May 26, 2010

Roger Goodell's Big Idea: Why I love the outdoor Super Bowl idea for the NFL, and why I'd love to see a Super Bowl at Lambeau

I've read a lot of articles the last couple days from commentators and pundits complaining about the decision by the NFL to put the 2014 Super Bowl in New York, but I gotta say that I actually think it's a great idea and a nice change of pace from the typical Super Bowl venue. I've been saying for years that I'd love to see a cold weather BCS game in college football, so why not the Super Bowl??

I'm generally not a fan of Roger Goodell's work because he's a meddler and inconsistent and doesn't seem to have any appreciation for tradition in the NFL (although I will admit that the new NFL draft setup actually won me over), but I like this move as a way to do something cool and new in a city where the NFL truly matters.

Some thoughts on why I really like the concept of the outdoor Super Bowl.

(1) It puts New York, Boston, and Chicago in the mix (and Lambeau!)

Probably the best thing about the major league baseball postseason is the playoff baseball crowds. Those locked-in crowds that pack the place and stand the whole game and erupt whenever anything good happens. Typically, the best crowds come from three cities:

New York

I'm a small market guy and everything, but I'm not naive. If you watch an Arizona Diamondbacks playoff game and compare that to the crowds at Fenway or Wrigley or Yankee Stadium, it's like watching a UConn home football crowd and then watching an Alabama game right after that. Even though I'm not a Yankees fan, does it really get any better than watching a World Series game at Yankee Stadium and seeing that playoff bunting and the fans shivering and hanging on every pitch?? It is hands-down the best "championship game" atmosphere in any sport.

Compare that to Super Bowl or the Final Four where the games are these half-baked corporate gigs where you never even really notice the crowd (unless you happen to have a team playing close to home...i.e. Butler 2010). When was the last time the Super Bowl had a truly memorable crowd?? Has there ever been one??

I suppose that you could blame all the corporate suits and executives who just show up for the party and the "scene" and don't really care about the game, but isn't there something to be said for the location as well?? If you think about the typical Super Bowl cities, it's not exactly a who's who of big time sports cities. Maybe there are pockets of sports fans in places like Phoenix and Tampa and Miami and San Diego, but come on. If you lived in one of those cities, how could sports possibly mean as much to you as they do to people who live in cold weather cities where sports is literally the only thing going on for 7.5 months a year??

I consider myself to be a huge sports fan, but I'll be honest that I sort of shut it down as a sports fan from about May to September. I might watch some Reds baseball and the PGA tour and maybe Wimbledon/French Open, but that's about it. Sports on tv just isn't as appealing when it's nice outside.

Wouldn't people from from San Diego be like that all year?? Why would you watch sports when you could be out doing things outside?? Wouldn't you just feel guilty if you were inside watching college football on a Saturday when it's 80 degrees outside in the middle of November?? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be nearly as big of a sports fan if I lived in a warm weather climate.

Anyway, I've never been to a Super Bowl, but my guess is that having the game in these warm weather cities every year doesn't exactly lend itself to a big time sports atmosphere. The locals don't care about the game. They just want to make money off the people who show up for the week.

Compare that a sports-crazy city like Chicago. Imagine putting a Super Bowl in Chicago at Soldier Field. Sure it would be cold, but wouldn't the atmosphere in that stadium be electric at kickoff?? Wouldn't that town be buzzing all weekend?? It would just be a giant celebration of all things football with the locals packing the bars all weekend in anticipation of the big event. Instead of a corporate snoozer crowd, you'd have moustached Chicagoans showing up to the game in Bears bullpen jackets because they are the only diehards crazy enough about football to go out in 5 degrees to watch a game. Having it in the north would root out the fairweather "fans."

Which brings me to my next point....

(2) It gives cold weather fans a better opportunity to go to the game

Picture this: You're a Philadelphia Eagles fan, and your team runs through the NFC and goes to the Super Bowl. Let's say you are a season ticketholder and went to all 8 home games and 2 postseason home games. You are the epitome of the diehard "Iggles" fan who has lived and died with the team all year.

Now it's the Super Bowl, and you're sort of musing with the guy you go to games with about going to the Super Bowl. It's a lifetime experience, we might never get back, we've been with the team all year, blah blah blah. Let's do it.

Trouble is that the game is in two weeks in Phoenix. If you start looking into the logistics of planning the trip, you're probably looking at a ridiculously expensive flight, jacked up hotel rates, an impossible scramble for tickets, and a slew of other headaches that come with planning a trip on a whim.

And people wonder why "regular" fans never go to the Super Bowl. How could they??? I consider myself to be somewhat whimsical in terms of being game for random sporting event trips, but I'm not even sure I would want to go to the Super Bowl if the Bengals make it again someday (not that I ever have to worry about this dilemma popping up). In the span of about 24 hours after the AFC Championship game, you'd have to book a flight, hotel, get tickets, and maybe make arrangements to take off work. It's a tough sell for fans. Why not just have a big Super Bowl party at your house instead??

But let's change one thing about that earlier hypo involving an Eagles fan. Change "Phoenix" to "New York" or "Boston." Isn't that a gamechanger?? If you're an Eagles fan, wouldn't you do it if the game was in New York?? That's a 2-3 hour drive. You could show up on Saturday night, soak in all the pomp and circumstances, go to the game on Sunday, and then either haul it back to Philly Sunday night or come home Monday morning.

Isn't that a somewhat realistic trip?? I think that would be phenomenal.

Shouldn't cold weather fans have this opportunity at some point in their lives?? I would love to be able to drive to the Super Bowl. I would love to see all the exhibits and parties and celebrities and ex-players. I would love to do it as a 48 hour type trip. If people from Florida and Arizona and California can drive to Super Bowls, why not people from Pennsylvania and Illinois and Ohio and New York??

Going to the Super Bowl is not about the weather. It's about the football. I wouldn't care if it was 70 degrees or 20 degree. I am going to watch the Bengals win a Lombardi Trophy (stop laughing!) and hopefully celebrate before and afterward with other Bengals fans. The Super Bowl should be about the game.

(3) Why is a cold weather football game so terrifying?? It's football!!

Did I miss the memo that football is no longer played in cold weather?? Pretty sure I remember wearing the following articles of clothing to a Bengals-Jets playoff game this past January:

3 fleeces
1 sweatshirt
1 long undershirt
1 long underwear
1 pair of sweatpants
1 pair of jeans
3 pairs of socks

And even with all those layers, I was loading up on hot chocolate and Skyline chili to stay warm. But was it a blast?? Well, the Bengals played horribly, but I still had a great time. I love going to big football games in cold weather. It's memorable. Freezing your butt off is part of the fun. I wouldn't want to do it every week, but once in awhile for a big game when the stakes are high?? Sure, I'm in.

I keep reading these articles from people wondering what the journalists and corporate sponsors will do all week in a cold weather city. Huh?? First, what the heck do I care what a bunch of media members do all week?? Does it really matter if Sal Palantonio and Ed Werder are wearing short sleeves in Miami or if they are wearing parkas in midtown Manhattan at the media day?? I don't even slightly care.

Second, are these sponsor types really living it up on the beach all week?? I mean, I've been to Phoenix and San Diego and Miami in January for various things. It's usually nice out, but we're talking 60s and 70s in terms of weather (and 40s at night). Hardly beach weather. My guess is that the people going to the Super Bowl are drinking at bars and going to a lot of conventions and indoor meetings. How would that be much different from what you'd do in Chicago or New York??

