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Cheer, Cheer (But Not Too Loud)---Let's Investigate

Yesterday an article was posted on NDN titled Cheer, Cheer (But Not Too Loud) that talks about the atmosphere inside ND Stadium and the problems we are facing today.

I thought it was well written and had some good thoughts.

However, I would challenge some of its assertions and try to add to the discussion like I have so many times before.

I'll start by responding to quotes from the article:

The "we need a jumbotron to help with stadium atmosphere" argument is about as non-sensical and disingenuous as the "we need to join a conference for scheduling purposes" argument. As if a jumbotron will suddenly ignite passion in the Gold seats.

First, I wouldn't argue that ND needs to join a conference for scheduling purposes----at this point in time.

It's absurd and very naive to think that some of the massive changes that could occur in college football in the near future WON'T have very devastating consequences for an independent ND football program.

People can take the tough guy road right now and say screw the conferences right now because Notre Dame isn't backed into a corner. Maybe ND never will be, but it's certainly possible.

At any rate, those discussions have almost nothing to do with a video board.

Let's talk about igniting the passion in the gold seats then.

What will make that happen?

I would argue---next to nothing.

Not winning, not domination....nothing.

The issues with the people in the gold seats are so deeply rooted in other cultural, socio-economic, and behavioral factors that it doesn't matter if they're watching volleyball or Manti Te'o decleat a Stanford running back. Transplant those seats and people into Death Valley in Louisiana and the problems are still the same.

Which brings me to a most important point: A video board is not for the people in the gold seats. It's purpose is not to try and get them off their seats and into the game. That has been a lost cause and likely will be until cultural factors change within the ND community, alumni, and fan base.

Keep this in mind as I continue.

I was at the USC game in 2005; it was plenty loud. No jumbotron needed. What worked that day? The team was winning and fans were standing and cheering most of the game. That’s it. That’s the entire formula. Real high-level stuff. Anyone who says ND needs a jumbotron for atmosphere wasn’t at the game.

As if we haven't heard this argument a million times over the past six years.

And yes, we have to point to ONE game SIX FULL YEARS AGO to cite the last start-to-finish epic crowd.

What worked that day?

A coming together of factors that happens about once a decade---maybe two or three times if a program is lucky.

ND was ranked #9 in the country. USC was the top team in the land with a long winning streak. The green jerseys came out after a long absence. The game itself was tight the whole game and filled with numerous great plays and back and forth scores. It ended in the most dramatic of ways, and in heartbreaking fashion.

How often has a game like that, with those factors involved, occurred inside ND Stadium over the past 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years?? You simply cannot point to a game like that and say that no video board (or other changes) are needed because we made it work that day.

Isn't that just making my point for me? One game---over the past six years. That's the reality we're staring at right now.

And what of Notre Dame "winning" at the time?

It's true the Irish came in ranked #9 in the country. But we had lost the previous home game to a mediocre Michigan State team as well.

ND won the next four straight home games in 2005 against BYU, Tennessee, Navy, and Syracuse. What were the crowds like during those games when the Irish were doing so much winning as a top ten team? (Remember we didn't fall in the rankings after losing to USC).

In fact, following the USC loss ND would go 10-1 at home through 2006. The team also went 16-2 from October 22, 2005 to November 18, 2006.

You might argue they were never truly a national title contender, but that's pure hindsight. That is a lot of winning at a very impressive clip---and still.....still...the home crowds never came close to that one often cited USC game.

Some might argue that the huge loss to Michigan in early 2006 ended all the winning. Would a big loss early in the season affect the crowd at LSU? What about at Ohio State?

There’s a simple solution to the atmosphere issue : 1. actually let fans cheer and 2. field a winning team. No one needs a jumbotron to exhort cheering. That’s rank foolishness.

No, it's not that simple. Nor will it be if and or when a video board and other changes are made. This is a complicated issue that will not be solved purely with overnight changes.

Putting in a video board won't completely solve the problem, and neither will telling the ushers to back off, or even replacing the ushers with student workers.

ND needs a jumbotron to generate more revenue, period. I have an Notre Dame email saying as much : "You should understand that the University has a million financial challenges. For example, the $40 million bill for the coming ND Stadium repairs. How does the University decide to pay for it?… Car wash? Bake sale? Jumbotron?"

