Let me be clear about this right from the jump: I don’t like Notre Dame. I never have.
Eight years of Catholic elementary school; four years of Catholic high school; even one year at a Jesuit University before transferring to a public institute of higher learning—I simply am not a fan of the Fighting Irish.
Perhaps it has something to do with the smug, arguably well-earned, attitude of the typical ND alumnus.
Maybe it bothers me that Notre Dame refuses to join the Big East for football, yet can trump a Big East member for a conference tied-in bowl game.
It could have something to do with that seemingly endless contract with NBC, worth millions upon millions, that has allowed a national audience to view losses to teams like Navy, Tulsa, and Syracuse over the past few years.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Irish always manage to make their way onto every preseason top 25, regardless of the fact that they may have gone 3-9 or 5-7 the previous season, haven’t had a meaningful bowl victory since before my high school-aged children were born, and haven’t challenged for a national championship since Madonna tried to convince us all she was a virgin being kissed for the very first time.
But I digress.
Regardless of my less-than-unbiased opinion of the Fighting Irish, they enter this season with the potential to finally make good on
Bob Davie’s Tyrone Willingham’s Charlie Weis’ Brian Kelly’s promise to elevate Notre Dame to national-championship contender.
Recent events covered ad nauseam by every sports site in print and online at schools such as Ohio State, North Carolina, and Miami have opened an unprecedentedly wide window through which teams like Notre Dame can move back into the upper echelon of college football.
I won’t argue the merits of the rules currently in place to insure the sanctity of the amateur status of today’s college football player, nor will I defend sanctions which punish current players, coaches, and fans for the sins of their predecessors.
I’m simply stating what may not have been obvious as news of tattoos for autographs, agent runners working as associate head coaches, and stripper poles in luxury boxes grace the headlines of college football publications on a seemingly daily basis.
The haves are stepping aside, much to the delight of the have-nots and used-to-haves.
USC offers a prime example of what may lie ahead for teams like Ohio State, North Carolina, and Miami.
Just a few years removed from national championships, the Trojans have put up much more pedestrian win-loss records of 9-4 and 8-5 the past two seasons. The loss of 30 scholarships should hamper USC depth charts for the foreseeable future, and there is no doubt that the two-year bowl ban may have scared off a few recruits.
The coach at USC during the period in which the violations which brought such tough sanctions occurred, Pete Carroll, was replaced by Lane Kiffin, a man whom the NCAA declared “committed recruiting violations and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance of NCAA rules within his program” while at Tennessee.
Only time will tell if he’s learned to keep his hand out of the proverbial cookie jar.
North Carolina, poised last year for a breakout season, one which would put the Tar Heels back in the college football spotlight, stumbled to an 8-5 record with a roster depleted of several pro prospects due to investigation related suspensions.
The cloud, which hung over the program for more than a season, eventually led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis just days before the start of this season’s training camp.
The alleged violations at the “U,” if proven legitimate, may lead to sanctions that could potentially set the program back years, possibly even decades (c.f. SMU, death penalty).
Already nursing a black eye a few weeks before the 2011 season kicks off, college football must—and will—act quickly to repair its tarnished reputation.
What will this mean for the sport?
Obviously, investigations which are ongoing will be amped up to the no-stone-left-unturned level. Woe to schools like Miami, when football fans, rabid as well as casual, are imploring the NCAA to take of the kid gloves and level offending schools with sanctions more fitting of the infractions committed.
“Off with their (football-helmet-wearing) heads!” will resonate from campus to campus as violations are uncovered and punishments are handed down.
For those schools that, as far as we know, are running a tight ship, this offers an unbelievable opportunity to move up the pecking order in college football.
Teams like Notre Dame, with its high academic standards, which limit the recruitment of some high-profile, borderline-qualifying high school stars, are being handed their best chance in years to step over the carcasses left by the NCAA infractions committee to reach new poll-related heights.
It seems so simple in principal: Follow the rules, aggressively act when anything in your program seems amiss, and make sure that a good portion of the players graduate.
Yet, the lure of championships, larger contracts, and ridiculously huge endorsement deals seems to entice more and more coaches, athletic directors, and school administrators to plow through season after season with bigger and bigger blinders on.
Maybe this is what college football has needed. Perhaps the sport needed to be picked up by its collective boot straps, held upside down, and shaken until every illicit coach, player, and booster falls to the ground.
Maybe then the focus can be shifted back to the field; back to the players that put in their four years, thank the University for providing them with an education, and move on to productive lives past football.
Until then the window is open.
Let’s see who decides to come through.