Matt Hayes Goes Cruising For Irish Clicks

Are you folks familiar with the fantastic site Fire Joe Morgan? There were probably people before FJM that would take a poorly-conceived piece of writing and then rip it apart line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, but the FJM guys took it to an art form. If you want my favorite, this is Michael Schur - creator and showrunner for the wonderful Parks and Recreation - destroying Colin Cowherd. It is the intellectual equivalent of putting a armor-plated tiger into an arena with a one-legged, blind, overweight labradoodle. You can guess who is who in that analogy.

I don't like to abuse this nearly sacred art form, because to do it poorly is an insult to those that came before us, but on special occasion, it's warranted. This is one of those occasions.

Matt Hayes wrote a piece at the Sporting News entitled "Notre Dame is Moving Closer to BCS Irrelevance" which we need to talk about. Now, I'm going to give Hayes the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not write the headline, which doesn't make any sense in itself. The BCS itself is moving into irrelevance, so whether or not Notre Dame is irrelevant within a soon-to-be-dead system doesn't really matter, does it? That would be like writing "Sony is Moving Closer to VHS Irrelevance."

But let's assume the headline has nothing to do with the article and jump right in, giving Hayes a fair chance. Here's the link if you want to go to the original, but I encourage you not to send this story traffic, as you're - spoiler alert - soon to find out it is Irish trolling and cheap click-baiting at its worst.

The man with the hardest job in America was talking about the beginning of spring practice, about a new time and a new direction.

With the same old question.

"It always starts and it always ends," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, "at the quarterback position."

Oh, a story about the quarterback derby at Notre Dame. Kind of banal and not exactly uncharted territory here, but it is possible Mr. Hayes has a fresh take on the situation. It is a pretty big deal, as Brian Kelly's decision at quarterback this season could likely be a large factor in his long-term success with the Irish.

If it were only that simple. The focus, everyone, isn't on the quarterback position.

... this isn't about Notre Dame's starting quarterback, is it?

It's not about Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix or freshman phenom Gunner Kiel.

It's about Notre Dame, the program. And where the Irish fit in the rapidly changing world that is college football.

See, this is how you know Matt Hayes has written something terrible and we're in for a delightful ride. If you asked Bruce Feldman who the most intriguing QB option at Notre Dame is, he would give you some anecdotes about Everett Golson. It wouldn't be surprising if Hayes didn't even know who the presumptive favorite is to take the first snap in Dublin.

Late next month, the BCS commissioners and the sport's television partners will meet in South Florida to continue hammering out drastic change to the postseason. The Plus One playoff-four teams, three games, one national champion-is the preferred model for many administrators.

So far so good, although just know that Hayes is one of the only college football writers against the Plus One, because he is apparently naïve enough to still believe the Every Game Matters crap despite the overwhelming evidence (LSU defeating Alabama in Tuscaloosa, every game TCU played in '11, every game Boise played in '10, etc.) to the contrary.

The key to Notre Dame's success-to the program's survival-is what comes with the Plus One. There is a big push among administrators in both the BCS and non-BCS leagues to eliminate the automatic qualifier status for BCS bowls.

That sounds really good for Notre Dame. If the bowls become free market, that's a tremendous advantage for a few players, including the massive schools of the Big Ten and SEC with loads of traveling fans, and Notre Dame, who are a ratings and attendance boon when they take the show on the road.

And here's where it gets dicey: If the FBS presidents don't also approve the elimination of standards to qualify for a BCS bowl (see: specific number of wins, BCS ranking), Notre Dame will continue to fall further from relevance outside its huge NBC television contract.

This sentence was apparently constructed in the middle of a car crash, because I've read it a few times and it doesn't really make a lot of sense. I feel like it wasn't just any car crash, but the awesome one in Final Destination 2 with the logging truck

Not only will it be increasingly harder for the Irish to find a way to the Plus One without an unbeaten or 1-loss season (the last one: 1993), the days of the BCS placating the Irish could be all but over.

I would love a list of teams who will be in the Plus One with two or more losses. You know what, I'll put one together for you:

To be fair, it's possible that if they adopt a "Conference Champs Only" system that a bunch of two or three-loss conference champs will make it, but that seems unlikely for one major reason: the SEC is against it, and they've got quite a bit of pull. If Notre Dame has more than one loss, they don't deserve to be in any sort of championship conversation, so I am 100% okay with this.

It wasn't long ago that the BCS agreed to give Notre Dame $1.3 million a year just for the whiff of the potential that the Irish could actually qualify for a BCS bowl. That's right, the renegotiated BCS contract in 2005 came with a rider that gave Notre Dame money just for being Notre Dame.

Those days, everyone, are long gone.

As Hayes said, the $1.3 million dollars per year figure actually is recent, coming in a renegotiation in 2005. Previously, Notre Dame wouldn't get any money if they missed the BCS, but would get $14 million for qualifying. Under the new agreement, they only got $4.5 million, and most Irish fans considered this a dumb move by then-Athletic Director Kevin White.

Also, and I don't mean to sound crass in these tough economic times, but $1.3 million isn't exactly the end of the world for a university that literally paints things with real gold just because they can.

Update: Good point from Poot on Twitter: The other conferences all split bowl payouts, while Notre Dame gets to keep all of its earnings.

In years past, the Notre Dame athletic director was the strongest man in the room during BCS meetings. How else do you think the university carved out such unthinkable deals that allowed the Irish to play in the Fiesta Bowl in 1994 with a 6-4-1 record? Or get millions of dollars for simply showing up?