All I know is that a Super Bowl in Lambeau Field would be spectacular and what the game is all about. That Packers-Giants game from a few years ago in Lambeau when it was like -30 outside and Tom Coughlin's face was turning blue was one of the more memorable games I've ever seen. I don't want that every year in the Super Bowl. You can still play 8-9 out of every 10 Super Bowls in domes and warm weather climates, but once in awhile in the north?? I think it would be great.

Plus, I'm just tired of dome football and pass-happy QB-oriented teams. If you want to be good in 2010, the ideal situation is to be a dome team with a loud crowd that throws on 3 out of every 4 downs and plays good pass defense because of a couple good corners and good pass rushers who don't have to worry about losing their footing in cold weather. If you're a team like the Colts or Vikes or Saints that plays 10-12 games a year in a dome, you can build your entire identity around winning in that environment.

(On that note, put your life savings on the Falcons over this year. Mark it down in blood. I'll be legitimately shocked if they aren't like 12-4 this year. Dome team with a lighter schedule, a QB about to make the leap, tons of injuries last year, and hungry. You're welcome.)

Even in the Super Bowl, a dome team is not in any real jeopardy since the game is almost always going to be in a warm weather climate where it's easier to throw the ball and not as sloppy. But imagine if that game is in Lambeau or Soldier Field one year. That completely changes the game. A team like Pittsburgh or Baltimore or the Jets that has built their identity around tough, physical football might have more of an edge in a game like that. I'd love to see it.

Anyway, I'm excited about the New York Super Bowl. I think the New York fans will embrace it, it won't feel as corporate, it gives a northern fanbase an opportunity to drive in, and we might be treated to one of those super cold games where the weather is a legitimate story all week. I think it will be phenomenal.

May 17, 2010

Catholics vs Convicts: Thoughts on the Miami-ND series, Kevin White, Jack Swarbrick, and why this game is a great sign for ND independence.

Great weekend for the future of Notre Dame football with the announcement that Notre Dame and Miami(Fl) could be lining up for a three game series in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Not only is it a great opportunity to rekindle one of the most storied rivalries in college football, but it is a great sign that the leadership at ND might finally be turning the corner on scheduling. Kudos to Jack Swarbrick for getting this done.

Let's break this series down in terms of its implications.

(1) It is a much-needed "heavyweight" on the future schedules

Take a look at what some of the other big name programs had on their schedules in terms of heavyweights in 2009:

Alabama - Virginia Tech, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Florida (SEC Championship game)

Florida - Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Alabama (SEC Championship game)

LSU - Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Alabama

Georgia - Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn plus nonconference games with Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and Arizona State

Ohio State - USC, Michigan, Penn State

Nebraska - Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas

Oklahoma - Miami(FL), Texas, Nebraska

Miami (FL) - Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma

For the most part, the big boys are playing anywhere from 3-5 games a year against the other big boys.

Furthermore, look at the competition that ND played in our heyday in the late 80s and early 90s.

1987 - Michigan, USC, Alabama, Penn State, Miami
1988 - Michigan, Miami, Penn State, USC
1989 - Michigan, USC, Penn State, Miami
1990 - Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State, USC
1991 - Michigan, USC, Tennessee, Penn State

That's a MINIMUM of four heavyweights a year and sometimes five. And you know what?? We did just fine against those schedules. Maybe we didn't win the title every year, but we won a TON of big games and were always in the mix. And we were battled-tested for big bowl games because we had already played top notch competition. Isn't that ultimately what we want??

ND had an "Anytime, Anywhere" mindset back in those days, and I think that carried over to the field. USC had that attitude during this decade. No fear. Take on all comers and win.

Anyway, I'm really glad that Jack Swarbrick has started to address that issue. Your schedules should be built around the "big games" on the schedule. You need those anchor games that everyone can point to and get excited about. No one is excited about Michigan State or Purdue or even Utah. When your ticket app comes out, you aren't crossing your fingers hoping you get one of those games.

Miami is different though. It will be one of those "I have to be there for that one even if I have to drive up without tickets" type games.

The other thing that I like about having 3-4 heavyweights on the schedule is that it gives us a little insurance in case one or more of the other big name teams on our schedule is going through a down stretch. Michigan is facing all kinds of problems with their present coaching situation, but they also have some long term challenges facing that program that might take awhile to dig out from. Michigan will always be a great game that I am happy to play, but we can't necessarily count on them to be a top 10 team every year going forward like we could have twenty years ago.

Same with USC. As great as their run was from 2002-2008, it will be very difficult for them to sustain that forever, especially with a new coach in the fold. If Lane Kiffin doesn't work out at USC or they get hammered by probation, we are going to need some other anchor opponents on the schedule. No offense to Pitt or Stanford, but no one is going to be singing our praises for beating those teams. You need 1-2 games a year against top 10 type opponents, and we haven't had enough of those games in recent years.

Anyway, here's what we got in terms of marquee games starting in 2012. I'll assume that 2011 will just feature Michigan and USC since it's highly unlikely that we get a 3rd marquee game for that year.

2012 - Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, Miami
2013 - Michigan, USC, Oklahoma
2014 - Michigan, USC, Miami
2015 - Michigan, USC
2016 - Michigan, USC, Miami

I mean, that's really starting to look like something there. The 2012 schedule is probably the best and most interesting schedule we've played since the Holtz era. Think about some of the road trips there. You got a possible trip to Normanto see ND-OU, the annual trip out to SC, and a neutral site Miami game at Soldier Field. Plus, Navy in Dublin! That is how it is done as an independent. If we run the table against that schedule, there isn't a question that we'd be the #1 team in the nation. Even 11-1 would garner massive national respect.

And those 2013, 2014, and 2016 schedules look great too. Maybe we line up a home and home starting in 2015 with an SEC team or Texas, and we'd pretty much be in great shape in terms of heavyweights.

I'm all for playing heavyweights. I think we should play a minimum of 3, but I'm ok with occasionally lining up 4 if we can make it work.

ND should always have a top 10-20 schedule, and I'm fine with occasionally playing the toughest schedule in the nation. Memories are made in the big games. No one cares if you've beaten UConn. But if you go on the road to Norman and win, you've made a statement to the nation.

2) Great use of the neutral site to get a good October/November game

If we're going to play a neutral site game every year, I'm glad to see that we are finally starting to make good use of it. The neutral site thing has gained popularity in recent years, and lots of schools have done a good job scheduling marquee games in neutral sites. Bama-VT in the Georgia Dome, Bama-FSU in Jacksonville, etc. Split the gate, gets fans from both sides, and create a true big time atmosphere that resembles an in-season bowl game.

That's the type of model that I hope this ND-Miami game takes on. I gotta think NBC is ecstatic about this announcement. Instead of being forced to trot out these dog games in primetime like Washington State in the Alamo Dome, they get a huge ND-Miami game to promote and hype as a true marquee event.

The other thing is that it looks like the Miami game will alleviate some of our late season scheduling problems.

Look no further than these 5 game stretches from 2009-2011 to reflect this recent problem we've had in terms of scheduling:

O31 - Washington State (San Antonio)
N7 - Navy
N14 - at Pitt
N21 - UConn
N28 - at Stanford

O16 - Western Michigan
O23 - at Navy
O30 - Tulsa
N13 - Utah
N20 - Army (New York)

O29 - Navy
N5 - UConn
N12 - Maryland (DC)
N19 - TBD
N26 - at Stanford

In October and November when your team should hopefully be peaking and showing the world that you are playing your best football, the Kevin White scheduling model set us up with a pupu platter of "buy games," bad neutral site games, and middling opponents. Everyone around the country is gearing up for rivalry games and conference championship games, and we're lining up a big tilt against Tulsa in front of 60,000 half-asleep fans who probably picked their tickets up on the ground in the parking lot five minutes before the game. And people wonder why ND football has had an enthusiasm problem in the last decade??

