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Notre Dame basketball needs full support

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 2, 2006

My letter is in response to the March 1 letter to the editor of my fellow alumnus, John Chute.

Let me start out by saying I completely agree with him that Notre Dame should set a standard of excellence in all things. It was that desire for excellence that led to the changes University President Father John Jenkins and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves made in football after the 2004 season, and it’s a policy as much a part of Notre Dame as the Golden Dome. Let me also say that a four- to six-win season in the Big East is not up to anyone’s level of expectation, so the results of the 2005-06 men’s basketball season at Notre Dame is certainly cause for concern.

But a commitment to excellence must be a two-way street, and I put it to Chute and The Observer’s readership that Notre Dame is not living up to its end of the bargain.

John cites Duke as a model worthy of emulation in building a basketball program, and I agree it is the “gold standard.” But Duke just spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading what John called “mediocre practice facilities” by building a state-of-the-art practice and meeting complex for its basketball players. This means the Duke basketball program, a top-notch program with every recruiting advantage you could imagine, felt it needed top-flight facilities to compete in recruiting.

Notre Dame football is the same – 11 National Championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners, a national television contract and the best fanbase in the country (if not the world) provides huge advantages and should be very attractive to high school athletes. Yet we just spent tens of millions of dollars to build the Gug. The Notre Dame football program, a top-notch program with every recruiting advantage you could imagine, felt it needed top-flight facilities to compete in recruiting.

In the 40 years since the Joyce Center opened, every other non-football sport on campus has received a major financial infusion, whether it be via fully funding scholarships to the maximum level allowed by the NCAA, building new facilities for playing and/or practicing, or both. The Eck Tennis Pavilion was built in the last 20 years. The baseball stadium is less than 10 years old. The football program, in the last 20 years, has received two state-of-the-art practice facilities (first Loftus and now the Gug) and had a full renovation of its stadium.

No one denies football rules the roost at Notre Dame, but three major projects in 20 years while basketball receives nothing seems, to me, to be unreasonable, especially in light of the fact that the basketball programs out-performed the football program on the field over the last 10 years. When a recruit visits campus and sees the opulence of the Gug and then the spartan confines of the Pit, what impression should we expect that recruit to create in his or her mind? What message is Notre Dame sending to recruits (and to potential quality coaching replacements, if that’s where your interest lies)?

In his letter, John says that his employer gave him the financial support up front while expecting him within a given time period to prove himself worthy of that funding. I suggest that Notre Dame has not done the same for Mike Brey (or Muffet McGraw, for that matter), expecting quality performance while not providing the same level of excellence in support, either in facilities or in academic oversight.

For example, Notre Dame recently lost out on a recruit to Georgetown. This recruit, named after a former Irish basketball great, came on campus for an official visit, but left without a scholarship offer. Why? His SAT score was short of the limit for an early offer – a limit, I’m led to understand, that does not restrain the football staff. Georgetown saw no reason to use such a ridiculous standard, so that player will be suiting up for John Thompson in 2007.

Dominic James will most likely be the Rookie of the Year in the Big East for Marquette. He was an Irish recruiting target as well. But as of spring of 2004, he had yet to take the SAT, so his scholarship offer was conditional. Like Georgetown, Marquette didn’t have a problem with James’ circumstance, so he’s now dropping 18 points on the Irish in the Joyce Center instead of for them.

A wise man I know once said, “Where Notre Dame has directed its intellectual and financial resources, success has invariably followed,” and I believe that to be an excellent mantra. Right now in basketball, Notre Dame is doing neither. Mike Brey was promised facilities improvement when he arrived at Notre Dame six years ago, and the floor of the Joyce Center is still held down by duct tape while their practice gym would be considered low quality for a YMCA. As I noted earlier, whether on purpose or not, Notre Dame is making a statement about how it regards and supports basketball by not addressing these problems.

In his letter, John asked why the Notre Dame administration has “treated the men’s basketball program like the infirmed little sibling, as if unable to meet the standards to which everyone else in the family is held.” The answer is simple – the other programs he listed have been given the administration’s full attention and support. When Notre Dame does this for the basketball program, I’ll be comfortable demanding the top-10 finishes and Sweet 16 appearances John has asked for. Until then, as far as I’m concerned, the ball is in Notre Dame’s court.

Michael CoffeyalumnusClass of 1991March 1