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POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11
Had football never blossomed as it did in South Bend, Notre Dame would be just another middling parochial school. As it is, the university has become one of the nation's very best undergraduate facilities, because the football program engendered an enthusiasm for the school among Catholics everywhere. Even if the football program has been less than special in the last two decades, the university remains unquestionably great because of it.
Much of the enthusiasm for the school was generated within the teeming millions of Catholic immigrants to whom the Irish football program gave belief. During an era of venomous anti-Catholic bigotry, seeing this little football David in the midwest destroy one football Goliath after another reflected the true opportunity held within the American dream. To these pressed upon immigrants, Notre Dame's football success meant that perhaps their children could have what they, themselves could not.
In short, the football program made Notre Dame a national school, with as many graduates from Washington state as from Missouri; as many from Texas as Michigan; probably more from Florida than Indiana. Alumni who after graduation return to their home states want to see Notre Dame play somewhere within their general geography. Those alumni make sizable contributions to the university, and those contributions dwarf any television contract the football program could ever dream of negotiating. This is a big consideration in scheduling, and in the desire to remain independent.
I often hear Irish fans wonder why Notre Dame keeps Navy on the schedule, year after year. They think this is a game that could be easily dropped, so that a better opponent could be fit into a conference schedule. These people perhaps do not know that the Naval Academy, during World War II, kept Notre Dame alive by sending thousands of plebes to South Bend for their education. Had it not been for those students, Notre Dame could not have survived the war. As long as Navy wants a place on the schedule, they'll be there.
Among the alumni I know well, most will not return to South Bend to see what they regard as a game between the Irish and a so-so team. They don't want to see a football game. They want a collision of behemoths. They feel they're entitled not only to see games of that magnitude, but to win them -- all (I agree wholeheartedly). While inferior opponents might be acceptable to those who have never or rarely had the chance to see the Irish live, those in the gold seats won't accept them.
Difficult schedules could, of course, be maintained within a conference, but playing seven to eight games a year in South Bend and one geographic region would make making the program available in other regions extremely difficult. This would not only hurt recruiting, but again, slow contributions. Based solely on what I know (and others may disagree), the decision to join a conference, while any choice to the contrary remained, would cost the university far more in contributions than could ever be made up even by a conference deal that offered Notre Dame far more than an even revenue share.
It's fine to say that tradition means little; that you must change with the times or be left behind. Notre Dame faces no such danger at this point. If and when it does, it will be time to seriously visit conference alignment. Until then, I think it's wise to to accept the wisdom of those who know the school and its working far better than simple football fans. I'm not normally one to trust "the suits" just because they wear them, but in this, I defer to their judgement. I quickly acknowledge that this position is bolstered by my own desire to remain independent.
This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by Mr Rice128364 on 5/12/2012 at 6:44 PM
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