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Study finds Notre Dame football to have second largest fanbase in nation

Despite an undergraduate student population far smaller than that of other traditional college football powerhouses, a study from this past summer found Notre Dame to have the second largest fanbase in college football at an estimated 8.21 million.

The study, put together by strategy consultant Tony Altimore at Altimore Collins & Company, ranked the top-16 largest college football fanbases. It found Ohio State to have the largest fanbase in the country at 11.26 million fans. Texas trailed Notre Dame at number three, followed by Penn State and Michigan.

Altimore, who attended USC and has worked with consulting companies such as Deloitte and Booze Allen, as well as the CIA, used sources such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times and Vivid Seats to draw his conclusions. He normalized his findings with data from the census and Google. Although he admits the data is “not perfect,” Altimore said he was able to document insightful findings about loyalties toward college football programs.

“What I really wanted to do was help sports fans see how the teams they rooted for aligned with the college’s institutional strategy,” Altimore said. “Sports are just a small chunk of what a university is.” 

Notre Dame differentiates itself from most universities by how it establishes a unique identity outside of football, Altimore explained.

Many of the colleges with top fanbases have a strong “sense of place” and encapsulate “the essence of its people,” he said. Football teams like Ohio State, West Virginia and USC align their branding and image with their respective state and regions and subsequently draw many fans simply due to geography.

“Someone in southern Indiana might not necessarily always root for the Fighting Irish. They may be a Purdue fan, or even an IU (Indiana University) fan,” Altimore said. “But for the majority of people in Ohio, they feel a connection to OSU and feel as though they can root for it.” 

According to Altimore, Notre Dame doesn’t necessarily shine in the proximity of its fanbase or even the size of its alumni network. Altimore said what makes Notre Dame such a national fanbase is its unique and successful branding, along with its track record and deep football history. 

“Notre Dame has a great combination of national recognition, relevance and strong brand identity,” Altimore said. “Notre Dame fans are everywhere.”

Whereas colleges like USC appeal to a large population of fans, they are mostly concentrated in Los Angeles, with fans that tend to “fully lean into L.A. stereotypes,” Altimore said. Notre Dame fans are so spread out across the nation that they do not have to live in South Bend or graduate from the University to feel a part of the fanbase, he said.  

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and reputation as a premier academic institution create an inviting brand image that appeals to a wide variety of fans across the U.S., Altimore said. Notre Dame also brings in fans who attended small Catholic schools with no football teams. Notre Dame has such a large fanbase, he explained, that it is the leading college football fanbase in New York City. 

But it’s not just the University’s Catholic heritage and academic rigor that make Notre Dame an attractive fanbase.

“Winning matters,” Altimore said.

This is why football teams from the Ivy League have deteriorated in recent decades, he explained, because although they draw a lot of national recognition and have large alumni bases, they do not experience much success on the gridiron. Because of their poor track records, children of Ivy League fans tend not to become fans themselves, Altimore said.

While Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988, they have consistently stayed relevant with successful regular seasons.

Altimore said he was surprised to find that fanbase size did not affect television and streaming ratings as much as he assumed it would.

“People who watch college football don’t just watch their team,” Altimore explained. “They also tune in to watch their competition. People will watch Notre Dame games whether or not they like Notre Dame because Notre Dame is a relevant team who are fun to watch.” 

Drawing from this data also allowed Altimore to make predictions about the future of college football fanbases and viewings. Altimore believes the sport might start to see a split in fanbases, similar to British football teams.

“In Britain, fans cheer for local teams just based off of proximity, as well as cheer for one of the globally recognized teams like Manchester United or Chelsea.”

Altimore thinks that college football might be headed that way as well.

“Fans might cheer for Southern Illinois because they live close to it but also cheer for Notre Dame because they like the Irish.”

Contact Gracie Eppler at geppler@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

Way beyond too late

‘Shooter in custody. I am okay.

10/24/22. 11:22 a.m. 

