There is something awful brewing within the fanbase of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It’s ugly, uncivilized, and uniformly unfun. Being a Notre Dame football fan right now feels more like being a surrogate for a political party that’s in the middle of an election.
Yes, it’s really that bad. I chose the words, “the coming anarchy” vary carefully for this story. It is the title of a famous social essay by Robert D. Kaplan. In the essay, Kaplan uses West Africa as a model for how the world will eventually be turned upside down in the era following the collapse of the cold war. Kaplan was wrong on many levels, because he failed to predict technological advances such as the internet and all that comes with it.
One idea that has stayed in my brain for over 20 years after reading that essay, was how tribalism can ruin a nation. While he uses western Africa as a model (although it’s true for a lot of Africa), we see it in the middle east, and quite a number of other places in the world (mostly anywhere where British colonialism existed- even the U.S.).
Basically, countries are unstable and unable to provide and protect its citizens because of the divide within a country. In some African countries there are literally hundreds of different tribes that are forced to live in a bordered country after hundreds and hundreds of years of isolationism and war.
Quite frankly, it’s a mess, and because of the rich history, different customs, lack of technology, and a language barrier there is really no end in sight.
While I don’t want to cheapen the real problems, hardships, and struggles that have gone on and continue to go on in these places of the world, I can’t help but relate those things to what is going on within the Notre Dame fanbase.
The Notre Dame fanbase can be divided up into its own tribes. Every Irish fan falls into one of the following two categories:
- Subway Alum
You are a Notre Dame fan and you either went to school there and are an alum, or you did not attend school there but are a fan of the athletic teams and are a subway alum.
After that, a fan can fall into any number of other categories. Some are exclusive to either the alum status or the subway alum status, and some can be shared. The list of possible categorizations is long and diverse. Please keep in mind that this type of sects within a fanbase is not exclusive to Notre Dame, but it is more exclusive to bigger programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, and so on.
Some of these categories are:
- College football fan and Notre Dame football fan
- Notre Dame football fan and fan of college football
- Notre Dame football only
- Football fan and follows CFB and NFL as a whole as close as ND
- Loves Notre Dame for Notre Dame
- Dynasty (grandfather, father, 3 uncles, 4 cousins- basically 5 or more family members)
- Old school
And on and on and on.
The more diverse a population is, the more problems evolve from disagreements to fights when given a catalyst.
So too is the state of the Notre Dame fandom. The Irish are coming off of the worst season since 2007 and in the 28 years since Notre Dame’s last national title, there have only been a small handful of seasons that could have won a national title- and since 1993, only once.
Without getting too deep into the history of Notre Dame football over the last 30 years, one could argue that the last 7 years have been some of the most chaotic if you are willing to add off the field things to the results of what happened on the field. That is our catalyst- the Brian Kelly era.
The Brian Kelly era goes hand in hand with the Jack Swarbrick era. Notre Dame has had only 11 athletic directors since the position was established in 1913. Moose Krause held the position for over 30 years until he finally retired from his full-time status. Since Moose, the Irish have had 5 in the last 35 years.
- Gene Corrigan
- Dick Rosentahl
- Mike Wadsworth
- Kevin White
- Jack Swarbrick.
In terms of football success, only Dick Rosenthal has tasted an era of dominance, while Wadsworth made a few horrible moves. Kevin White should probably be credited with doing the most damage as an athletic director. We can thank White for a Davie contract extension, O’Leary, Willingham, and Weis. The decade of Wadsworth (Holtz out and Davie in) and White is one of the single worst in Notre Dame football history (and that includes the decade leading up to Ara Parseghian as head coach of the Irish.
And that has us circling back to the last decade (minus a year) of Jack Swarbrick. Is it comparable to the Wadsworth / White era? Not exactly when you look at the state of Notre Dame football beginning in 2008 as compared to 1995.
Quite simply though... it’s been a mess for quite some time. So much of a mess, that those “tribes” that we spoke of, have started to dig in and create hardline points of contention. This all leads to a fanbase in the middle of a civil war with more than two sides.
Recently, someone who was possibly furious over the off-handed manner in which Jack Swarbrick spoke of the employment status of Brian Kelly, wrote a message in chalk outside of the Hesburgh Library.
And almost simultaneously, a group of Notre Dame fans is raising money to put up a billboard and a full page ad in the South Bend Tribune, condemning both Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly.
It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with these sentiments, we are talking about a fairly large group of people that are being very proactive with their love of Notre Dame, and the football program. They are mustering an army to force the powers that be into a massive and sweeping change at Notre Dame and within that historical football program.
The problem is that despite their great number, there is undoubtedly a greater number that disagree with them and are truly offended by their actions.
All of this calls for an anarchy within the Notre Dame fanbase and quite possibly Notre Dame itself, and in this day and age (as we have just witnessed in the recent presidential election) a disagreement can turn into a full on war very rapidly. Sides are took, and the battle grounds of websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and even in your home and workplace are full of toxic words and emotional tirades.
I am not hear to sway you to one side or the other, and I would feel silly if I were to ask everyone to stay civil (I know because I have already done so). I am merely here as a preamble, a herald, and a prophet (that last one is my internet ego). The war is coming, and in fact the first shots have already been fired. It runs so deep and is so personal for so many people, that even a 14-0 national championship season next year would only dull the sharp sounds of the battle.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s going to be rough and nasty and full of regret. If the only cure is “winning” maybe the ends really do justify the means.
But the means are what we are fighting about. Good luck.