Anyway, it looks like these Miami games are all going to be somewhere in October, which is a nice fit in the "even" years (2012, 2014, 2016) when we play USC on the road in the last game of the year. That gives us a big game in September, October, and November. And in 2012, we have two big games in September with Oklahoma on the schedule. That's pretty good balance there.

3) Swarbrick taking charge and distancing himself from the Kevin White era

Maybe the biggest thing about this announcement from a philosophical standpoint is that it is becoming more and more clear that Jack Swarbrick does not subscribe to the same model for scheduling that Kevin White did. Honestly, that might even be bigger for me than the actual game itself.

Kevin White worshiped at the altar of revenue generation. He ran ND like NBC runs its network. Just throw as much crap as you can out there, and people will watch/attend because they're suckers. Sort of like the George Costanza line: "Because it's on tv!" Kevin White seemed to believe that ND fans would sell out every game no matter what game it was, which led to 7-4-1 and the crappy "buy games" and neutral site games like WSU and Baylor in New Orleans (which thankfully got axed by Swarbrick). Short term revenue generation trumped all other considerations. Much like NBC's business model, Kevin White's plan was a complete disaster. Empty seats galore for November home games, tepid interest, and horrific ratings for the Washington State neutral site game.

I don't think people around the country realize just how easy it has been to get ND tickets in the last few years. I'm not even joking in saying that you could literally walk around in the parking lot ten minutes before the game and pick up tickets to all but 1-2 home games a year for far less than face value. And for the Syracuse/UConn type tilts in November, you could probably find tickets lying on the ground outside the stadium. Part of it is the team's play, but the schedule didn't help at all.

Swarbrick apparently has a different philosophy for scheduling. It was tough to tell in the early stages of his tenure and things started looking downright scary when we lined up Western Michigan and Tulsa and started hearing things like "we want to play Duke and Wake Forest because they are schools that feel like us," but the picture has become more clear now that he is finally getting an opportunity to put his stamp on the athletic department.

The 7-4-1 appears to be going away, which will lead to better home and home opportunities later in the year. Instead of having to find someone for a "buy game" in November, we can offer up a home and home spot to someone. Looks like Miami might be that team in 2014 and 2016.

Anyone who has been following this stuff knew that it was not as hard as the Whites and Heislers were making it out to be. When ND has a sensible scheduling policy, teams will line up to play us. We knew it all along, and it turns out the fans/alums were right. White and Heisler loved to set up the "internet crazies" strawmen arguments and complain that ND fans were too demanding and that we all wanted top 10 teams every week. Of course, that was all a bunch of nonsense. There wasn't one ND fan that wanted a schedule like that. Not one. ND fans just wanted to make sure that our schedules passed the "look test" in the eyes of the college football world. We wanted variety, 3-4 high quality games, and good balance. The Miami announcement goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

For my money, Kevin White's tenure at ND was the biggest disaster in the history of ND sports (worse than Willingham in my opinion), and Friday's announcement only solidified that feeling for me. If he had stayed on at ND for another 3-4 years, I think he would have done irreparable harm to the ND brand and probably would have forced us into a conference because fans would have been so desperate to get better games on the schedule that we would have accepted anything.

Anyway, I'm ready to finally put the Kevin White era to rest, and this Miami series finally serves as an opportunity to turn the page on his disastrous tenure at ND. We are still digging out of the mess Kevin White created with the 2010 and 2011 schedules, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there starting in 2012.

Friday was a watershed moment in the Jack Swarbrick era as far as I'm concerned. I've been a little wary of him thus far, but he has really done a great job in the last six months or so. The Maryland game was a solid announcement, the Brian Kelly hire was fantastic, he has handled the ND independence/Big Ten discussions well, and this Miami series is a sign that he understands the importance of putting together high-quality schedules going forward. Swarbrick seems to view ND football like the fans do. Be independent, play quality schedules, and play great football on the field. Ultimately, that is what the fans care about.

4) It's a sign that ND is sticking to a plan for independence.

Speaking of independence, how can you not view this announcement as a great sign that ND has no intentions to join a conference anytime soon?? Why would we sign up for this series if Big Ten membership was imminent??

This is practically a shot across the bow of Jim Delany and friends. All the media hacks who have been practically writing obituaries on ND's independence in the last month must have been in shock when this announcement came across the AP wire.

I think the perception nationally has been that independence was increasingly becoming less viable as an option for the ND football program. The money wasn't as good, the schedules were looking more and more like something that a mid-major would play, and it seemed like conference expansion would leave us on the outside looking in if we didn't make a move to join a league.

This Miami series seems perfectly timed to counter that sentiment. If we can still schedule these types of games, why would we want to join a conference??

ND's independence is still an asset as far as I'm concerned. We are the only school in the country that can play around the country against any team at any point in the season. That is something worth preserving.

Brian Kelly echoed that sentiment with his thoughts on ND's independence:

"From my standpoint, being the head football coach at Notre Dame, there's nothing better than being an independent football school,” he said, eliciting a roar from the gathering of roughly 300 people.

"I know you're hearing all these rumors about the Big Ten and all these other things, but let me tell you one thing, the history ... the tradition of Notre Dame football is steeped in that independence.”

He's 100% right. ND football wouldn't be ND football without independence. We're a national brand. Moving to a conference would hurt the brand, hurt recruiting, and diminish overall interest in the program.

Circumstances with the BCS or a playoff might eventually force us into a league, but for now, we should be doing everything possible to strengthen our position as an independent. Lining up great intersectional matchups with a team like Miami is a great start in accomplishing that goal.

5) A look-ahead at the 2012-2016 schedules

With the addition of Miami, let's take a peek at what we have so far with the 2012-2016 schedules.


09/01 - Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
09/08 - PURDUE
09/15 - at Michigan State
09/22 - MICHIGAN
09/29 -
10/06 -
10/13 -
10/27 - at Oklahoma
11/10 - ARMY
11/24 - at Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (Soldier Field)

This schedule is pretty close to being set. 4 heavyweights, 3 true road games (Navy being the fourth), 5 home games. You figure we are going to try to find two more home games to round out the 12 game schedule since we're still under a 7-4-1 model that year.

Plug Miami in there on October 6, add a couple Tulsa/Vandy/Duke type teams for 09/29 and 10/13 to give us a breather after the Michigan and Miami games, and that's a heckuva schedule. 4 big games, 4 mid-level games, and 4 lighter games. Perfect.


S7 @Michigan
S14 @Purdue
S21 Michigan State
S28 Oklahoma
O5 Arizona State (neutral)
O19 Southern Cal
O26 Connecticut
N2 Navy
N9 @Pittsburgh
N30 @Stanford

This schedule looks pretty good right now as well. 3 heavyweights and a loaded stretch from Michigan to USC that should prove our mettle one way or the other.

Assuming that we play Stanford at the end of the year (I have no reason to think that series is off any time soon), we have our 4 road games covered under the 7-4-1 policy. And we have the Arizona State game in Dallas.

Probably two more home games to line up. One should be a cupcake for the opener, but I'd love to see us snatch up a decent ACC team for November. Maybe somebody like North Carolina in a home game. And then we could play them at their place some time after 2015 when it looks like we might go to more of a 6-5-1 policy.


6-Sep A Navy
13-Sep H Purdue
20-Sep H Michigan
27-Sep N Syracuse
11-Oct N Army
18-Oct H Connecticut
25-Oct A Arizona State
8-Nov H Pittsburgh
29-Nov A Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (home)

Gotta think the Miami game will be in that October 4 spot.