I take that to mean they don't want a jumbotron to pay for the bills, but whatever.

And this issue about money and revenue---why is this ALWAYS looked upon with intense hatred?

It's true that I've been adamant about the fact that ND is very "rich" for a small private university and that I use this to show that no advertisements are going into the stadium (well that and no one can remember the last time advertisements were actually in the stadium), nor will a video board be built specifically to generate more revenue.

No amount of vague emails, nor "I've talked to people within the Administration who admit it" will convince me otherwise. I'll be convinced until someone like Swarbrick or Jenkins admits it publicly.

And what if the school does need money? Is it really that big of a deal?

I would say I'd rather there not be adverts in the stadium---but I think it's patently ridiculous for people to suggest that having them there would RUIN their experience.

What this money issue boils down to is this:

I have a very hard time believing that Swarbrick and Jenkins were sitting around a table one day and decided the football team needed to generate 8% more revenue and that a video board was the solution to those needed funds.

They could have hung up a few advertising signs in the stadium three years ago and collected roughly $10 million by now---but why didn't they?? Is it because that's too much of an out and out money grab? Or is that conspiracy talk? There are a hundred different ways the school could use advertising to make money on gameday, and all of it could be done without the hassle of building a multi-million dollar video board, and having to wait three years to see it turn a profit.

Clearly the Notre Dame fan base is far too caught up in the politics of the university. For what can sane people do but laugh when so many are outraged that a university would sell merchandise to make money?

Which is why this Swarbrick line stuck a chord, "I need your passion," he said. "I travel around with our team, and our stadium is the quietest place we play. I want you guys on that Saturday night at least once to make USC have a false start penalty."

Of course everyone flipped out that Swarbrick said this to the students---they are the loudest of them all!!!

Swarbrick cleared up his comments and what he saying was exactly what I thought. He wasn't chastising the students for not being loud enough (I thought this was so obvious) but rather trying to get them to get even louder because the rest of the crowd does not help.

Jack, you’re not going to rattle a team into jumping off-sides if you make people sit on their butts, clap politely and stay out of everyone’s sight line. ND’s misguided attempt to create a Disney environment combined with a mediocre product is at fault for the stadium atmosphere. Kids should know that a football game is a participatory event, not a day at the ballet.

Now here is where I agree, but it is obvious we have different outlooks on how to fix the "problem."

I genuinely think that Swarbrick wants to change the atmosphere, but yes, he also has an obligation to the priests and leadership of the University who do not wish to see any tomfoolery, arrests, and drunken messes before, during, or after football games.

Like I said, this isn't an easy problem to fix.

But what can Swarbrick really do to help?

He can try to field a winning football team----and he's been pretty successful so far in achieving that goal.

He can get rid of the ushers who cause so many problems and harass loud fans---but what about the thousands of other fans who will sit on their hands regardless if there's a 80-year old cranky usher with a Hitler complex or drunk Bobby McGuinness from Alumni Hall running the show in their section?

There have been far too many good games inside Notre Dame Stadium, far too many amazing plays, far too many examples of incredible athletic prowess, to think that the people who sat on their hands in silence during these times will suddenly cheer because the man in the back with the yellow jacket is gone.

The solution isn’t pouring electricity into a loud, obnoxious screen funded by corporate ads that distract from the field, but instead fielding an electric team that in turn incites an electric crowd unencumbered by "rooting restrictions" and unbound by a rare and insoluble passion.

Just to drive the point home once again---this is a complicated issue and simply blaming ushers or the university at large for the lack of excitement in the stadium, and claiming the team needs to play better as a solution---is about as overly simplistic of a solution as you can find.

Sure, it sounds good.

Many fans love hearing that. "Our team just needs to kick ass on the field and then the stadium will be rocking!!"

It sounds good if you're a politician running for the imaginary office of Stadium Atmosphere Improvement. You're likely to get elected in a huge landslide by fans and alumni too.

But it doesn't pass the reality test as far as I'm concerned.

The vast majority of us agree that ND needs to change the atmosphere, to some degree (especially inside the stadium), and get rid of the Disneyland effect.

