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Notre Dame leadership

Frank T. Pimentel | Monday, November 2, 2009

 In The “Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis argued that modern education produces “what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her.” Sadly, we see this in full effect at Notre Dame today. 

First, in their initial bumbling attempt to defend the Commencement invitation to President Obama, the University distributed laughable “talking points” to the Board of Trustees, which managed, in one swipe, to insult the intelligence of anyone who questioned the propriety of the invitation and to directly insult the initial Laetare Award honoree. 

Then, Fr. Jenkins compounded the error by issuing a statement to the effect that he, presumably in contrast to the shanty Catholic rubes who saw through the artifice concocted by Notre Dame in its perpetual desire for respect by those whose opinions matter in academia, was going to deliver an “inclusive and respectful speech.” In other words, as Lewis predicted, those who attack him, attack “Intelligence.” Alas, the commencement debacle was not the most recent example at Notre Dame of Lewis’ foretelling. 

Last week Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced that next October Notre Dame would be fortifying its football schedule by playing Western Michigan University. (Parenthetically, I’ll state that for all I know, WMU is a great school and runs a fine football program. But that’s kind of the point; about all I know of WMU is that it is in Kalamazoo — and I doubt that most anyone not from Michigan or northern Indiana even knows that.) Of course, that announcement understandably caused instant deflation among nearly anybody who harbors hope that the Fighting Irish will once again become the team it was under Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian or Holtz. (By way of brief examples, on our way to the 1988 National Championship, Notre Dame played Michigan, Miami and USC in the regular season. The next year we played Michigan, USC, Penn State and Miami before the bowl game. In ‘90 we played Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State and USC in the regular season.) 

But that wasn’t the end of the consternation. Instead, echoing Jenkins’ pronouncements surrounding commencement, Swarbrick announced with respect to the inevitable blacklash, “It reflects a not very sophisticated view of what’s going on out there.” As with Jenkins, those who attack him attack “Intelligence.” But I am not fooled. In the case of football, the problem isn’t finding opponents on short notice, it’s finding opponents who will be bought, not expecting a return visit by Notre Dame. This scheduling philosophy, deemed “7-4-1” for shorthand, meaning seven home games, four road games and one “neutral site” game televised on NBC (amounting in substance then to eight home games and four road games), requires materially watering the schedule down and making it, frankly, boring. 

But this was intentional. Notre Dame knew that if it shorthanded itself by establishing a Potemkin 7-4-1 “requirement,” it would eviscerate future schedules so badly that, by contrast, a league schedule (Big 10? Big East? ACC?) would be appealing. Of course, this is a false choice. Simply returning to a more balanced home/road schedule (6-6, or even 7-5), with the historical norm of playing home-and-home series with marquee schools, would immediately solve the problem. But that itself is the problem. 

The powers that be don’t want that problem — the supposed scheduling problem — solved. Rather, while alumni have always overwhelmingly opposed joining a conference for football, those in the Dome and JACC — specifically John Heisler — “know better” and want it (and for reasons having nothing to do with athletics and everything to do with those whose opinions matter in academia). They don’t want to solve the scheduling “problem” that they created themselves. Rather, they have set us up to “solve” the scheduling “problem” by, sooner rather than later, throwing up their hands and arguing that the only feasible solution left will be to, surprise, join a conference. 

But my Intelligence will not be insulted. Moreover, until Notre Dame decides to place Men with Chests back in leadership, my checkbook (which had heretofore been wide open) will remain closed.


Frank T. Pimentel is an alumnus of the Class of ‘84 and ‘97 and can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.