I'm curious to see if Michigan State and Stanford are on the schedule in 2014. I'd be all for taking a break from one or both of those teams, especially Stanford. In fact, I'd use that Stanford spot for the above-mentioned North Carolina series. Maybe play a road game at UNC or Georgia Tech that year.


S5 Missouri
S12 @Michigan
S19 @Purdue
O10 Navy
O17 Southern Cal
O24 Connecticut
N14 @Pittsburgh
N21 Syracuse

Here's where we might have an opportunity to schedule a big time SEC or Big 12 team. Texas??

Ideally, some heavyweight would agree to play us in November in the years when USC plays in South Bend in October. Don't know if Texas would agree to that or not, but we should throw it out there. If not, talk to Tennessee or LSU and see if they'd be willing to play us in November like they've done in the past.

I could understand why an SEC team wouldn't play us in November, but what is holding back Texas from doing it?? Their one marquee game of the year is in October against Oklahoma. I know A&M is one of their big games, but it seems like there is room for Texas to play another quality team in November.


3-Sep N Syracuse
10-Sep H Michigan
17-Sep H Stanford
24-Sep A Michigan State
1-Oct H Purdue
15-Oct A Navy
29-Oct H Pittsburgh
12-Nov H Connecticut
19-Nov A Army
26-Nov A Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (Away)

This schedule looks pretty good as well in terms of quality. The third heavyweight game really makes a big difference. If you plug that Miami game in for October 22, we'd have a pretty balanced schedule for the most part.

This is the first year where we might be able to back out of the 7-4-1 arrangement and go to a 6-5-1 format. It'll be interesting to see if we actually schedule true road games or if we are just using the new 6-5-1 to play "road" games at neutral sites. I see that we're supposed to play Army and Navy on the "road" in 2016, but those aren't really true road games.

Personally, I'd rather just do a straight 7-5 arrangement. Play 7 home games and 5 true road games. If we're going to play at a neutral site, then just play a cupcake like Army and save our true road games for decent competition.

6) What else can be done to improve future schedules??

Two things I'd like to continue to focus on now that we appear to be addressing the "heavyweights" problem:

1) More variety on the second tier games (Stanford, MSU, Purdue, Pitt, UConn) -- I'd try to take occasional breaks in all these series to get a few ACC or Big 12 or different Pac 10 teams. Heck, even West Virginia would be a welcome change. Or Wisconsin or Iowa or somebody like that.

2) Focus on November -- November is where you make your push. We should really be doing more to get better balance in the schedule. We play this gauntlet in September, but no one remembers it when we're closing down the year with all the service academies.

I'd really be pushing to get Purdue/MSU to the back end of the schedule and maybe one other decent home and home series in there. Maybe even somebody like Ole Miss or Arkansas or South Carolina. All those teams would probably love to accomodate ND to get on our schedule.

Plus, pushing better games to the end of the year gives us more breathing room early on. If we could move some better games to November, we could play a couple cupcakes in September to get the team's feet wet a little bit.

Here would be a couple sample schedules from me on that front:


3-Sep N Syracuse
10-Sep H Michigan
17-Sep H Vanderbilt
24-Sep H Army
1-Oct H Purdue
8-Oct A Miami (FL)
15-Oct A Navy
22-Oct Bye
29-Oct H Pittsburgh
5-Nov H West Virginia
12-Nov A Michigan State
19-Nov H Arkansas
26-Nov A Southern Cal

That's a 7-4-1 schedule right there, but I really like how that looks. Just moving that Sparty game to November and exchanging UConn and Stanford with West Virginia and Arkansas makes a big difference in terms of perception. That would be one heckuva schedule. And not impossible either because the beginning of the schedule is much easier with really only one tough game in September.

We could follow it up in 2017 with this:

A31 Duke
S7 @Michigan
S14 Navy
S21 @Purdue
S28 Rice
O5 Texas
O12 Syracuse (N)
O26 Southern Cal
N9 @Pittsburgh
N16 @ West Virginia
N23 @ Arkansas
N30 Michigan State

Instead of playing Navy and Army in November, we'd have Arkansas and Michigan State. Sure it's a little backloaded with three road games in November, but think about how people would view this program if we ran the table down the stretch. That would be a really nice finish.

May 10, 2010

Big Ten Expansion: Thoughts on the "New York market," a possible Notre Dame Network, and why the Big Ten should be wary of expanding to 16 teams.

All kinds of reports out there that the Big Ten is on the verge of expansion, and now some of the names are leaking out. Seems like there is a consensus that Nebraska and Missouri will be involved with some combination of Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn, or Pitt joining them. As always, Notre Dame is in the mix, but let's break this conference expansion talk down and explore some of the big issues out there.

1) Do Big Ten fans really want this 16 team league that is being discussed and are the 5 rumored teams (Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt) really going to get people excited??

No and no.

For the folks in the media who continue to trumpet a proposed 16 team Big Ten like it would be the greatest conference ever assembled, please consider the following:

1) Massive brand dilution -- Nebraska would be a great addition on the football side, but the rest of these schools do nothing to change the national perception of the Big Ten. Are people really that excited about adding schools like Pitt and Rutgers and Syracuse to the league?? Are Michigan fans really clamoring to make the trip to Piscataway to watch Michigan play in a 45,000 seat Rutgers Stadium on the banks of the Old Raritan?? Are Minnesota fans fired up about seeing their Gophers play in front of 25,000 Pitt fans at a half-full Heinz Field?? Are Illinois fans really pumped about that new rivalry with Syracuse even though they've probably never met a Syracuse alum/fan in their lives??

Where is the nexus between a school like Wisconsin and Rutgers?? I don't get it. Wisconsin is a big Midwestern, land grant, beer and bratwurst, cheeshead, northern accent kinda scene. Rutgers is Snooki and The Situation and "Gym, Tan, Laundry."

Pitt doesn't even have their own stadium. They'd be the only school in the Big Ten that plays in a pro stadium. Has anyone stopped to consider this?? All of the Big Ten schools (outside of maybe Northwestern) have big regional fanbases. Pitt and Rutgers aren't even a big deal in their own states, and certainly not in any other state.

Syracuse would add some major brand name equity on the basketball side, but this expansion isn't about basketball. Basketball is already strong in the Big Ten. Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue have developed into very strong basketball programs, and it's only a matter of time before Indiana and Michigan get their acts together.

Plus, Syracuse would be a strange fit even in basketball. Syracuse recruits NYC kids. Would Syracuse still be a major play in New York when suddenly all over their games were in Champaign and East Lansing and Iowa City???

And if basketball is really a strong consideration, adding Rutgers is laughable. Rutgers basketball is in shambles, and really is lucky to even be in the Big East at all. They'd immediately be the worst program in the Big Ten if they joined the league.

2) The myth of capturing "The New York Market"

I keep hearing that the Big Ten really wants to capture the New York City market, and that they hope to do it through expansion. I can understand the reasoning. NYC is the biggest market in the country, and if the Big Ten could get the BTN on basic cable in New York through expansion, it would be a massive coup for the league. Imagine 20 million New Yorkers ponying up $.70 a pop per month for the BTN through their cable providers. You're talking about some major dollars there.

But it's a complete fantasy because it would never happen. If you add Syracuse and Rutgers, that isn't changing the landscape in New York City one bit. Does anyone really think New Yorkers give a crap about Rutgers football or basketball?? Hilarious. Rutgers has a 2,500 seat basketball arena that doesn't even sell out. And I highly doubt that New Yorkers are showing up in droves to watch Rutgers football.

