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We need progress, not hype

Charles Logue | Monday, September 2, 2013

Anyone who introduced themselves as a Notre Dame student over the summer probably heard something about the BCS National Championship massacre mentioned within 10 seconds. It’s almost astounding to see the deep satisfaction so many individuals across the country derived from our defeat.
But why? Were they simply jealous watching those blue and gold colors rack up a 12-0 season record? Perhaps. But maybe it was something else. Maybe most of the country saw a “rich, white school” that had an extraordinary run of miraculous luck that allowed them to eke out narrow victories. Maybe a school that bought into its own PR so much that they went to the title game in “#1” t-shirts. Whatever they saw, everyone saw the game, witnessing the Irish virtually evacuate the stadium once the reality check had been issued by Alabama.
Why have we taken you on this unpleasant trip down memory lane? Because sometimes becoming the very best means acknowledging your faults. Every student at Notre Dame has heard – or will hear – countless times about our status as an elite institution, rivaling Ivy League schools in student quality, number of varsity sports, rich/famous alumni, landscaping budget, froyo consumption etc. However, we at Notre Dame have a favorite buzzword that eternally elevates us: tradition. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but tradition often becomes an excuse for stagnation – a belief that our way, the “Notre Dame way,” was, is and always will be the best way.
The 2012 Irish was a great team with a defense any program would be proud to claim. But frankly, we were up against an opponent on a completely different level and allowed ourselves to ride the hype train straight into a wall. Leading up to the game, any such suggestion was practically blasphemy, but there’s a wonderful thing in football: short feedback loops. If a play does not work, you know within about three seconds when an Alabama linebacker crushes you like a soda can. On the field of play, this allows Brian “Big Hugs” Kelly to make on-the-fly adjustments to our strategy. Unfortunately, we in the general Notre Dame community have no such feedback loop.
The reason we don’t have a feedback loop is simple in concept but complex in motivation. The concept is that we, as a community, have an appalling ability to handle constructive criticism. We are so enamoured with our own success that we fail to consider that just because we are winning here and there does not mean we’ve won. We do this while simultaneously failing to do what others will to ensure they actually win when the games that matter roll around.
Why we do this has a lot to do with who we are. Obviously, a lot of Notre Dame’s culture and heritage draws on the Catholic Church, and nobody is bigger than the beloved Church on tradition. One of the chief criticisms of the religious community is that organized religion has indisputably not been a fan of questioning in general (historically speaking, of course). This is dangerous because any person, organization or culture that believes it already knows all the answers cannot be improved. They have at best sentenced themselves to obsolescence and mediocrity, and this is what Notre Dame faces if it cannot develop a healthy sense of internal constructive criticism.
We are not ranked No. 1 right now. We are not even top 10. We are prestigious amongst football schools for academics, but we are not prestigious in academics or football against schools that are genuinely focused on either endeavor. We need to stop pretending we are, and the only reason that’s true is that Notre Dame actually could be all of these things. We need to be innovative. We need to be humble. We need to be less of a PR machine and more like former Notre Dame football coach Jesse Harper. Notre Dame shouldn’t ever be the type of school that runs delusionally into an embarrassing slaughter. Notre Dame should be the type of school that throws a pass and changes the game.
To quote American historian Daniel J. Boorstin,”The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”