Yes, remember when Jack Swarbrick hopped in a time machine, traveled back to 1994 and showed everyone the BCS rules so they let Notre Dame play in the Fiesta Bowl with a 6-4-1 record before the BCS even existed? Of course, he'd have to first forge the rules, since the Irish would certainly not be able to play in the modern Fiesta Bowl with a 6-4-1 record under the current set-up, as they need to finish with two - or maybe, if conditions were ideal, three - losses to make a BCS bowl.

The advent of conference realignment has changed everything. Last month in Dallas, while the 11 conference commissioners met to begin historic change, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick may as well have been the commissioner of the MAC.

You should tell all the major college football writers to start interviewing the MAC commissioner more, as it seems like Jack still gets most of the attention.

There are two men running college football right now (SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany), and neither needs Notre Dame to get what they want. The thought process used to be that college football was desperate for Notre Dame's inclusion; for that one national brand regional products could rotate around and piggyback.

...which is still the case. You should talk to Pitt fans, who prefer the Notre Dame series to the Backyard Brawl, because it guarantees them a national TV game. Or perhaps to Wake Forest, who had one of their biggest home games in who knows how long when the Irish came to town, with the secondary ticket market over three times higher for the Notre Dame game than what it was for their other contests.

Pitt and Wake Forest are small potatoes, you say? Okay, then talk to USC, who in 2010 made you buy a ticket to the Virginia game if you wanted in to see the Irish play in November. They don't have their individual ticket packages up yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar deal this year. And would you like to take bets on whether or not Notre Dame at Oklahoma is a primetime broadcast on ABC?

Now that the sport has grown beyond a regional base, now that monster television contracts have nationally-branded every conference, there is no need for Notre Dame. It also doesn't help that the Irish haven't been a factor in the national title chase since 1993, have had four coaches since Lou Holtz retired in 1996, and have lost a majority of their recruiting cache.

If you want to get technical, Notre Dame was actually in the national title race in 2005 and 2006 prior to their losses to USC, but I'm not going to argue the point that the program has been generally disappointing. I don't know what "lost a majority of their recruiting cache" means, as the senior class that just left Notre Dame was number one or two in most services, and Brian Kelly's first full class was top ten. This year's class was obviously a bit disappointing with the late defections, but they still ended up top ten on ESPN, with top players coming from all across the country.

If you think Notre Dame is an out of sight/out of mind brand now, wait until the Plus One puts more emphasis on the four teams that make the playoff-and less on everyone else. Wait until a sport currently consumed by who's No.1-and the beautiful symphony of arguing that goes with it-devalues such an integral facet of who and what it is by rendering major bowls meaningless.

"Beautiful symphony of arguing?". I can always tell I hate a person when they say that the BCS should stay in place because they like the arguing, as if talk radio for sports with legitimate playoffs (you know, every other sport) is a dead industry. I also hate people who think that a small (four-to-eight team) playoff will somehow devalue the other bowls. If Washington is playing Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, why does it matter to them or the viewers if the championship is decided by a one-off bowl game or a mini-tournament? Either way, the result of their game has nothing to do with who gets crowned champion.

I think the key thing that annoys me about Hayes' piece is that he's basically saying Notre Dame is somehow different from other schools in that not making the Plus One hurts them more. I guess you could argue that without the goal of a conference title to chase, their season is less interesting after their second loss, but that hasn't stopped the Irish from being a major draw for bowls both during and before the BCS. He's not even making the "Conference Champs Only" argument, which would be damaging to the Irish, and likely force them to give up their independence. So now it seems like not only is Matt Hayes struggling at his job, but his editors are asleep at the wheel as well.

There once was a time when Notre Dame refused to play in anything but a major bowl.

There was once a time when Notre Dame refused to play in any bowls, but continue. Things change over time. There used to be a time when South Florida and Boise State didn't have football programs and Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens weren't sugar daddies, but landscapes change.

Update: Good point from Tim O'Connor on Twitter: There used to only be major bowls. I'm sure Penn State fans in the 80's never thought they'd be playing in the TicketCity Bowl, or Oklahoma fans in the Insight Bowl, but here we are.

Last December, the Irish played in the second-best bowl in the city of Orlando.

From demanding money to be part of the BCS, to playing in something called the Champs Sports Bowl. From anything you want, to very few options.

Oh yes, the Champs Sports Bowl, with its nearly three-million dollar payout and matchup against Florida State. How terrible for an 8-4 team that was coming off a tough loss at Stanford. And do you know how the Champs Sports Bowl was punished for its terrible decision? By having the second highest bump in ratings. Oh, and it was the bowl game's first ever sellout. I'm sure these numbers will be lost on future bowl executives when making a decision.

"Should we pick Notre Dame, guaranteeing ourselves high ticket sales and ratings?"

"I don't know, Matt Hayes said they were irrelevant now. We better not."

Update: From the Champs Sports Bowl itself, Matt Hayes has applied for credentials to this unimportant bowl three of the last four years.

There's no other way to look at it: The next few BCS meetings will determine the fate of the Notre Dame football program.

If the university presidents decide to eliminate bowl qualification standards, Notre Dame will survive as an independent by playing in major bowls with eight-win seasons. And if the presidents decide to keep the standards?

This is like the car crash sentence from earlier. Let's go over this:

University presidents decide to eliminate bowl qualifications standards: Notre Dame will survive playing in major bowls with eight-win seasons.

Presidents keep the standards: Notre Dame is...doomed? How does keeping the current standards that Notre Dame has done just fine under hurt the Irish? I don't understand. This makes no sense. I now feel dumb for even taking the time to do this, because if this is your conclusion, it doesn't hold up to the lightest scrutiny, let alone the honor of being FJMed.

Quarterback won't be Notre Dame's only problem.

At least he's aware of the depth problems in the secondary.

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