New York is a pro town. Local media coverage goes to the Yanks, Knicks, Mets, Giants, Jets, etc. Even among "local" colleges, Rutgers probably is behind St. Johns and Seton Hall and Syracuse and UConn in terms of interest.

If you want to capture the New York market, the only school worth pursuing is Notre Dame. There's a reason why Notre Dame was asked to play at Yankee Stadium this year ($175 tickets....outrageous!). ND can sell out Yankee Stadium and create buzz in the city. Rutgers does neither.

People aren't thinking this stuff through. If the Big Ten adds Syracuse and Rutgers and then demands that the big New York cable companies add the BTN on basic cable, those cable companies would laugh in Jim Delany's face. They had trouble adding the freaking YES Network to basic cable when it came out for god sakes. Do you really think they're adding a channel that carries Minnesota-Wisconsin women's softball for half the year on basic cable?? No chance. There are too many interests in New York City to create a captive audience. You can force your way onto basic cable in Columbus, Ohio where people are nuts for OSU sports and will demand to see every game. That isn't happening in New York. If Syracuse fans can't see all their hoops games, tough luck. Go to a sports bar.

If I was the Big Ten, I would forget the New York market. There's not enough demand for college sports there. I would go where to places where college sports matter like the Midwest, Great Plains, and the south.

The media seems to buy into this "bigger is better" mantra, but all this looks like to me is a watered-down product. You've taken a Midwestern league and created this unwieldy 16 team mess that adds very little in terms of big time programs or passionate new fanbases.

3) Logistical nightmare for football -- Have people really stopped to think about what a 16 team league would look like in terms of scheduling for football?? It would be a complete mess.

How are you going to have balanced schedules when you have a 16 team football conference and only a 12 game season?? It's impossible. Big Ten fans don't want to go 3-4 years in a row where they don't get to play one of the teams in the league. If you're an Ohio State fan, it would be annoying to watch Wisconsin win the league title without going through you to get there. You want to have a say in how the standings shape up. With a 16 team league, the standings would be arbitrary.

Unless you create a 16 game regular season like the NFL, I don't see how this would be a positive change for the league. Part of the appeal of being in a conference is that you know the other schools so well from playing them every year. If you go to a 16 game league, you lose the connection that comes from being in a conference.

2) Is the Big Ten Network such a gamechanger in the college sports landscape that all these big name schools will come running to the Big Ten just to be a part of it??

No, but let me preface that statement by saying that creating the Big Ten Network has turned out to be a brilliant move by the Big Ten. When the BTN first came out, I thought it was a shaky move that would marginalize the Big Ten into an even more regional entity than it already is. For the first year or two, the BTN wasn't even on the local cable providers (Time Warner and Comcast), which created a situation where you had Indiana fans rushing off to sports bars to watch Tuesday night Big Ten hoops games and Wisconsin fans finding buddies with satellite dishes or obscure cable providers to watch a football game on Saturday.

Basically, the base of the Big Ten fanbase was blocked out from watching Big Ten games on their home tvs. Great strategy. And with Time Warner and Comcast digging in their heels, I thought the Big Ten Network was doomed. If fans can't watch the games, what is the point of having this product??

But once the Big Ten finally struck a deal with "big cable" to get this thing on basic cable in the Midwest and a sports tier nationally, I gotta admit that I'm seeing the wisdom of what the Big Ten has done. They took a local product (for example, OSU basketball games were pretty much limited to Columbus tv in terms of local coverage before the BTN) and turned it into a regional product. If you live in Indianapolis but graduated from Minnesota, you can watch every Minnesota basketball game now on the Big Ten Network. If you live in Chicago, you can watch that random Michigan State-Eastern Michigan football game that would have never seen the light of day outside of East Lansing, and you can do it from your home tv. Heck, there are retirees all over Arizona and Florida who can stay dialed into their Big Ten teams by paying for the Big Ten Network. It has made being a Big Ten fan substantially easier no matter where you live.

I'm not sure what types of ratings it is getting, but think about all the crap that is currently on cable tv. Does anyone watch truTV or the Hallmark channel or all these random networks that are out there?? There is a niche tv network for just about everything. Why not college sports?? The Big Ten Network has a lot of goofy programming, but people watch it. If you want to watch Ohio State baseball, all the games are on now. You can watch the Big Ten tennis tournament or the golf tournament or women's softball if that's your thing. During football season, they have all kinds of highlight shows and Xs and Os breakdown shows with Gerry Dinardo and Dave Revisine, and I will admit that I watch some of it.

So by all accounts, this thing has become a moneymaker and a successful entity. With all the relatively large population states in the Midwest (Illinois - 5th, Michigan - 8th, Pennsylvania - 6th, Ohio - 7th, Indiana -14th), there are a lot of eyeballs and passionate fans who are going to watch Big Ten Tonight and "Big Ten Classic" and all the basketball games and football games.

Back to my original question though: Is the Big Ten Network such a gamechanger in the landscape that all these big name schools will come running to the Big Ten just to be a part of it??

A lot of people in the media cite the BTN's revenue ($22 million a year! How could anyone not want to join?) as reason enough for schools to jump ship to the Big Ten. But for schools like Notre Dame or Texas, I just don't think that being part of the BTN is going to be a driving factor in enticing them to join the league.

The Big Ten Network is very successful right now because it's the only conference-owned sports network out there. But is that really going to be the case ten years from now?? What is stopping the Big East or the ACC or the Pac 10 or even the Big 12 from forming its own network?? What is stopping a school like Texas from creating the "Longhorn Sports Network" that shows 24-7 Texas sports?? If Texas could create a network like that (it's already been rumored), wouldn't that be more of a moneymaker than getting a share of the BTN revenue??

Same with Notre Dame. Couldn't ND form a "Notre Dame Network" in conjunction with NBC that shows all ND hoops games that aren't on ESPN, all ND Olympic sports (soccer, baseball, lacrosse, softball, volleyball, etc), various campus programming (Mass at the Basilica, classroom stuff, interviews with Fr. Jenkins), coaches shows (you could do this for a bunch of sports), a "Jack Swarbrick Show" to discuss big picture issues, and a bunch of "Notre Dame Classic" stuff with tapes of old games and season-in-review kinda stuff. You wouldn't watch that?? I'd probably watch that every night.

Heck, we might even be able to eventually show all the ND football games on a channel like that someday. Not sure when that would come about, but I could see that becoming an option 10-15 years from now. ND has enough programming to create a 24-7 ND network, and I think there's a market for it. That thing would be a cash cow.

My larger point here is that the tv/media landscape is changing rapidly. The Big Ten Network was the early leader in the clubhouse, but other leagues/schools are eventually going to replicate this model and catch up. They will have to scrape and claw to get their programming on local tv, but demand usually wins out. If the ACC creates its own network and puts a bunch of Duke and Carolina basketball games on there, fans are going to demand that their local cable providers pick up that channel on basic cable.

I don't see the incentive to join the Big Ten just to be a part of that network when the entire sports media scene could be completely different in 10 years. And whatever financial advantage there is right now to being a part of the Big Ten Network will eventually dissipate over time.

3) Where does Notre Dame fit in, and should ND consider getting on board??

I will admit that I've wavered on this topic from time to time and have probably had moments where I thought Big Ten membership could be a positive change for ND sports. It would certainly help from a scheduling standpoint since we could line up annual games with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa plus a possible Big Ten championship game. Run the table against that group, and no one would be questioning our credentials for the BCS title game. Plus, the USC game would still be there as a potential nonconference showdown.

