Despite our inactivity on the blog in recent months, I wanted to expound upon my brief mention in this South Bend Tribune article regarding Jack Swarbrick’s misguided efforts to improve the environment inside Notre Dame Stadium.
As mentioned in the article, I was given a “blue card,” which was just an index card replica of the large code of conduct signs that grace the outer façade of the stadium, at last year’s South Florida game. To add some context, I had left the game disgustedly after the second quarter, but I was able to reenter after lightning storms forced the more patient patrons to evacuate the stadium. Following this storm, the crowd had thinned out considerably, so my friends and I were able to sit right behind the USF bench.
After the Irish scored to cut USF’s lead, the Bulls took over on offense and, naturally, we started to yell loudly to hinder their ability to communicate. While we were vocal, and we stood out a bit more given the lack of fans, we were not profane or visibly intoxicated. Given my general loudness and my propensity to cuss, the moments when I show restraint tend to be more vivid in my memory. Anyway, at that point, an usher approached us and asked us to step away from our seats to talk with him. We initially refused and prompted him to explain why we were causing a problem, but he insisted that we leave. Thereafter, he told us we were “being too loud” and handed us the blue card, which he explained as the equivalent of a yellow card in soccer; i.e., any more problems and we would be ejected. I pointed out that the card did not mention any prohibition on loudness and I asked him whether anyone had complained, but he did not respond. We returned to our seats, kept our voices lower and watch the Irish destroy their season.
My story, while ridiculous, is far from unique. To the contrary, plenty of Notre Dame fans can tell their own tales of having their experience ruined by heavy handed ushers on a power trip. Despite receiving complaints about this type of behavior for years, however, the University has done nothing to correct this problem, such as training ushers properly and punishing those who have extended their authority. Rather, the University has appeared to condone and encourage this conduct, right down to the disingenuous and patronizing “Welcome to Notre Dame” greetings from stadium personnel. When “being loud” is cause for reprimand, it is rather easy to see why the terms “raucous” and “intimidating” are rarely, if ever, used to describe The House That Rockne Built.
Draconian ushering, while one symptom of the problem, is not the only reason for a quiet, docile crowd. Let’s explore some of the other root causes and some basic solutions:
• Pervasive police presence on campus
As with ushers, many Notre Dame fans have come forward with their own horror stories about the Gestapo-like behavior of the officers from the Indiana Excise Police, who have spent their Saturday afternoons arresting students, busting up tailgates, forcing 60 year olds (including well heeled donors) and generally abusing their power. Since Notre Dame is a private campus, the University must be inviting the IEP to campus, or at least allowing them to enter. Naturally, this type of enforcement outside sets the tone for the day and does not lend itself to a wild crowd. The IEP needs to be told that the Notre Dame Security Police can handle their bailiwick just fine.
• “Big Brother”
For years, the tyrannical office of Resident Life, which has historically been staffed by adults who reveled in charged punishing college students and who could not be bothered to learn the concept of in loco parentis, has maintained a video camera on the student section to spot misbehavior, such as drinking. Think this might be an absurd way to kill the buzz? Me too.
• An older, wealthier fan base
The demographic profile of the ND fan, though not exclusive to Notre Dame, is unique. Other colleges do not have this problem and it’s unrealistic to expect Patrick McGillicuddy, an attorney from Bethesda, Maryland, to be as vociferous while watching his beloved Irish as, say, Joe Taylor, an out of work mechanic from Parkersburg, West Virginia while watching his beloved Mountaineers.
Having said that, there are possible solutions, such as creating a special “senior section” where sitting down will be encouraged and/or creating a “young alumni section,” which would be an extension of the student section. The senior section could even be closer to the field since the older alums have earned that right. In other words, quarantine those who don’t want to be a part of a rollicking setting. For the rest, tell the ushers to back off unless there are serious breaches of decorum. On that note, nobody should be bringing young children to games, so ushers need not give credence to any complaint that young Seamus is being scarred for life by nearby fans.
• The bizarre tradition of awards during commercial breaks
Nothing drains the energy quite like sitting around for 3-4 minutes during each stoppage while trotting out 75 year old French professors and Grab N’Go ladies to honor them from their service. Announce scores during the breaks, make announcements, play audio clips of great Notre Dame moments and, if you want, play some music.
• The team sucks and so do many of the opponents
The simple, most glaring problem of all is that the team has sucked for almost 20 years. ND can make all of the changes outlined in this post, but nothing is going to generate excitement for a 5-4 Notre Dame team playing in late November. If Notre Dame is in the top 5, or even in the BCS hunt, the fans will show up and they will want to be loud. Anyone who attended the USC-Notre Dame game in 2005 can confirm that the stadium was beyond electric.
The corollary is that the home slate must be interesting and challenging. Again, folks aren’t going to be rambunctious if ND is playing some tomato can (e.g., Western Michigan).
• Sell beer
It would never happen, but it's a cause that's near and dear to my heart. Plus, we all know that ND would love the money.
Against this backdrop, it is incredibly disappointing, but entirely expected, that Jack Swarbrick’s proposed modifications to the stadium miss the mark worse than a Jim Sanson field goal. Instead of addressing the factors outlined above, Swarbrick intends to rely on cheap fixes, such as Ozzy Osbourne and the eventual installation of a Jumbotron. In addition, although were reports last year that the police presence had waned after some particular egregious excesses against fans, the South Bend Tribune recently reported that the Indiana Excise Police will be back on campus this year. This, of course, is entirely inconsistent with Swarbrick’s avowed need to change the overall game day culture.
In true recent Notre Dame fashion, these “improvements,” will have the magical, deleterious effect of trammeling over the Notre Dame tradition and further cheapening the stadium experience, while doing nothing to create a noisier atmosphere. Put differently, there is no way that a Jumbotron will elicit a response from a sober, old, overly monitored crowd at a game to determine whether Notre Dame to sneak into the Belk Bowl. It will, however, probably play well with our “corporate partners,” but that’s another story altogether.
It’s simple: tell the ushers to back off, tell the police to get out, separate the old people into their old playpen, build a compelling schedule and, for the love of all that is good and holy, just win, baby.