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The Fighting Irish and the Media: A Study in Love/Hate Relationships

Notre Dame's Chief Communications Officer takes a look at the two sides of the coin when it comes to coverage of Notre Dame football. Let's see if the OFD Community feels the same way.

Streeter Lecka

Michael Wilbon, Jemele Hill, Colin Cowherd, Mark May, etc. Irish fans have no issue finding a sufficient list of candidates for the Mount Rushmore of Notre Dame bashers. Heck, Rick Reilly (despite his own growing irrelevance) even weaseled his way on to the list and then tried to slither off after the Irish finished off USC. Every single Notre Dame fan has at least one friend who claims that their favorite college teams are "X" and "whoever plays Notre Dame that week."

When it comes to attracting media attention, nothing quite compares to the 2012 rendition of the Fighting Irish football team. Bathed in a season of skepticism and praise,Notre Dame's football program was a perfect example of the media's relationship with the University under the Dome. A season of adulation and cynicism came to a head in a 2 week period in January. The Te'o catfish story has been played to death, and the intent of this post isn't to retread the events around Notre Dame's linebacking leader. Let's take a different look at how the reaction is symbolic of the love/hate relationship the media has with Notre Dame.

In the wake of the Deadspin article, and the subsequent coverage of the Te'o incident, there were many who pointed fingers squarely at the University's PR department for failing in their duty to ensure the University, and its image emerged untarnished (without, of course, looking like they were simply covering butts). That's why an article in this month's Notre Dame Magazine caught my eye when it arrived this past weekend. Matthew Storin, the Chief Communications Executive at Notre Dame published: Love/hate thee, Notre Dame.

I won't rehash Storin's article, but I do find a few things interesting. First, Storin does a good job stating the primary driver of ND coverage:

"The media love to love Notre Dame and they love to hate Notre Dame, because either option draws eyeballs to the page or viewers to the screen."

Storin goes on to discuss the historical impact of the plucky team of "underdog Catholics who won consistently." He also calls out a few of the key themes you hear from media critics and non-fans alike.

"...the University went from the image of struggling underdog to being portrayed as rich, elitist and selective.
Notre Dame is sometimes described as arrogant, 'holier than thou' and 'a myth-making machine.'"

Storin attributes this partly to the secular culture in some segments of the media, but he also correctly identifies the most important driver:

"Notre Dame is celebrated and historically successful. So the desire to tear down or exaggerate controversies is tempting."

Using the lack of coverage of the Alabama deer antler spray story, Storin points out the imbalance of the volume and nature of ND coverage vs. programs like Alabama.

While I agree with much of Storin's points, he hits a sour note in one of his final paragraphs:

"Generations ago, Notre Dame football became a larger and in some ways an unrepresentative part of the University's image."

I take issue with this. I find the football team to be largely representative of the University as a whole. While it is true, many visitors on a football Saturday, and many of the viewers tuned in to NBC have minimal interest in Notre Dame's Catholic mission or academic standards, that's not the point. Notre Dame is a little bit different. Sometimes those differences make life a little harder. Sometimes they're unique to Notre Dame. Any way you look at it, Notre Dame football's existence in the middle of the college football hurricane is a lot like the University itself - stubbornly special in a rapidly changing and evolving world. The football team is, in many ways, a perfect representation of the Notre Dame Family.

What do you think OFD community? Is it all about tearing down someone popular and enjoying their fall? Is there elitism that drives legitimate "hating" on ND? Perhaps a cultural bias? Or is it all really about the Benjamins? Do the commercial aspects of how college football media rights have played out drive the love/hate relationship the media (and let's be honest, ESPN) has with ND? We'd love to hear what you think, and what you believe drives the "frenemies" way ND is treated in the press and among college football fans.