Tita Marites’ Facebook features snippets of her colorful life: verdant green vegetables, a red rooster, the bright smiling faces of her sons. And then, last Monday, a shooter broke into her school.

I have fallen prey to the vicious and deceptive mind trap of believing that I am safe from the school shootings that plague the media. I see the tabloids in the news and browse through photos of tearful children. And while I acknowledge their pain, mourn for their loss and call for some action, I am guilty of following the crowd as we collectively move on. It’s always too far away, too removed from my circle. I found myself thinking, “That’s awful, but it’ll never happen to me.” 

The shooting last Monday at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (CVPA) back in St. Louis jarred me as I realized that no one is the exception to these terrible crimes. We never really know who is going to be next or when it will happen, because for the students and staff at CVPA, it really did begin as just another Monday morning.

Tita, or “Aunt,” Marites is known to her beloved students as “Ms. O” and to the St. Louis arts community as Maria Ojascastro. She was at CVPA when the intruder broke in. The shooter invaded the classroom right next to hers and shot and killed a teacher. That teacher was Jean Kuczka. She taught my older sisters PE when they were in elementary school.

My sister Mia doesn’t remember much about Mrs. Kuczka, but she does remember the way Mrs. Kuzcka made her feel: safe. 

Mrs. Kuzcka died shielding her students, placing herself between the bullet and her kids. She died making sure they were safe. 

‘I’m home now. In shock…I ate and drank a lot  of water. Tending to my garden and spirit now.

10/24/22. 3:41 pm. 

In her back yard, my Tita Marites squats amongst fuschia hyacinths, small popping corn and towers of lettuce. She puts her palms in the dirt just to feel it between her fingers. It’s therapeutic, to return back to the ground. 

She first started gardening over 20 years ago when one of her sons was diagnosed with cancer. Digging through the soil is remedial. Designing the plants by texture and color gives her total control over a space made by her and for her. 

There have been a couple of freezes in St. Louis already this autumn, but her flowers endure. For Tita Marites, Maria, these plants symbolize hope — that life can persist through trauma. Sometimes she becomes frozen with grief and fear, wondering what might have happened if the shooter invaded her room instead of Mrs. Kuczka’s. But crouching there, with her hands in the dirt, looking at all that growth reminds Maria that she is still very much alive and that there is beauty all around her.

Maria wants her entire front yard covered with winter and spring bulbs. Her friends and family will come from all over to plant them, and when they bloom, they will be a visible reminder that love and joy will conquer trauma and pain. 

On her Facebook, Maria asked her friends to plant these bulbs, to donate snacks and materials to her classroom and to fundraise money to care for CVPA’s students’ and alumni’s small needs: special art materials, gas cards for returning alumnae, snacks for the kids taking a shuttle to the funeral, tissues for a runny nose, lotion for dry hands and sweet tea to sip after class.

“Teachers use their own money for small things that the district doesn’t cover,” she said. “Everything we buy for them we give with love. They need more love than ever now.” 

But what she asks for most is this: to put joy and love out there everyday. 

‘I finally got to hug a couple students today and I didn’t know how much I needed that. CVPA Strong.

10/28/22 5:42 p.m.

Art, for Maria Ojascastro, is a healing process. She hones her creative teaching skills through a Well-Being practice at PALM health, as well as through her collaboration with Prison Performing Arts and the Cancer Support Community, teaching incarcerated men and cancer survivors to express themselves creatively. “Art puts on paper what you can’t say in words,” she said. 

After graduating from St. Mary’s in 1987 a year behind my mom, Maria got her Masters of Fine Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis.  She sees her work as a way to bring mental health through the arts to those who are often forgotten. Taking care of ourselves and of those around us is her motto. 

The shooter who intruded the building last Monday had severe mental illness. His family noticed his declining mental state in the weeks prior to the shooting and had gone to the police asking them to take his gun away. But he still managed to get his hands on the gun he used at CVPA because of the ready accessibility of firearms in America, a shocking reality that haunts Maria.

