Changes in college game affect ND
Notre Dame practically sells itself to recruits, what with its rich tradition, national name and facilities that are second-to-none. Its fan base is as devoted as any in sports. Throw in its own TV network, and ND should be college football's premier powerhouse, year in and year out.
Yet here the Irish are again, dragging into late November with a mediocre record and an all-but-lame-duck coach. If Notre Dame hires another, that'll make five in the past decade -- the kind of instability normally reserved for Hollywood marriages.
No single factor explains the football program's troubles. It's more like an Irish stew, and these are some of the key ingredients.
• That TV contract: No, there is no Curse of the Peacock, despite the fact Notre Dame hasn't won a national title since NBC began broadcasting Irish games in 1991. But the Irish are no longer the only game on TV.
Kids -- coaches, too -- want to go where they're going to get noticed, and the proliferation of cable television and the Internet means pretty much everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. Seven of BCS-buster Boise State's games were on an ESPN channel this season. Temple's game Friday is its fifth on TV this season, and second on ESPNU.
Florida, meanwhile, has a regular slot on CBS -- and no, we're not talking "CSI: Miami."
Still, Notre Dame has the kind of exposure even NFL teams would envy. Since 1992, all but one of Notre Dame's games has been shown on either NBC, ABC, CBS or ESPN. And for most of the year, fans know exactly where the Irish will be: on NBC, all over the country.
You don't have to check the TV listings for them or see whether that regional sports network carrying the game is among your 500 channels. You see Notre Dame whether you're in South Bend, South Dakota or South Carolina.
"Only one school is on every week," said Rick Gentile, a former senior vice president of CBS Sports who is now a professor at Seton Hall. "You know exactly where to find them, and there's a real advantage to that consistency."
• The schedule: No. 2 Alabama took a break from its SEC schedule last weekend to beat up on Chattanooga. This after games earlier in the season against Florida International and North Texas. With those teams on the schedule, the Crimson Tide was essentially 3-0 before the season started.
It's not just Alabama, either. Almost all of the top programs pad their schedules with non-conference lightweights. No. 2 Texas feasted on Louisiana-Monroe and Central Florida. No. 9 Ohio State did play USC, but it also had non-con games against Toledo and New Mexico State.
Yes, Appalachian State stunned Michigan, but upsets like that are so rare they're remembered for decades.
"After Florida schedules Florida International, I have no use for them," former Irish great Joe Theismann said. "I find it insulting to have major college programs playing people they know they can beat by 60."
Now, the Irish aren't averse to playing a patsy or two. Until the last few years, Navy was about as big a gimme as you could get. But because of its historic rivalries and independence, and the fact opponents will always circle Notre Dame on their schedule, Notre Dame's schedule is always going to be rugged.
Granted, it has gotten softer in recent years. The Irish faced two ranked opponents each of the last two seasons, compared with five in Charlie Weis' first year. But USC, Michigan and Pitt aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and Oklahoma is due up in 2012.
"Last time I checked, Florida International wasn't on. Chattanooga wasn't there," Theismann said.
• Making the grade: Notre Dame is one of the country's top academic institutions, making it a simple fact there are players the Irish can't even look at because they won't qualify. But the challenge is the same, if not greater, at places like Stanford and Northwestern.
And Notre Dame has talent -- lots of it. Weis' recruiting classes have ranged from decent to difference-making, with players like Golden Tate, Jimmy Clausen, Michael Floyd and Manti Te'o, all of whom would be welcome in Gainesville, Austin or Tuscaloosa.
Whether the Irish get the most from their talent is up for debate.
Ara Parseghian inherited a 2-7 team and took it within a game of the 1964 national championship. Sure, he made adjustments to the lineup, but the biggest change was in attitude.
"He motivated," said Jim Dent, author of "Resurrection: The Miracle Season that Saved Notre Dame" about Parseghian's first year. "Notre Dame is just not motivated [now]. He's got a pretty good team, they just go out and fall flat. That never would have happened with Ara Parseghian because he kept them going."
• Destination anywhere: Notre Dame is no longer the ultimate job.
We'll wait until Irish fans resume breathing and pick themselves up the floor, but it's true. Gary Barnett, Mike Bellotti, John Gruden, Urban Meyer -- Notre Dame was interested in all of them, and each took a pass.
Part of that has to do with the fishbowl Notre Dame coaches live in. That fan base? Fan is short for fanatic, remember, and no coach is scrutinized more than the current heir to Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Lou Holtz.
But parity in college football extends beyond the television screen. Coaches no longer have to be at big-name schools to land big-name talent. With the reduction in scholarships, kids who would have been parked on the bench at Oklahoma or Penn State or Texas are starting at Boise State and TCU and Houston.
Salaries have risen, too, meaning coaches don't have to chase the bigger paycheck.
"If you're happy at your university and love living in the area and have a chance to win and have a chance to be among the elite teams in league, that's satisfying enough for a lot of people in this profession," said Temple coach Al Golden, who has revived the Owls in just four seasons and knows a little something about loyalty and longevity, having played for Joe Paterno at Penn State.
But have no fear, Irish fans. There are still coaches out there for whom Notre Dame is their dream job, or who would thrive on the challenge of reviving college football's (slightly tarnished) gold standard.
And when Notre Dame finds the right coach, rather than the right now coach, these troubles will fade.
"This thing seems to go in cycles," Parseghian said. "When I first came to Notre Dame, it was, `You can't win there, the academics are too difficult, the schedule is too difficult, you don't have any social life.' You're reading the same thing now.
"The success that Holtz had, that I had, that Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy had, it will come back," Parseghian said. "How soon it comes back, I can't predict. But it will be back."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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