That would be one heckuva schedule, and it would alleviate the November scheduling problems. From what I can see, that issue does not appear to be going away any time soon, especially since Swarbrick lined up a ten year deal with Purdue with all the games coming in September and early October. Fantastic work Jack. Way to blow all our scheduling flexibility for the next decade. Looking forward to ND-Tulsa in November in 2017-2020.

The other thing that conference membership might help is that it would probably force us to take stock of our program and create more tangible goals. Right now, we're sort of on an island. We kind of hold ourselves above the fray in the college football world, but it has created sort of an aloof program that has lost its way in college football and doesn't really have any goals besides a half-baked goal to compete for national championships. It's like Coke and Pepsi. If Coke didn't have Pepsi pushing them, they'd probably lose their way in terms of creating the best marketing campaigns and the best products. They'd have no one to compare themselves to.

Even though we consider USC to be our rival, there's no real nexus between ND and USC. We don't run our program like they do, we don't schedule like they do, we don't have players like Everson Griffen flexing between plays, we don't have the same admissions policies, we don't hand out HGH to our players, and we only have limited overlap in recruiting or culture. USC is a football factory in southern California with 80 degree weather and a bunch of Pac 10 rivals. We're on their radar, but we're not really a measuring stick for USC at all.

In the SEC, all these schools are trying to one-up each other. In recruiting and coaches salaries and assistant coaches salaries and budgeting and marketing and finding every edge possible. Doesn't that make a difference?? Florida is always paying attention to what Alabama is doing to keep up.

ND needs a measuring stick to some degree. We should be able to point to some other schools who can push us to higher levels of performance. I don't know if the other schools in the Big Ten are an appropriate measuring stick, but joining a league might actually help create a competitive environment for our football program. It has helped in basketball to some degree because we can see where we stand in the pecking order and what we need to do to improve our standing.

But every time I think I'm about to embrace the idea of joining the Big Ten, I find myself hesitating and thinking about what we would be giving up:

1) Money -- For all the talk about ND hurting itself financially by remaining independent in football, I think the exact opposite is true. I keep hearing this "ND would double its revenue by joining the Big 10" stuff, but I don't really buy it. ND was ranked the 2nd most profitable football program in America by Forbes Magazine last year behind Texas, and that is following 3-9, 7-6, and 6-6 seasons. If ND was actually good, we would be far and away the most profitable program.

If we are the most profitable program in the country, how would we be making more money by joining the Big 10?? ND makes money off its independent status. Maybe not in terms of tv dollars, but in terms of apparel and endorsement deals and sponsorships and global recognition. There are ND fans in every city in the country, and they are buying sweatshirts and tshirts and watching ND programming. In Ohio, they have shown the Charlie Weis Show and the Mike Brey Show on Sportstime Ohio for the last 3-4 years. What other program gets that type of attention?? And attention leads to dollars.

No one can convince me that joining the Big Ten would add more money to ND's coffers.

2) Branding - Notre Dame's entire brand is built around our identity as a national, Catholic university. If you spend even a few days on the ND campus, you realize quickly that there are just as many people from New York and Philly and DC and Phoenix and Los Angeles and Denver and Seattle as there are from Chicago and Indiana.

ND is the only college football program in the country that can fill a football stadium in every single region in the country. The Midwest, the south, the East, the name it. When I walk around Columbus, I don't see any LSU or Georgia hats. But everywhere I go, I see someone with ND gear on. This is an ND program that has gone 16-21 in the last three seasons! We couldn't be more irrelevant on the field, but the fanbase is still as strong as ever.

Maybe that wouldn't change if ND joined the Big Ten, but why even risk it?? ND has built itself into a national brand. I don't see how regionalizing that brand would be a good thing.

And that's before you get to the football side of things. If we joined the Big Ten, would kids in Florida and Texas and California and Oklahoma and Colorado still want to come to ND?? Some kids would still be attracted to ND's education and the Catholic/religious aspect, but I think our national appeal would be affected negatively. We'd be fighting more regional battles, but the talent pool in the Midwest is not as deep as it once was.

Brian Kelly has said that he wants to remain independent for recruiting reasons. He doesn't think he can sell the Big Ten to ND recruits, and he wants to be able to tell recruits that ND will play a national schedule in cities around the country. If that doesn't sell you on ND remaining independent, I don't know what does.

3) Other leagues are possibilities -- I keep hearing about this doomsday scenario where all the BCS conferences conspire to create 4 superconferences, leave the NCAA, create their own postseason, and leave everyone else fighting for scraps. I don't personally see that happening any time soon, but if it did, wouldn't we still have plenty of opportunities to align ourselves with a league if/when that day comes??

If we have to join a league five years from now and the Big Ten is already locked in with Pitt and Syracuse and Rutgers (seriously, imagine if the Big Ten actually did that and didn't have room for ND), then let's join the ACC or even the Pac 10. Why not?? I don't care what league we join if we have to join a league. A league is a league. Since ND isn't tied to a Midwestern identity, getting locked out of the Big Ten doesn't bother me.

Joining the ACC would help us maintain more of a national profile anyway. We'd get 7-8 home games in the Midwest, 4-5 road games along the Atlantic seaboard from Boston to Miami, we'd play in major east coast markets on a regular basis, a possible ACC championship game in a warm weather location, and we could still play USC every year if we wanted to. I'm not seeing that much of a downside there. Plus, we'd be in the ACC for basketball, which would be fantastic.

This could be a hypothetical schedule for ND:

S11 @ USC
O02 @ Boston College
O16 @Clemson
N13 @Florida State
N27 @NC State

Where do I sign up for that right now?? That would be a phenomenal schedule. We'd have 3-4 heavyweights a year, a slew of good mid-level games, and a strong November schedule. Plus, we can still play USC. I would play that over any schedule we've put together in the last five years as an independent.

I'd prefer to stay independent, but if the time came and we had to make a move, we have plenty of options. The Big Ten is trying to put the squeeze on ND right now, but I don't see any rush to join in. We have plenty of options besides the Big Ten. I just hope the administration realizes that.

So what would I do if I was ND??

1) Create the Notre Dame network -- Get the plans ready, get it up and running, and move heaven and earth to at least get it on a premium sports tier with the major cable network providers. It wouldn't be a huge moneymaker right away, but at least we'd have a new content device to generate revenue down the road, especially if there's more of an ala-carte model for cable tv in the future.

2) Create challenging and interesting national football schedules ASAP -- This is the big one for me. We are going to have a 4 year stretch (2008-2011) of just god awful schedules that are an embarrassment to the legacy of the school. Not only are we not living up to our high standards of the past, we are now playing some of the weakest schedules among BCS conference schools. We should be playing a top 20 schedule every year and occasionally a top 10 schedule. If we are going to remain an independent and not play in a conference championship game, we need to show the nation that we can beat quality competition week in and week out.

Starting in 2012, we need to fix this. I like the Oklahoma addition for 2012 and 2013, but that can't just be an aberration. We need to start lining up home and homes in 2014 with the Bamas and Texases and other heavyweights of the world. Brian Kelly is saying he wants those games, and he should. The only way we're going to get some respect is to beat good teams.

We also need to start finding ways to get better opponents on the schedule in late October and November. Swarbrick has already blown this to some degree by keeping Purdue in late September for the next decade, but he can make this work if he goes to a 6-5-1 model and by taking occasional breaks from Pitt/Stanford/Purdue/Michigan State. If we agree to play 5 road games a year, we can offer up one more home and home spot to a quality program for a November game. It doesn't even have to be an Oklahoma type team. Give me a home and home with somebody like Georgia Tech or North Carolina or Texas A&M or Clemson or Ole Miss, and I'd be really happy.

We tried the Kevin White model for scheduling, and unfortunately it has damaged our brand. Hopefully Swarbrick has big plans to transition away from that model beginning in 2014.

