Grid ghost at Notre Dame

Jimmy Clausen2No, not Knute Rockne. But that’s coming close.

I’m talking about a religion ghost in the ongoing saga between the Notre Dame traditionalists who believe the school is losing its soul as it attempts to compete against modern-day collegiate athletic programs and those who believe it’s a competitive athletic program that is essential to maintaining the traditional Catholic school’s soul.

South Bend Tribune staff writers Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke, in a four-part series, laid out the issues so forcefully that the school’s football coach Charlie Weis refused to talk to them for a couple of days. Carroll and Wieneke raised tough questions dealing with the ethics of the school’s new recruiting practices. They gave a voice to those questioning the school’s drive to return to the success it lost over the last decade.

The series focused on the recruitment of Jimmy Clausen, who irked more than a few people by showing up at South Bend’s College Football Hall of Fame in a white stretch Hummer limo and saying he would try to win the school four national championships. Something was not right about this scene for Notre Dame traditionalists:

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Clausen press conference, from those who thought it was a tasteless spectacle in excess to those who saw it as innocent, once-in-a-lifetime fun for Clausen and his friends.

One thing seems certain — as a result of Clausen’s imported LA vibe, staid, stodgy Notre Dame experienced an image shift by association. Where it all goes from here, for both Clausen and the football program, is anybody’s guess at this point. Elway? Deion Sanders? Chris Webber? They are all potential checkpoints on the road ahead.

touchdown JesusAt a Catholic institution with a “touchdown Jesus” mosaic, the fact that the football program comes close to, if not equals, the status of religion is not surprising.

While Carroll and Wieneke do no come right out and say it, the battle for the soul of Notre Dame is an underlying context for the series and the overall debate:

. . . But with Notre Dame ranked No. 1 in more than one national preseason publication, and with Weis recently bagging the nation’s top high school senior-to-be, the time is probably just about right to wonder aloud once again: Can Notre Dame, or any school of its kind, maintain a consistent position among college football’s elite while still staying true to its stated ideals?

“Without meaning to sound too dismissive or simplistic, to me the answer to that question is no,” [Ellen] Staurowsky said. [Staurowsky, a former college athletic director, has written books critical of the commercialization of college sports.] “And the reason why I believe that the answer is sincerely no is that a school cannot continue to keep pace with the escalation of corporate interests, the influence of celebrity and media influences as they’re playing out in college sports right now.”

I do not envy reporters covering the battle for the soul of Notre Dame.

Fans of the team can be rabid in their support for the program, and will quickly denounce anyone who challenges the school’s attempt to resurrect its former glory (even at the expense of the school’s longstanding principles). The team will no doubt achieve some level of success over the next few years, but here’s hoping that reporters will follow the Tribune‘s lead and remind readers about the risks of sacrificing principles for fame and glory.

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  • Bill

    The commitment of a highly religious individual in Jimmy Clausen has absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic goals and teachings of Notre Dame – other than the fact that Clausen is protestant.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    there are “stretch limo” type Hummers…so they rented a limo. Big deal.

    I thought the idea of stretch Hummers was so funny that I posted it on my blog. It’s a joke, fellahs…

  • Larry Rasczak

    I think Notre Dame is on to something here. After all, it is a well known fact that Plato’s Academy would be totally forgotten today were it not for the fact they won five consecutive national champoinships. Who can ever forget their win against Nebraska?

  • Larry Rasczak

    “Can Notre Dame, or any school of its kind, maintain a consistent position among college football’s elite while still staying true to its stated ideals?”

    Well Army and Navy were college football giants at one time. Unlike other schools they continued to focus on their primary goal of educating the cadets and producing leaders, rather than letting the athletic department run the campus. Members of the Army and Navy football teams are still required to pass real classes and be able to read and do everything you expect of a college student (and more); but they haven’t won a national champonship since 1945.

  • Bill

    Larry, the same applies to ND student athletes, despite what you may hear.

    Brady Quinn, for example, is graduating in four years with a double major. Tom Zbikowski is graduating early. Joey Hiben, a recruit from last year, decided to quit the football team so he could actually focus on his architectural studies (he stayed at ND). The team GPA is higher than it has EVER been at ND.

    It’s possible to win and maintain standards. There are a lot of good kids who are good students out there – it’s just a matter of finding them.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Bill,

    That is GREAT to hear! I am very happy to hear that it is possible to win and maintain standards.

    Even happier to hear that Joey Hiben made the right choice, and that ND kept him there.

    (That’s the nice thing about being a cynic, when you are shown to be wrong it is a GOOD thing!)

    The tiny number of jobs available means that the NFL career simply isn’t going to happen for the vast majority of athletes. It is tragic to see someone who left school at the end of their schollarship/elegibility but still doesn’t have an education or job skills.

    (Insert Friday Night Lights reference here.)

    So I’m happy to see that ND still has STUDENT athletes!

  • Tom Paige

    I’ve been an ND fan since the late 50s; this makes me sick. I’m tired of self-adoring and self-promoting athletes (and their parents). If this kid does play for ND I hope he falls on his face.

    Notre Dame ought to be ashamed of itself for lending its name to this garbage. The picture of this kid and his rings was worth a thousand words, all of them four letters beginning with s and ending with t. Gaudy rings for high school football, stretch limos, lets just end it all by stopping any and all the “recruiting”, “signing” and “committing” nonsense. Make the kids enroll first and then try out for the team. Novel idea, huh?

