A Historical Perspective on Why Everybody Hates Notre Dame

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistMarch 28, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15:  The Leprechaun, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot, performs during the game against the University of Southern California Trojans on October 15, 2005 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 34-31. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame’s 2012 appearance in the BCS National Championship game and return to glory brought back many emotions for college football fans everywhere. On one hand, you have the long-suffering Fighting Irish fans and alumni who’ve waited years to have something to cheer for and celebrate. Conversely, you have the rest of the nation who aren’t quite so keen on the Irish. 

Notre Dame’s last national championship was in 1988, and its last Heisman winner, Tim Brown, was in 1987. The Irish have mired in mediocrity for the better part of the last 20 years; yet they continue to hold unimaginable power over the rest of the NCAA. If you are like me, this really grinds your gears.

Fans despise Notre Dame for a multitude of reasons. Whether it is the helmets made of real gold or because the school and its followers are presumptuous enough to believe they are “God’s team.” Or how about in 1988 when a group of Irish supporters coined the clash between Notre Dame and Miami as “Catholics vs. Convicts” because they felt the Hurricanes players were thugs.  It is that self-importance and borderline arrogance that has made the Irish the most-hated college football program in the nation. 

Notre Dame’s longstanding feud with the rest of college football is well known, but why exactly do the Golden Domers still frustrate and infuriate college football fans across the country?  

Here’s why:

Conference Affiliation

In this era of rampant conference realignment, one thing has remained consistent—Notre Dame’s football independence.

Several of the major conferences such as the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC have all expanded. Notre Dame, a member of the Big East in all sports except football since 1995, has chosen to remain independent in football for financial reasons.

Joining a conference in football would force the Fighting Irish to share revenue with other teams in the conference. Also, they would lose their tremendous scheduling flexibility. Playing at least eight conference games per year would likely force them to drop traditional rivalries.  And if there is one thing the Irish don’t like to do it is mess with tradition.    

Longtime fans of college football would be more likely to respect Notre Dame if it played in a conference. The decision to remain independent reeks of arrogance and suggests to fans the Irish believe they are above the rest of college football.

Partnership with NBC

Notre Dame is the only program in college sports that has a network television deal. Terms of the deal mean every Fighting Irish home game will be televised on NBC, regardless of opponent.

The Fighting Irish and NBC began the partnership in 1990 with the school receiving $7.6 million per year. As of 2012, Notre Dame’s annual payout from NBC was $15 million. Generally, it is the conferences that negotiate television deals and the money is divided amongst all the schools. Notre Dame shares with no one. To put the Irish's NBC deal in perspective, ACC teams earn $17 million in television revenue for football and basketball. Notre Dame pulls in $15 million for football alone.

Fans loathe this agreement for many reasons. Notre Dame’s lack of success over the past 20 years, until 2012, is one reason.

The New York Yankees, America’s most valuable sports brand, don’t even have a network television deal. Yes, they have their own cable network, but that is much different than a network TV deal. Being on network television means Notre Dame is guaranteed to be on every television set in America.  

Imagine being a fan of another Top 25 team and visiting your friend’s house on a fall Saturday and the friend didn’t have cable. Regardless of what team your favorite squad was playing, they wouldn’t be on television in all likelihood, but the Fighting Irish would, even if they were playing Tennessee Tech or Maryland.

Ron Powlus/Jimmy Clausen

Has there ever been two more overhyped quarterbacks entering the college game than Powlus and Clausen?

Powlus came to Notre Dame in 1994 and ESPN commentator Beano Cook quickly pronounced that he would win two Heisman Trophies. Powlus finished his career at Notre Dame as a four-year starter breaking several passing records, but he never won a bowl game or finished among the top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy.  

Clausen, whose two older brothers played quarterback for Tennessee and LSU, was so overhyped that some even called him the LeBron James of high school football.

Clausen finished his three-year career at Notre Dame with an embarrassing 16-18 record.

In the last 25 years, there have been many quarterbacks who were pegged as stars before they played a college game. Peyton Manning and Vince Young both come to mind. But even they didn’t enter their respective school with the type of unreal expectations of Powlus and Clausen.

Would these two quarterbacks have received the same hype if they had played at, say, South Carolina? Obviously, no, they would not. College football fans will always cringe when these names are mentioned.

BCS Deal

Perhaps the most sensible reason for college football fans to hate Notre Dame is its contract with the BCS. The contract states that if the Fighting Irish are in the Top Eight of the BCS standings at the end of the season, they will get an automatic BCS berth.

Even if Notre Dame doesn’t compete in a BCS bowl, it is guaranteed an undisclosed sum of BCS money. How fair is that?

Other teams that earn a BCS berth have to split the money amongst the teams in their conference. And to get an automatic berth they have to win their respective conference, unless they receive an at-large bid.

Notre Dame could play the softest schedule in the country, but as long as it wins at least 10 games, it will more than likely be eligible for a BCS bid.

Notre Dame deserved to be in the BCS National Championship game in 2012. The Fighting Irish were undefeated and deservedly ranked No. 1 at the end of the season. But something to keep in perspective—the Irish have competed in four BCS games since its inception in 1998 and are 0-4, having been outscored 158-57.


Everyone in America knows the story of Rudy Ruettiger. An undersized overachiever who was a lifelong Notre Dame fan who ended up actually playing for the Fighting Irish. Albeit, it was only a few plays in one game of a blowout, but that still qualifies him as a player.

The part about Rudy that many people don’t know is that several details of the 1993 film, Rudy, based on Ruettiger’s life story, were enhanced to “capture the key truthful element and let the drama take over.”

That statement, by Rudy scriptwriter Angelo Pizzo (via Jeff Merron, ESPN.com), essentially confirms the legend of Rudy was very much embellished to attain cinematic glory. Does that sound familiar, college football fans?

As for Rudy, it was a great story. But don’t you think there are several teams in college football that have someone with a story like Ruettiger’s? Many teams have a player whose dream is just to practice and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

How many movies have been made about walk-on football players?

Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers was a walk-on at USC; you think they will make a movie about him? Well, probably not; he is actually a good football player.

2012 was a good test for college football fans with two iconic programs playing in the national title game. Could they still hate Notre Dame, being the considerable underdog, facing "Nicky Satan’s" big, bad Alabama Crimson Tide from the SEC?

America loves a good underdog story, and had the Crimson Tide been playing anyone other than Notre Dame, fans would have rooted against them in masses. However, even with Notre Dame’s feel-good rise to prominence in 2012, the majority of college football fans still couldn’t pull for the Irish and reveled in their lopsided defeat.

That alone proves the vast majority of college football fans still hate Notre Dame and likely always will.