3) Hope like crazy that Brian Kelly is the answer -- If BK can't get it done, the program is in big trouble. It's a sign that there is something else besides coaching that is holding this progrma back. Something culturally, too much focus on academics, no in state recruiting base, etc. If that's the case, we might not have enough pull in college football to remain independent.

If he wins, ND can still thrive as an independent as far as I'm concerned. Winning leads to ratings and money and interest, and we won't be as inclined to run to a conference if all those things are happening.

4) What should the Big Ten do??

If I was the Big Ten, I think I'd be very cautious about expansion. If they go and make the first move by adding a bunch of mediocre programs, I think that would be a disaster. How depressing would it be for the Big Ten if they blew their wad on this pupu platter and then watched Texas run off to the Pac 10 and OU go to the SEC?? The Big Ten would be further cementing its status as a conference in decline if that happened.

That's why I'd be very hesitant to make big moves if I was the Big Ten. Here's how I'd proceed:

1) Add Nebraska

I think Nebraska is a legitimately good addition for now. Add the Huskers, and you get one of the most passionate statewide fanbases in the country. I don't care about market size. Nebraska puts butts in the seats, they travel well for bowl games, and they will watch every last thing on the Big Ten Network. You could put "Great Moments in Husker" history on just about every night in the summer, and Nebraska fans will be tuning in.

That's just a really logical and solid first step for the Big Ten. The Big Ten gets a championship game to host in Indy or Detroit or Minnesota or Chicago every year, and it opens the door for the Big 12 to start breaking apart.

I see no reason for the Big Ten to go rushing into relationships with all these Big East schools. Those schools are small potatoes as far as I'm concerned. I'd be looking to raid the Big 12 first, and then see what happens from there.

2) See if dominoes start to fall and make a power play for a big boy (ND, Texas-Texas A&M, Tennessee??)

Let's say the Big Ten adds Nebraska. Then the Pac 10 makes a move to grab Colorado. Now the Big 12 is down to 10 teams. Maybe the Big 12 counters by adding TCU and Houston or something like that, but those two names aren't exactly going to get anyone too fired up outside of the state of Texas. The Big 12 would basically be the "Texas League" at that point. Nothing wrong with that, but I would consider the Big 12 to be weakened if they lose Nebraska and Colorado to other leagues.

At that point, would Texas (and A&M) start sniffing around and listening to other offers?? I don't get the vibe that Texas wants to be a part of the SEC, so it could come down to the Pac 10 and the Big Ten. The Pac 10 is probably the early favorite, but the Big Ten has the national exposure and academics and money to give Texas make Texas a big time offer. As great as Texas' athletic program is, it's a regional program that does not get a ton of exposure in the Midwest and East. If you add Texas to the Big Ten, look out.

Same with ND. I think the Big Ten has a tough sell to ND, but I realize that we're worth pursuing. If the Big Ten lines up Nebraska and Texas and A&M and suddenly it's looking like this superconference thing is going to happen, I would imagine that we'll be heading to the Big Ten to be a part of that. That would be one heckuva league.

3) Explore other flagship programs besides the Big East

Let's say the Big Ten goes hard after Texas and ND and gets shot down. Perfectly reasonable scenario there.

At that point, the Big Ten could do one of two things: Stand pat at 12 or go after the flagship universities in a state. Forget the Big East. There's a reason why these Big East schools play in small stadiums and have bad bowl tie-ins. It's just not a part of the nation that cares about college sports.

If the Big Ten still wants to expand after Nebraska and can't get any big boys, I would go after the following schools (in order):

Boston College
Georgia Tech

Maybe Tennessee is a pipe dream, but how would you know until you asked?? Maybe Tennessee would be intrigued by the idea. Maybe they want to improve their academic standing. Maybe they're looking to get the heck out of that SEC firestorm. Tennessee recruits nationally anyway, so Big Ten membership would feel a little more natural for them than some of the other southern schools.

Kentucky would be another fantastic addition. Maybe there's a little bit of a different cultural scene down there in Lexington, but Kentucky just seems like they would fit right into the league. They already have the rivalry with Indiana in hoops, and I think they would quickly get into the mix with Sparty and OSU and some of the other schools in the Big Ten. If you're a Minnesota fan, wouldn't it be a fun road trip to drive down to Lexington in October, spend Friday at Keeneland to watch some of the best horse racing in the world, and then go to the football game on Saturday??

Missouri is a little boring, but a fine addition. I'm actually intrigued by the Boston College idea if they were interested. I know they don't have the big time fanbase that I consider to be important, but BC brings a good academic profile and a Catholic presence. Plus, BC really mines the Midwestern Catholic schools for talent, so it wouldn't be that unusual to see them in the Big Ten.

I don't understand why Kansas doesn't get more consideration. Adding the KU basketball program would be a coup for the Big 10. Plus, they are right there in the Kansas City area, so you'd be adding a nice-sized market. Honestly, I think I might even talk to Kansas over Missouri.

Finally, make the call to Maryland and Georgia Tech just to see if they might be interested. Maryland would be an underrated addition, and Georgia Tech has the big time engineering and academic profile (plus good sports programs) that would be very attractive to the Big Ten.

Maybe all those schools turn you down and you suddenly are turning to Pitt and Rutgers and Syracuse, but I think the Big Ten might be pleasantly surprised to discover that one of those schools is interested.

My guess is that Missouri and Nebraska are already on board, but it will be interesting to see what happens from there. If I was the Big Ten, I'd probably stand pat for awhile and see how things shake out.

May 04, 2010

Thoughts on the "We are ND" promotional video, the future of stadium music at ND stadium, and why Darius Walker is right about the stadium atmosphere.

There's nothing like the Notre Dame offseason to get people riled up over nothing. Spring practice is over, so I guess it's time to find something new to get angry about. Everything from scheduling (which is justified) to "The Shirt" to gold flanks on the uniforms to pep rallies. From about April 25 to August 1, it's pretty much full-fledged silly season with not a whole lot of actual football discussion going on.

Well, it looks like we have an early candidate for this year's thing to get everyone riled up. Here it is. ND's new promo video, "We are ND."

I mean, I get that it's cheesy. It's impossible to deny that. But is it really that bad?? Why are people so upset about this?? Disgusted?? Really?? Over a goofy promo video about ND sports? Do people have no sense of humor anymore??

I really don't think it's that bad. I'd go so far as to say that I like it. Not in the sense that it's the greatest song of all time, but it serves its purpose as an upbeat song to get people fired up
about ND sports and see the spirit on campus. After listening to it a few times, the main hook was pretty much ringing in my head the rest of the day.

It reminds me of your standard 1980s team-oriented theme song. As much as people like to say they hate those songs (Go Cubs Go, Who Dey, Super Bowl Shuffle, San Diego Super Chargers, etc), people always go nuts and start singing whenever they come on.

The Bengals have hands down the cheesiest touchdown celebration song
of all time. "Bengals Growl."

People have been mocking this song for as long as I've been a Bengals fan. But when you're down at Paul Brown Stadium and that thing comes on after a score, the place goes crazy. It's hands down the most popular song that they play. There's just something about singing some cheesy lyrics with 65,000 other people and laughing while you're doing it because you know the song is so dumb that you'd never embrace it in any other setting.

Is "We are ND" capable of becoming a silly "theme song" for ND sports?? Probably not, but I like that ND tried something different to sort of loosen up a little and not take itself so seriously.

For further feedback on the new song, I went to my best source for the opinion of the casual ND fan: my wife. Someone who is more into watching the cheerleaders than the running backs and cares more about the soft pretzels at the concession stand than Dayne Crist's completion percentage.