But how realistic is that? What can the school do outside the stadium to shed the Disneyland atmosphere?

Ease up on the Gestapo patrolling the tailgates? They've done that recently---does it help?

I can come up with many solutions that could help (selling beer in the stadium through the end of halftime would be the easiest solution) but we know there are certain things that are just not going to happen.

The fact is, Notre Dame is what it is now in the second decade of the 21st century.

The changes from 1990 to today are striking and massive in some areas.

ND used to be a very well-off upper echelon school---now its an uber-wealthy elite academic institution.

The pursuit of excellent academics has changed the face of the school, and this will not be changed.

It might sound harsh, but 20 or 30 years ago the students at ND were less smart, more white, and more into football. Now, the students are more nerdy, less white, and less into football (the acceptance of female students plays a smaller role as well).

That's not a knock on white or non-white people, either. It's wonderful that ND has become one of the shining beacons of higher learning and a place where many different races, ethnicities, and religions can come and study. Anyone associated with the school should be damn proud of this.

But it has slowly affected the culture around the school and the importance of the football team in the lives of many students and alumni. In short, this is a major culprit in propping up and bolstering the Disneyland effect.

Oh sure, the student section is still loud---very loud even. But it's not as loud as it used to be. Pep rallies used to be raucous and deafening---they used to be so important that no one missed them. Go back even further in time and pep rallies used to shake the ground and cause players to cry if they were responsible for a loss the week before.

Yes, the university plays a role in the tame pep rallies now, but so do the students.

Don't get me wrong, there are still many students who love the football team and who cheer their hearts out. But there are less and less of them.

There's nothing Swarbrick can do about that, unless you want to start tinkering with admission policies and frankly, dumbing down the student population.

I am a firm believer that Notre Dame has passed the point of return in regards to its culture. For God sake's, the major attractions on campus are a grotto, basilica, and library----what do you expect to happen? How can you really change what is essentially a very subdued and quiet campus to begin with?

Now, back to the stadium.

Winning will help the atmosphere on gameday---but it is not enough to make lasting change.

We can never expect the football team to constantly be undefeated, to always be in the national title hunt, to always dominate and have continuous winning streaks in South Bend.

Again, it's just not realistic.

There are also far too many "weak" opponents coming into South Bend for the atmosphere to be charged even with winning every week---just think of the atmosphere during blowouts. After this USC game, for the next two and a half years we will see: Navy, Boston College, Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Temple, and Oklahoma.

Let's win every single game until 2014, including this Saturday, and I guarantee the atmosphere will be sedated like it's 2008 in all but one or two of those home games.

It's often said as if it's a stone cold truth: We don't need a jumbotron to get people to cheer or be louder.

Uhh, yeah we do.

I'm not going to waste time arguing whether a video board (or one in each corner of the stadium) would help the atmosphere inside Rock's House. If you truly think a replay of a Floyd touchdown or past clip of Tony Rice racing down field for a score against USC wouldn't hype the crowd---what can I say?

Here we are trying to find ways to increase the loudness and intimidation of the stadium and a video board (plus other things---extra music) are staring at us as helpful remedies.

People will kick and scream at the idea of putting these modern amenities inside the stadium. They will always defend the Wimbledon atmosphere to their dying day.

But what is so important about the Wimbledon atmosphere? Why is SO important to some people? Why is it built up like it's been a bedrock of Notre Dame football and the university? At what point in time did the Wimbeldon atmosphere become a priority for so many Irish fans?

Some might disagree and that's fine, but I don't give a crap about the Wimbledon atmosphere.

I grew up loving Lou Holtz, the gold helmets, Rocket Ismail---that's what hooked me.

As an adult I came to love and respect what Notre Dame represents and stands for off the football field.

Yet, at no point in my life did I ever consider the Wimbledon atmosphere essential to Notre Dame or the Notre Dame Experience™.

Some will argue a video board, loud music, or advertisements will ruin their experience in the stadium.

You know what really ruins the experience for many? Taking people to Notre Dame for the first time and having them be disappointed at the lack of excitement, fun and entertainment.