“We can’t have one more mentally ill person who the laws allow to buy a gun without any sort of paper trail. That has got to change. It is way beyond too late,” my Tita Marites said. “You young people need to have the people in power make the change. Now.”

Maria believes that the change is up to us — the youth of America. “You can make a lot more noise than I can,” she said. “Anyone that can vote, vote. Anyone that can protest, protest loudly.”

What happened at CPVA in St. Louis last Monday was far from an isolated incident and one that was met with more “thoughts and prayers” before being discarded as another tragic incident. But we must ask ourselves how we can keep operating in a society where children cannot feel safe enough to go to school, where teachers must shield their students from bullets and where parents cannot trust that their son or daughter will come home after sending them off to the school bus in the morning.

Instead of politicians taking action to improve gun safety laws and to enforce stricter procedures for buying and selling guns, there is a different type of change happening: schools like CVPA are creating manuals to help teachers educate traumatized students. 

Maria just finished Week 1 of this manual. It is terrifying to think that situations like these are so frequent that there are written guides on how to act in the aftermath. And with the way our country is headed, these shootings and these manuals will become increasingly common, while stricter gun laws will not. 

How much longer must we endure these calamities? We cannot wait until tragedy strikes a community close to us. We must act, and we must act now.

“Have your voices heard,” Maria said. “There are adults that are cheering you on. Have hope. Spread it beyond just your community. Encourage good mental health. And make the world beautiful.”

My Tita Marites recognizes that the reality we live in is frightening. But she has faith in our generation. Our voices are a hyacinth blooming in the morning frost — a symbol of hope. 

She makes little changes everyday with her watermelon seeds. Now it’s time we start to make the big ones.

Link to Donate: https://www.gofundme.com/f/healing-through-art-support-cvpa-students-staff?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer

Link to Gallery/Info on Maria Ojascastro: https://www.bextraordinaire.com/ojascastro-gallery.html

You can contact Gracie at geppler@nd.edu.

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

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News

Notre Dame announces three new research grants with Ukrainian Catholic University

Notre Dame is launching three new collaborative grants with the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) that expand the active partnership between the two schools, according to a University press release.

The main goal of the new grants are to “offer academic and educational continuity … in a place where people are undergoing so much national and personal trauma,” director of faculty engagement at Notre Dame International Geraldine Meehan said.

Meehan said the instability and vulnerability in Ukraine resulting from Russia’s invasion has carried over to academia. The grants are an attempt to offer stability within a period of unpredictability in Ukraine and coincide with University President Fr. John Jenkins’ overall commitment to displaying solidarity with Ukraine.

The first two grants provide compensation to help UCU and Notre Dame faculty members in their research. These grants range from $10,000 to $25,000 of assistance towards a joint research project, Meehan said.

The relationship between UCU and Notre Dame was first forged by professor A. James McAdams at the Nanovic Institute, she said.

“The Nanovic Institute have been a very hospitable host to UCU over many, many years, so that when the war broke out and the invasion [by] Russia happened, there was already an established relationship,” Meehan said.

These new grants follow a partnership expansion between the two universities announced back in March, which offers up to $2 million in 2022-2023 to help encourage UCU students to study at Notre Dame and to sponsor faculty fellows at UCU. These news grants focus on academia in Ukraine, rather than just on campus at Notre Dame.

“We’re hoping by this support that faculty will be able to either continue research that they have already established with a partner at the other institution, or they’ll be able to start a new line of research based on, unfortunately, the social and personal traumatic changes that are occurring in Ukraine at the moment,” Meehan said.

The first two grants focus on four key themes: war and resilience, religious dimension, moral and legal considerations and integral human development and sustainable reconstruction.

Faculty are encouraged to explore the themes further, Meehan said. The third grant offers faculty at UCU access to Notre Dame’s extensive online library in order to help with research.

“Faculty would apply and identify what the specific project is and what materials they need for it,” Meehan explained. “Maybe they’re writing on an article, maybe they’re doing a thesis, maybe they’re going to present their findings at a conference. If they have a specific goal
and additional materials, they will be available at our library.”

