Dame has done with its independence shows the gap between the hype and the reality.
Notre Dame is often compared to the Yankees or the Lakers, as the classiest act in all of college football. But let’s not confuse class with wealth. Notre Dame deserves much of the blame for how contemporary college football has become a media-driven money machine with only a flimsy connection to the tradition values it banks on.
When the TV money flowing into college football changed from a steady stream to a tsunami, Notre Dame surfed the front wave. Their 1991 deal with NBC for exclusive broadcast rights of home games helped ensure the slow death of traditional college football. You know: crisp fall Saturday afternoons on campus, tweedy professors, wholesome cheerleaders, projectile-vomiting frat boys. Back in the day, for far-away alums or fans, maybe the game would’ve been on TV, but probably not. Now, any time slot that doesn’t go up against the NFL has a college game scheduled, to feed the bottomless maw of ESPN and other sports cable outfits.
Yet the fact that Notre Dame is just another a football factory isn’t the issue: it’s the fact that Notre Dame acts as though it isn’t just another football factory.
Even beyond the money, Notre Dame’s claims of moral superiority are belied by events on the ground. When student videographers are killed in windstorms or a young woman commits suicide after allegedly being sexually assaulted by a football player, and Notre Dame’s administration circles the wagons around “the program,” well, they remind us there is no moral high ground in big-time college sports.
The hypocrisy steams like a fresh plate of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
Which brings up the team name, “The Fighting Irish,” another reason to despise Notre Dame. As Woody Allen once joked, “Calling a football team ‘the Fighting Irish’ is like calling a football team ‘the Haggling Jews.’”
In the end, though, hating Notre Dame isn’t about the team.
It’s about hating Notre Dame fans. The worst of them, anyway.
They make the most obnoxious Yankee fans sound like acolytes of the Dalai Lama. When Notre Dame wins, it’s because they’re Notre Dame, and they were meant to win. When Notre Dame loses, it’s because they’re too good academically to compete with those football factory schools! Fighting Irish my ass: the Whining Celts is more like it.
When the Fighting Irish go up against Alabama for the national championship, one bet is a sure thing: no one watching that game will be neutral. Notre Dame: love ‘em or hate ‘em.
But let’s stay true to one scholarly virtue, and be honest. Notre Dame is a very good school, but also one that has sold its soul for television money. That doesn’t make them evil—but it makes the hype as thin as the gold leaf on the Main Building dome that shines so bright on sunny Saturday afternoons.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column also appears in this week’s issue of TimeOut Chicago, as part of our weekly web-to-print partnership.