You know what ruins the experience for me? How about watching Jimmy Clausen break school records while feverishly trying to rally the team, all while hundreds and hundreds of people fall asleep around me.

Some will argue that a video board and music can't be done tastefully---they don't trust the university and they say there is no example of this being done across the country.

Well, is there an example of a small, private Catholic school playing championship football out there either?

Should Notre Dame stop fielding a football team then?

I'd rather not have advertisements in the stadium or obnoxious other things that can accompany a video board---but at the end of the day I don't care to the point where it would ruin my experience.

Strip it down to the essentials and I don't really care what happens in the stadium as long as it's fun and exciting while I get to watch Notre Dame football.

It's like asking if I would want to go back to 1965 and watch the Beatles in concert, with the caveat that there'd be a few video boards inside the arena and some wacky advertising from local companies.

Who cares about the video board and adverts!?!? It's watching the greatest band ever--live and in person.

Look, the constant burying of heads in the sand, the deep mistrust of the university, and the constant romanticizing of something that isn't all that great to begin with needs to come to an end.

Culture and society are moving on. College football is moving on. It's a new era.

There has been so much focus on the gold seat crowd, but that's not where the focus should be at.

Most of that crowd has checked out emotionally and there's no reason to try and make changes for them. In fact, they're the ones usually leading the charge to keep things the way they are---the wine and cheese mixed with calm and quiet conversation is what ND football games are all about for them.

Major winning and dominant teams won't move them--they won't care. Nor will a video board or loud music. In fact, all of these things will likely be viewed as annoyances and that means they'll be less likely to show up.

Forgive me if I don't shed a tear---but this is the exact type of culture that needs to be removed from the stadium.

No, changes need to be made not in the gold seat crowds' interests, but rather for the other thousands upon thousands of fans who go to games and are made to feel stupid, outcast, and ashamed for standing up and cheering.

Changes need to be made for fans like me, who have gone to games in the past and feel embarrassed---not by the team's performance win or lose---but by the major absence of fun and excitement at a damn football game.

Yes, the ushers are to blame for this, but they are not even close to the entire problem. I've never had a run in with an usher and never seen first hand anything of the horror stories we often hear---although I completely believe they exist.

The biggest problem of all is the power of a sedated crowd's influence. Ushers or not, it creates an atmosphere where cheering and yelling excitedly is frowned upon.

Consequently, you can find me fist pumping like a champ, yelling and screaming, and being far more emotional and vocal than I am in every day life while I'm watching Irish football on television.

Inside the stadium, I sit there in silence with everyone else.

Shame on me for not doing more, right? But that's what Rock's House will do to you. I shouldn't be tasked with being a cheerleader for 500 people in my section, and feeling as if I'm trying to motivate people studying in a library.

And this is where video boards come into play.

Being able to watch replays will keep people invested in the game. After the whistle (where's there's very little noise from the stadium 90% of the time) it can be an additional tool to keep the noise level up and extra motivation to discuss the play that just happened.

People bitch about a video board taking away from "the game" but in actuality it would help people talk MORE about the game.

People bitch about a video board taking away from the Notre Dame Experience™ but what about watching videos of past plays from Montana, Huarte, and Quinn? What about speeches from Rockne?

Can that not be part of the Experience, or is it simply wrong because it's change from the Wimbledon atmosphere?

A video board and pumped in music won't solve all the problems afflicting the stadium, but I believe they are a major step in the right direction to get fans more excited and hyped, and also more focused on football. I know many people think that's an oxymoron, but it's true---they will help a lot.

There needs to be more excitement in the seats and the Wimbledon atmosphere is nothing more than a nice homage to yesteryear---not a bedrock of Notre Dame tradition.

The students have changed, the people in the gold seats have changed, and so too will Notre Dame Stadium.

As smart phones become more common, the need to engage fans through stadium means will become ever greater. Some might favor this approach of 50,000 people playing with phones in order to keep the Normal Rockwell portrait and atmosphere of the stadium alive---but the problems we have now will just continue to magnify with no end in sight.

With so much talk about the hype for this weekend against USC, the night game, and the changes being made for this special event, its important to remember---the Wimbledon atmosphere was never worth the hype.