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viewpoint

Open letter to Fr. Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick

| Monday, September 13, 2021

Fr. Jenkins and Mr. Swarbrick,

What has happened to Notre Dame?

Just over 62,000 people attended the game against Toledo on Saturday. This represents the lowest attendance in the Notre Dame Stadium since the expansion preceding the 1997 season.

For decades every home game was sold out. As of Saturday, only the Cincinnati game is sold out for this season.

So why is this happening? The team, as of September 12, is ranked in the Top 10. September and October games in South Bend offer great chances for a beautiful day. The lost season last year when most fans were unable to attend any college football games should translate into pent-up demand.

As I perused the various games held this weekend around the country it was quite obvious that the fans were back. Top Ten teams playing mismatched (on paper) opponents drew huge crowds in near-capacity numbers. So, no, people were not staying away from other stadiums due to COVID-19 or presumably inferior opponents.

Could it be that fans are sensing that Notre Dame has turned its back on them and what it used to stand for? Has the administration forgotten those that helped make it what it is now?

Long ago, tickets that were not purchased through the ticket lottery were easily sold to the general public. In many cases, loyal fans from South Bend would buy those. Families would attend together, enjoying the unique relationship that Notre Dame has fostered through the years with its local neighbors. Based on the ever-increasing ticket prices, I wonder how many people can afford to do that. Can the average family of four afford to spend at the very least $300+ for a game?

Young alumni also find it challenging to pay so much for a game, and many older ones like me are questioning if we should.

Well, there’s always television.

Not so fast!

This weekend was the premiere of the Peacock streaming service coverage of a Notre Dame home game. In order to view the game one had to pay for premium service on top of having purchased the streaming app on a smart device. My 95-year-old dad in Florida had to watch the game on a cell phone due to internet issues in his community. My nonagenarian aunt and uncle in Chicago did not see the game — no smart device on which to watch it. These three people, in an extended family having 16 current students or alums, have watched Notre Dame football religiously on television since television was invented and games were offered.

But not Saturday.

Something is wrong here. A professed Catholic university that has been built on the loyalty of its local supporters, its alumni (subway and traditional) and millions of others around the country, has forgotten them.

The University has become elitist. By limiting access to only those who can pay exorbitant ticket prices or subscribe to premium access television it is excluding a vast number of potential and past supporters.

In politics, that is called alienating your base. In this case, it betrays a tone-deafness that you have increasingly shown towards those who have carried the University through thick and thin.

Notre Dame professes to be all about diversity, equity and inclusion — just not on Saturday afternoons when there’s more money to be made.

You both should consider revisiting the decisions about ticket prices and premium streaming of games before the free market sorts this out. It’s better to pre-emptively correct mistakes than to be shown to be wrong. It would at least show a measure of respect to Notre Dame’s supporters.

Ironically, former NBC television anchor Tom Brokaw gave some prescient advice in his 1993 commencement speech at Notre Dame when he said, “It’s easy to make a buck; it’s harder to make a difference. Go Irish!”

Sincerely,

Stephen O’Neil

class of 1987

Sept. 12

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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