Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Notre Dame Football: The Devil In Disguise

I ran across something that absolutely disgusted me while reading about Notre Dame football. When discussing sports, you frequently use severity and exaggeration as hammers to drive home a point.

This is not one of those situations.

I was not a fan of the program before, but my antipathy blossomed from admittedly petty reasons. Because I acknowledged this pettiness, I tempered my feelings. Capped them at intense dislike.

No more.

I literally hate Notre Dame football and what it represents - the perfect National Collegiate Athletic Association program.

Heretofore, I could only say that I hated the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were the one rival I allowed myself to hate because I take no pleasure in that emotion. But I'm a San Francisco Giants' fan, what could I do?

Apparently, the answer was to find a worthier target. And I've found one.

The NCAA's mission statement reads like this: "Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount."

Paramount. As in, above all others in importance and priority.

If you know about the program's recent history and you re-read that paragraph, you will realize that Notre Dame football is Job Bluth, the Great Magician.

You will realize that, intentionally or not, the Tyrone Willingham-Charlie Weis Civil War that rages is a singularly transcendent bit of misdirection. It's the next shit and the NCAA is the program's pusher.

Can anyone remember anything about ND football before this scuffle broke out? Before ESPN assaulted the airwaves with rumors, whispers, and nuanced accusations of racism at the nation's most popular Catholic university. Before each ND win or loss became an excuse to dissect Willingham's recruiting versus that of Weis and to revive the race issue.

It is only a slight stretch to say that Notre Dame's long history seems to have been truncated, consisting merely of the last seven years. Especially in today's ADHD world.

How often does Bob Davie's name get mentioned? In fact, I might have to remind some people that he was the coach that preceded TW.

And if the administration at Notre Dame has enough brain cells to blow its collective nose, they should be spending a lot of extra time in divine genuflection for that little bit of deliverance.

Because in 2001, Notre Dame football received the American Football Coaches Association Achievement Award for graduating, get this, 100% of its football players.

100%. As in every single player eligible for graduation. At a competitive, big-time football program.

Schools like Notre Dame will always graduate a higher percentage of their athletes because they simply draw that type of individual. But 100% is perfection.

And 2001 was Bob Davie's last year under the employ of that fine academic institution.

Davie was fired after five years during which he compiled a 35-25 record, accepted invitations to three bowl games, reached the school's first Bowl Championship Series game, eventually graduated everyone eligible for that honor, and was exceptionally inconsistent (they lost all three bowl games).

Anything else? Oh yeah, he had stepped into the rather commodious shoes of Lou Holtz.

To be fair, Davie also received and deserved (to a degree) criticism for opening the University to an age-discrimination suit by mishandling the firing of a long-time Holtz guy.

And it also must be mentioned that Notre Dame received probation from the NCAA during his tenure for a scandal involving improper gifts from a booster to players. Although, how poorly that should reflect on Bob Davie is a matter of debate.

Regardless, no individual is perfect. More importantly, he was not fired for either scandal. He was fired because Notre Dame was closer to average than great under his command and was inconsistent. The scandals did make nice moral cover.

But of paramount importance, at least according to the NCAA, should have been that he ensured every single player eligible for one of life's most valuable assets (a college degree) received it. And apologists could argue that it was the most important thing Davie did.

Except he was fired the year he did it.

"[T]o integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount."

From that statement, the NCAA draws many benefits. One particularly significant such benefit is a tax-exempt status in the eyes of our government. Think about the repercussions of all that revenue sans taxation, both on the NCAA's bottom line and our country's.

Now consider the Draconian constraints placed on the athletes from which all that tax-free revenue is generated. And all the misery sown when immature adolescents break those impossibly unjust constraints.

The NCAA is a greedy, hypocritical parasite and Notre Dame football is its superlative exemplar.

The program is a license to print money. During its finest years, it can compete with all but the most elite programs. It is nationally-revered for its integrity, the premium it places on the intellectual sustenance of its athletes, and its refusal to compromise in that regard.

Notre Dame football is sold to and by the national media as an athletic powerhouse and a bastion of intellectual perseverance through athletic achievement. It sells well.

And it is a vomitous lie.

Notre Dame football is a voracious wolf in sheep's clothing. Its concern over its athletes' intellectual advancement is tertiary. Only when the program's financial and competitive health have been maximized can the program trouble itself with developing its players' minds.

Apologists for Notre Dame and the NCAA will point to the fact that the program continues to graduate a high percentage of its players and has subsequently repeated as winner of the Academic Achievement Award.

But the mission statement does not say the goal of the NCAA is to maximize athletic proficiency and, consequently, profit generation while maintaining an excellent commitment to education. It says education is "paramount."

That means the ideal is a 100% graduation rate while winning national championships. Short of that, it means the next rung on the Ideal Ladder is a 100% graduation rate while staying competitive. It means that the education of its athletes should never be compromised until absolutely necessary.

And Notre Dame football compromised it for a mercurial shot at a marginal gain in athletics. A marginal gain that has yet to materialize. The program sold its soul and has yet to see any return.

Apologists will point to other programs and cry, "guilty!" But those programs are not cast and do not cast themselves as the great and unique intellectual benefactor. Notre Dame football is and does.

It is as a beacon on a hill, but burns its principles to throw that light.

And I will hate Notre Dame football until that changes.

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