  • Denis Nolan

    I notice that you give apparent acceptance to the four part series’ accuracy. While I found Clausen’s “show” to be appaling, I did the same for the articles. Much innuendo, little substance, some inaccuracy, and some deception. (You don’t quote someone as an independent expert without mentioning that they are co-author of your previous citation). I certainly think that the question of academics/religion and sports is important, but ND seems to be balancing that situation. The article implied they “might” not in the future while ignoring that they are in the present. I love good columnists with opinios, just not when they pose as jounalists.

  • Bill

    Agreed, Dennis.

    Any article that sites google hits as evidence of anything is deserves absolutely no creedence. It was a joke. The whole thing was.

    And those rings in that picture are high school championship rings, and he’s only showing them off because a reporter asked to see them.

  • http://dulciusexasperis.com Alex

    Usually, GetReligion has got good stuff, but this particular post isn’t.

    The team will no doubt achieve some level of success over the next few years, but here’s hoping that reporters will follow the Tribune’s lead and remind readers about the risks of sacrificing principles for fame and glory.

    Now, I know that the proposition expressed here doesn’t say anything negative and unsubstantiated about Notre Dame, but the conversational implicature is that (1) Notre Dame is sacrificing its principles for football success and (2) the SBT is to be lauded for its hack job, entirely unsupported journalism for revealing the “truth” of (1).

    Anyone interested in a response to the SBT series referenced in this post should read this and this and this.

    (In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a grad student at Notre Dame. And I’m not Roman Catholic either.)

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=955 dpulliam

    Are reporters not supposed to ask questions? Raise issues that are being talked about? Or are they supposed to just repeat the scripted lines of coaches and players?

    Bill, who wears 4 rings on his fingers? I don’t care if reporters asked to see them. Why does he feel the need to wear them all at once? There is some sense of egotism that does not strike me as part of the ND tradition.

    Alex, the posts you link to are fine and wonderful, but they refuse to acknowledge the fact that people are raising questions with the direction of the program. Why is it wrong to do that? It’s what journalists do.

  • Bob

    I’m tired of self-adoring and self-promoting athletes (and their parents).

    And I’m tired of self-adoring, self-important, and self-promoting reporters (and their editors) who take shots (just “asking questions” for some of you)at individuals and institutions and then whine when they themselves are criticized for their suspect and opinionated “reporting.”

    (And no, I am not a Notre Dame alum.)

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=955 dpulliam

    Bob, no one says reporters should not be criticized. That’s what we do here.

  • http://dulciusexasperis.com Alex

    I have no problem with reporters “raising questions.” But have you ever heard of the fallacy of the loaded question? For example: “When did you start beating your wife?” This question presupposes that you have been beating your wife, and the problem is that that presupposition is unfounded.

    Journalists that write stories premised upon loaded questions are muckrakers, pure and simple. The SBT stories proceeded upon a totally unfounded presupposition in asking the questions they did.

    So some people are raising questions about the directions of the ND football program. The proper journalistic response is to first investigate whether or not any of those questions are founded upon spurious assumptions. That is a mark of good journalism; instead, the SBT series takes those questions and builds mountains of innuendo upon them.

  • Bob

    no one says reporters should not be criticized. That’s what we do here.

    Well, some of the comments have criticized the reporters, but the post is empathetic and supportive:

    I do not envy reporters covering the battle for the soul of Notre Dame. . . here’s hoping that reporters will follow the Tribune’s lead and remind readers about the risks of sacrificing principles for fame and glory.

    And I agree with Denis that you apparently assume the accuracy of the articles:

    South Bend Tribune staff writers Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke . . .laid out the issues so forcefully that the school’s football coach Charlie Weis refused to talk to them for a couple of days.

    Weiss didn’t refuse to talk to them because they “laid out the issues so forcefully” (the implication being that the articles must have hit home)but, as Weiss explained, “The main point I wanted to make was that I do not feel that my own position nor those of the Notre Dame football program and the University at large were appropriately represented in those stories.”
    In short, he believed the articles constituted a warped, incomplete view of the “issues.”

    For cold-shouldering the reporters for all of two days, Weis has been called an “ass” and vilified by some sportswriters. (And, no, I’m not going to provide a link to the whiners.)

    I, too, regard Clausen’s self-promotion as tacky, but I am weary of reporters who like to dish out criticism then moan and complain incredulously when it is directed at them and who seek either to create news or become news. I’m commenting on your post because it assumes without question or scrutiny the bona fides of the reporters’ highly opinionated articles about an individual and an institution I happen to admire.

  • dpulliam

    Bob,

    I’ll accept the fact that you view the series as “a warped, incomplete view of the ‘issues.’” But I disagree. I believe the series raised good questions from reasonable sources. This idea that the article did not appropriately represent Weis’s view (i.e. the university’s view) is silly. Weis’s view is represented everywhere. Repeating the mantras of coaches is not good journalism.

    I will readily agree that fussing over the fact that Weis went two days not talking to the reporters is silly. Sure it’s silly not to talk to someone over a series of articles, but playing it up as some grave First Amendment injustice is misrepresenting the seriousness of genuine First Amendment abuses.


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