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Mary, Mary, Where You Goin’ To?

There's a well-known business book called "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies." The general thesis is that the truly great organizations that thrive over a century have a well-defined set of core values that guide them and unite them -- from the chief executive on down to the consumers.

But these companies never fear appropriate innovation in an ever-changing world, within the context of their values, lest they be left behind. Obviously, an absolute refusal to adapt will eventually ruin any organization.

At the same time, a staunch aversion to adapt until it is absolutely necessary will lead to competitive gaps that are difficult to overcome. Kodak took wayy too long to get into the digital game and they may never fully recover.

Bottom line: don't lose the forest for the trees.

Notre Dame's tradition is far greater than the individual details that reflect said tradition. So here are my thoughts on some of Notre Dame’s core values and the traditions they’ve spawned.

Notre Dame truly cares about their student-athletes receiving an education and degree that will facilitate success in their personal and professional lives.

*This means admitting athletes who can be successful (with the appropriate guidance) in a seriously challenging academic environment.

It doesn’t mean that SAT scores and GPA’s must be within some specific standard deviation from that of the general student body. It does mean the admissions department needs to take a good look at these athletes as individuals before admitting them.

*Training in the competitive arena (as well as creative endeavors) is a valuable life-skill that supplements (and often supercedes) intelligence and academic preparation. This is why Oxford invites Rhodes Scholars to study there.

(Good) Notre Dame Football is a valuable and inextricable part of the University’s identity and academic mission.

*Without football, Notre Dame would have remained just another small Midwestern Catholic school.

What has been dubbed "The Flutie Effect" should have long before been known as "The Notre Dame Effect." National football prominence enabled people like Father Hesburgh to build up Notre Dame’s academic reputation to the uniquely prestigious status it enjoys as a Catholic university.

*Hesburgh explained, "There is no academic virtue in playing mediocre football." To expand on that, a personal and institutional commitment to excellence in any arena inspires the like in another arena.

*Moreover, football unites the student-body and the alumni in a powerful way – not to mention subway alumni (this part should not be underappreciated for the vast masses of values-oriented people, from average to amazing, that didn’t happen to matriculate from Our Lady’s University).

*Lastly, the revenue generated by the football program supports the entire athletic department, the scholarship fund, and other admirable University endeavors.

Sadly, this is not the case at many big-time football schools. But since it is the case at ND, it’s foolishly selfish to rebel against reasonable forms of football revenue generation.

What constitutes reasonable is, of course, debatable. But we need not fear such dialogue or grasp firmly our pre-conceived notions – especially those based primarily on the weight of previous methods.

The football players are a real part of the general student body.

*This does not mean they should be denied the types of facilities and nutritional advantages that their competition enjoys. They frankly deserve a few benign perks (beyond scholarship) for their commitment and financially invaluable contributions.

As with any other group of close friends, athletes pretty much just eat with each other in the dining halls anyway. Similarly, they socialize predominantly with each other during their limited free time.

I can’t see anything wrong with this interaction occurring on campus, in the Gug, as opposed to off campus with plenty of less wholesome diversions at hand.

*That athletes live in the same dorms as everyone else is a good thing. Some will take advantage of this opportunity to broaden their social experience in college. Many will not and be but apparitions within the halls of their assigned dorm – that’s okay. Even some of these ones may find that their casual associations with non-athletes might develop in unexpected ways post-graduation.

*That the football team joins the student body (and vice-versa) in the alma mater after every game, win or lose, is a special thing that transcends superficial social distinctions – if only briefly. I do believe it fosters a more lasting sense of community, no matter how subtle.

*At least some pep-rallies should be student body only.

Innovation and change IS Notre Dame tradition.

*As a player, Rockne helped to revolutionize the use of the forward pass (so let’s not pretend that our gridiron identity must be mired in the Big-10 dogma that pounding it is the only way to succeed.)

Rockne’s unprecedented coaching success was then facilitated when he adapted the single wing to create the "Notre Dame box." Leahy later shocked fans when he scrapped that long-used strategy for the new T formation – it worked out pretty well for those Irish squads.

Just as football is ever changing, so must great coaches adapt to such changes.

*Notre Dame has always used the media in progressive ways to build its national prominence. Rockne got his "four horsemen" to pose on horseback for a picture that remains an icon of our football tradition to this day.

Much later, Notre Dame ensured the perpetuation of national interest by getting game replays on Sundays. The NBC deal and decision to take control of our own licensing and branding has proven pretty helpful as well.

Media savvy is part of what has made Notre Dame great. Night games and temporary uniform changes are an effective way of grabbing extra media attention.

*All traditions started with an innovation/change (this is true anywhere). We put a marching band on the field for our first football game in 1887.

Surely, such a garish diversion would only distract from the purity of the game and add nothing of significant value to the viewing experience.

We abruptly changed our on-field mascot from an Irish Terrier to a Leprechaun in the 1950’s – well after 7 national championships had established a solid national reputation that needn’t require any cosmetic changes whatsoever. Indeed, Clashmore Mike might have become an icon had he not been replaced – but aren’t we glad we have the Leprechaun instead?

Roughly 25 years ago, some lady painted and posted the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign. You’d be hard-pressed to find an outsider or even casual fan that wouldn’t swear that it’s always been a part of our cherished tradition.

I could go on and on. Notre Dame, especially because it’s Notre Dame, gets to add traditions and augment its legend as it goes along . . . and I personally think that’s badass and worth embracing.

Notre Dame stands for values.

*This does not mean we expect our athletes to be saints anymore than we would expect that of other students. As representatives of the University on scholarship, they should aspire to a higher standard, but that’s not always going to happen with 18-22 year olds.

*When transgressions inevitably occur, they should be handled with an emphasis on teaching and personal growth, with reasonable consequences that do not deny them the incredibly positive force in their life that is athletics.

Notre Dame stands for class.

*This means a tasteful stadium experience, not a stadium experience that can never change in any way.

*This means good sportsmanship and respect for opponents on and off the field (this goes for the fans as much as the players). It doesn’t mean expecting our athletes to act as emotionless automatons when exuberance and attitude are a fundamental part of any sport.


So that’s what I have to say on the subject for the time being. Additional thoughts? Disagreements? Speak on it, brother (or sister).