She hadn't seen or heard anything about this song or the "controversy" stemming from it, so we loaded it up on Youtube and checked it out. And honestly, even though she probably thought it was a little corny, she seemed to like it (or at least she said she did, so maybe she was just humoring me).

Here's the thing. The song isn't meant to appeal to 60 year old men who go to ND games to hear the band and don't want a bunch of fluff. It's not even really meant for the diehard 25-35 year old guy who spends a little too much time reading about recruiting or following spring practice. Those fans are already a given. Maybe it's not fair to take them for granted, but ND doesn't need to reach out to those fans.

This is meant for younger fans, women, high school kids who might not know much about ND, and the current students. ND can send this around for promotional purposes and present at least some sort of upbeat tone that goes beyond the "Sounds of the marching band with Dr. Kenneth Dye!" cd. If you hook even one person on ND sports because of it, it's worth it.

Now, I can see what everyone is thinking. This song is so "white" and Midwestern and lame that it's impossible to embrace it even as sort of an ironic joke or as a change of pace from the usual ND stuff. If Brian Kelly loads this up on an email and sends it off to some dude down in Ft. Myers, the guy is probably not going to be too impressed by seeing Freekbass strumming on the guitar with some other white guy
rapping. If there's a video out there to reinforce the notion that ND is very white and a little corny, this video is probably it.

But I stumbled across this post on Facebook from a certain former ND
football player who takes a backseat to nobody in recent ND lore.

How about that??! If it's good enough for #3, it's good enough for me. Having seen that guy's dad on tv for four years, I think he's got more than enough "street cred" to speak on how recruits would react to this video.

Think about what Darius Walker is saying here though. He's basically saying that ND's crowd and atmosphere doesn't get players fired up. I think there's something to be said for that.

I've been to probably 40-50 ND home games in the last ten years, and I can count on one hand the number of truly epic crowds we've had in the last ten years. Part of it has certainly been the team's performance, but part of it is a stadium atmosphere that has gotten a little stale. Even for the "big" games. Take the 2009 USC game for example. That was a genuinely big game at the time, and the crowd was basically dead for 55 of the 60 minutes. Like lifeless dead. People got excited in the last five minutes or so when we clawed back into it, but where was the energy from start to finish?? The loudest cheer of the night was when we gave the team a standing ovation after the game for losing to an 8-4 USC team at home. Yippee.

People talk about the 2005 USC game as a sign that ND fans can still rise to the occasion, but that was ONE GAME in the last decade. That's the best we can do??

That brings me to the ND band. I love the ND band and apologize to all things Dr. Kenneth Dye. But if I have to listen to that song where we pump our arms slowly up and down a hundred times, I might start sneaking a pillow and blanket into the crowd. Fans are literally falling asleep in the stands. That's a homefield advantage??

Blame IPODs or short attention spans or whatever you want, but when all you have is the marching band for musical entertainment, it's hard to stay "up" for an entire ND game these days. Between the four hour games, bad product, bad schedule, and long commercial breaks, it's a grind. You gotta give people a reason to get fired up.

I was always a huge "no jumbotron, no goofy stadium music" guy because I've seen it cheapen the experience at other venues. Ohio State has become way too commercialized and stale. I didn't want ND to become like that. You should go to watch the game and not some dopey scoreboard race or commercial or promotion video.

But I will admit that I had two experiences last year with the stadium music/jumbotron for ND road games that turned me around.

1) Michigan -- I think Michigan has really done this well. When they renovated the stadium to add luxury boxes, it made the stadium more enclosed and much louder. And now they sprinkle in some random Michigan-themed pop/rock songs like Kid Rock or Eminem or Bob Seger and some of the other usual suspects that you might hear at a game (Journey, Bon Jovi, etc).

Honestly, it worked. They didn't do it every timeout (the band still played the majority of the songs), but played maybe 3-4 songs over the course of the game over the loudspeakers to put a little pep in people's step. It seemed like every time ND started to make a push, they'd throw a song on and the crowd would come to life. I think it legitimately affected the game. People would start singing and dancing, and you could see that the Michigan players got fired up when the crowd got going. Isn't that what it's all about?? Getting your team pumped??

People love hearing the band and the fight song and all that, but there is something cool about singing "Don't Stop Believin" with 100,000 other people. Heck, all the Notre Dame fans in our section were singing too. It just added to an already big time atmosphere.

2) Pitt - We lost the Pitt game twenty minutes before it even started when they threw on this music video montage for the band introductions that culminated with the band running out of the tunnel through the old Miami Hurricanes smoke. The freaking band! I'm not even kidding. I don't even remember what song it was, but the crowd was going nuts.

Meanwhile, we were in the corner just sulking. You could tell at that moment that we were done.
Pitt probably overdoes it because they have an absurdly large Jumbotron to work with at Heinz Field, but they were cranking songs and videos the whole game. They also did a Sweet Caroline thing before the the 4th quarter that got people going for the stretch run. When was the last time we had the entire ND stadium singing and rocking out all at once??

Sure it's cheesy and a ripoff, but here's the thing. IT WORKS! Isn't that the goal?? To help get the crowd pumped and win football games?? Why is this a bad thing??

I appreciate tradition and all that. Really, I do. I love ND stadium because it's like going back in time. It's like Wrigley or Augusta or any of the great places in sports where they haven't overcommercialized everything and cheapened the experience.

But I think ND fans are turning into a bunch of Billy Paynes. "We heahhh at Noootuh Dayume don't caahhhre for that kind of music in Rock's House." It's not golf. It's college football. And it's not 1954. We aren't showing up in sports jackets and fedoras to watch football anymore. People want to sing and dance and have fun.

I'm ready for some stadium music at ND. I've heard some rumblings that it might be coming in the near future, so we might as well start now with the Brian Kelly era. We already have the speakers, and Kelly has said repeatedly that he wants to change the culture at ND. The band can still dominate the action, but a little spice of Bon Jovi or Journey wouldn't hurt anyone. It might just get this program over the hump and back to playing great football at home in front of great crowds.

Come up with some sort of pregame theme song right before kickoff (or before the team runs out of the tunnel) to get people cranked up for the action. I don't have a recommendation at this point, but just something to get people hyped up.

For example, Auburn comes up with a new video every year to get the crowd going before the team takes the field.

I'm not saying ND should put in a Jumbotron like Auburn has done. I don't want a big screen. But come up with a song (Rocky, Rolling Stones, T-Pain, Freekbass, whatever you want) to get people pumped as the team is coming out of the tunnel and/or getting ready for the opening kickoff, and play it over the loudspeakers. We already do it for our basketball team. Why not football??

From there, let the ND band do its thing, but sprinkle in 1-2 pop songs a quarter. The type of stuff you'd hear at the Boat Club/Backer. Maybe even throw Freekbass in there if you want, or come up with some other ND-themed song to get people pumped. Heck, throw on one of the upbeat songs from Rudy.

Darius Walker has a point here. He's basically saying that he's never heard an upbeat song before or during a game at ND. He's right. If you think it's boring for the fans to hear the same stuff over and over, imagine what it's like to be a player. They probably feel like they are playing football at a museum. That needs to change.

Maybe Freekbass isn't the answer. Maybe we'll need to come up with more "urban" material to appeal to recruits or look a little more hip. But it's a start. If recruits see that ND is trying to present a new message and get with the times, it might have a beneficial effect for the program down the road.

I just want to see a rocking ND stadium atmosphere. ND is still a great place to watch a game, but it could be even better and a more intimidating, hyped-up atmosphere. Ultimately, that should be the goal.