Friday, May 19, 2006

Doctor, doctor. Gimme the news. | by Pat

On Monday, Notre Dame athletic director director of athletics Dr. Kevin White sat down with assorted media members for an early morning informal press conference. Plenty of information came out of the talk, most of it very good news for Notre Dame fans.

Before I get any further, I want to make it clear that I'm only focusing on the actual information shared. Dr. White once again had a few statements that undoubtedly raised some Irish eyebrows and I promise we'll get to White's statements and our opinion on him, but for now I'm only worrying about the actual Notre Dame football news. Ok, let's dig in.

Perhaps the biggest overall theme to take away from the press conference was the continuing affirmation of Notre Dame as an independent in the college football world. Keep in mind that we're only two years removed from associate athletic director John Heisler penning an article for ND Magazine that seemed to almost be greasing the skids for a slide into a conference. White actually referenced this attitude before declaring ND's current stance against conference membership.

"I think that's really important. I think over time we'd really begun to behave like a conference wannabe member. And I think it's really important to go back to our roots and behave more like an independent."
Those roots that White is talking about are the barnstorming aspects of the early Notre Dame schedules under Knute Rockne. The barnstorming attitude isn't exactly new as ND was talking about such a thing over a year ago, but it's good to hear that they are still moving forward with it.

The primary locations are still the same -- Dallas, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans -- but Heisler also mentioned that ND has contacted Houston and San Antonio. Dallas especially seems excited to bring ND to the Lone Star State.
"We've had four preliminary conversations with Notre Dame," Cotton Bowl executive director Rick Baker said Wednesday. "We'd be excited to help Notre Dame in any way that we could when it comes to putting on a Notre Dame home game in this area."
One item that still remains unresolved is who exactly Notre Dame would play in these games. Baker mentions that TCU or Baylor would be a good fit for the Dallas game. Baylor's AD, Ian McCaw, worked with White previously so there is already an exisiting relationship there and TCU certainly seems interested.

According to TCU athletic director Danny Morrison, associate athletic director Jack Hesselbrock has had "two or three conversations" with Notre Dame about scheduling.

"We have a lot of conversations with a lot of people about future schedules," Morrison said Wednesday. "I don't want to overplay the conversations with Notre Dame, but it is something that we're interested in pursuing."

Of course, Notre Dame probably has conversations with a lot of schools so I wouldn't pencil in a TCU matchup just yet. White did mention a desire to avoid "heavyweights" and that
"We need to schedule in a way to put us in position to win national championships. We could have a great football team and schedule ourselves out of a national championship. That last time I checked, the most important thing here is to win national championships."
Like I said earlier, we'll get to our take on this attitude a little later on.

The next big item for the media was to finally get White's reasonings for the quick re-up on Weis' contract. As you may recall, it was still October when Notre Dame tagged an extra five years on Weis' current contract and most likely gave him a sizable pay boost. It also bumped up the buyout should the NFL really come after Weis hard. Quoth White.
"When he came, we had a pretty big buyout. Now we have a Herculean buyout, so I think for somebody to move in and out of this contract is more challenging."
White went on to say that the reason for the extension was ND recognizing the momentum Weis was building both on and off the field and moving to fend off the already creeping NFL suitors. It's also worth noting that White explicitly stated that Weis' contract does not have an out clause for any team.
"None of our coaches enjoy a parachute out to a certain institution or professional franchise."
A few other areas that White covered included mention of more facilities updates. We'll cover the JACC renovations over on The Fieldhouse, but White also talked about a shift in the practice fields so that they will be moved closer to the Gug. This will let Weis lord over the practice fields from his private balcony. One of the new practice fields will also be artificial turf. Weis mentioned earlier this spring that he had wanted to get the team outside but the grass just wasn't ready for the wear and tear yet so I'm sure the turf field is in part a solution to this.

The BCS payout setup also was brought up as this is the year where Notre Dame's drastic reduction in bowl payout comes into effect. The feast or famine method is now gone and ND will get $4.5 million for years when they do play in a BCS bowl and a little over $1 million when they don't. According to White, there wasn't much ND could have done about it and in fact negotiated up from the initial $2.5 million payout proposal.
"There are 63 schools within the BCS conference structure, and I would have imagined there would have been a vote of 63-0 against Notre Dame receiving an opportunity to take a conference share. And I would suspect the vote wasn't real compelling for Notre Dame to receive (a $4.5 million) share, but that was a negotiated position and that again reflected our strong market position over a lot of years in college football."
That sounds a bit like spin to me and I'd like to think that ND could have fought harder against this. But putting aside conspiracy theories for the moment, I concede that it does seem likely that the other schools just decided to gang up and take advantage of the weakened state of Davieham-brand ND football.

On the whole, the press conference seemed to serve more as a clarification than announcement of anything new, but I think increased communication between the Notre Dame Athletic Department and the media is a good thing. Nature abhors a vaccuum and the message boards and attention-starved sports writers across the country are all more than willing to fill up any periods of silences with stories that alternately weave fact and fiction. Not that ND has to respond to everything that is out there or show all the cards in their hand, but regular communication can only help to benefit all involved.