Correction: Meehan is the director of faculty engagement at Notre Dame International

Contact Gracie Eppler at geppler@nd.edu

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News

Sr. Helen Prejean discusses wrongful convictions, death penalty

On Friday, Sr. Helen Prejean participated in a fireside chat hosted by the Notre Dame Law School Exoneration Justice Clinic and the Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights. The fireside chat was moderated by dean and professor of law G. Marcus Cole in the Eck Visitors’ Center. 

Prejean said she believes that all humans, even those who have committed terrible crimes, have an inviolable dignity. She also discussed justice for people who were wrongfully convicted, the presence of racism and socioeconomic disparities within our criminal justice system and how Catholics are called to be activists for the most ostracized in society: convicts.

“Where is the dignity in taking a human being, rendering [him] completely defenseless and deliberately killing him when we have other means to keep society safe?” Prejean asked. 

Prejean has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading anti-death penalty advocates. She is a recipient of the Laetare Medal, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a Catholic. 

Prejean rose to prominence for her 1993 book “Dead Man Walking,” in which she told the story of accompanying Patrick Sonnier to his execution on death row. Her book was later turned into a 1996 Academy Award-winning film. 

In recent years, Prejean has accompanied Manuel Ortiz, a resident at a Louisiana prison who has been on death row for over 25 years. 

“I came alive by going to death row,” Prejean said.

She encourages all young people to choose “soul-sized work” that truly stimulates them and fills them with energy. She said she has found her true calling in befriending those on death row, a task which she said “keeps her soul awake.” 

When asked how she remains joyful and good-natured despite encountering those nearing death, Prejean said that being in the presence of those who society has turned its back on can be extremely taxing. But, she said the horror of the situation and these inmates’ impending execution dates left her with one of two options.

“I could either be paralyzed with grief and fear or galvanized to work harder,” she said.

Prejean noted she chose the latter.

She has published two books, met with the Pope and has spoken out against the death penalty in communities across the globe.

Her work with death-row inmates is also an acknowledgment of her own privilege, both in her whiteness and in her socioeconomic status.

She presented data on racial disparities within prisons and the fact that eight in every 10 people placed on death row were put there for committing a crime against a white person.

“For those of us who have white privilege, we’ve got a special responsibility with God to help those who don’t,” Prejean said.

But perhaps the most gratifying part of Prejean’s work and the reason why her soul feels so “alive” in counseling death row inmates, is that she has found true connections with the men she has accompanied. She said they have taught her, most notably, to be both “courageous” and “repentant.” 

“I haven’t met with anyone guilty who isn’t sorry,” Prejean said.

In her current accompaniment with Ortiz, she hopes to help prove his innocence. 

“After being in the presence of Manuel, I leave more of a human being than when I first arrived,” Prejean said.

She hopes to emphasize the humanity of all those that she has accompanied, innocent or not.

Prejean called all of us to be more empathetic, both to the families of the victims and to those who the state will strip of their lives. 

“Is he innocent? No,” Prejean said of a hypothetical death-row inmate. “Is he human? Yes.”

To Prejean, Catholicism and activism go hand in hand. Because theology is so often linked and used to support the death penalty, she said the first step to abolishing it is to begin dialogue. 

Prejean said Jesus always chooses life, and as Catholics, we must, as well. She noted that the one chance Jesus had to condone the death penalty was the woman at the well. He instead chose life and encouraged the woman to reflect on her own life.

To Prejean, the death penalty isn’t a political issue.

“Are you liberal or conservative? Are you this or that? It’s not the point,” she said. “Stick with the issues, and explore them together. Listen to each other.” 

Through education and empathy, Prejean is hopeful that both the Catholic church and the legal system are moving in the right direction, one in which life is preserved, innocent or not. As humans, Prejean said everyone has an indisputable dignity that should never be stripped away. 

Contact Gracie Eppler at geppler@nd.edu.