Paying the Players: The Revenue Argument

Now that we have covered the basic needs and living costs of a student athlete, it is time to jump into what, in my opinion, is the biggest argument for paying the players.  The argument is simple: players bring in far more money to their schools than what their scholarships cover and therefore should be receive additional money for their hard work.  It would make a lot of sense too, if everything was really just that simple; however, the numbers are far more complicated.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, college football is a profitable business…well, for most schools.  Forbes did a great study on profit margins for ND and all BCS conferences to examine just how much profit is being made.  Below are the average profits from each conference in just football from 2009-2010:

Big Ten ($10.7m)

SEC ($8.2m)

Big 12 ($7.0m)

ACC ($2.6m)

Pac-10 ($1.8m)

Big East ($982k)

Notre Dame makes over $34 million in profit on it’s football program.  Other big individual profit schools are Georgia at over $52 million, Penn State at over $50 million, and Michigan & Florida check in at just over $44 million.

While those are some rather huge numbers, this little tidbit also appears in the Forbe’s ND article:

A report from the NCAA indicates that only 14 Division 1 schools broke even or made money in their athletic department last year without institutional support, and only 6 schools did it in each of the years from 2004-2009. Which means that most of the schools you’ve seen turning a profit in my series have been doing so with the aid of monies from outside the athletic department. For example, University of Virginia and Georgia Tech indicated to me they received upwards of $12 million and $4 million a year, respectively, from student activity fees. That is considered direct institutional support. In fact, the average amount of institutional support received by athletic departments went up from $8m in 2007-2008 to $10.2m in 2008-2009.

So once you place all of the other programs into the financial equation, you have the reality that, overall, schools loose money from their athletic endeavors.  14 schools out of the 120 total in FBS means that just barely over 10% of these schools are turning a profit.

Now, that quote does mention that schools overall do turn profits thanks to “institutional support”.  One of the sources mentioned above are student activity fees–yes, that means money that students pay (beyond just their tickets) are going to fill the gap that athletic programs leave.  A USA Today study had the following to say on the subject:

[A]s drops in ticket sales, declining endowments and other issues have translated to increased dependence on subsidies at Division I public schools, USA TODAY found in its most recent examination of college athletic finances.

About $1.8 billion in student fees and university funds went to cover gaps in athletic operating costs at those schools last year, the newspaper found. The analysis was based on thousands of pages of inflation-adjusted NCAA athletic data reported since 2005, from open-records requests to hundreds of Division I public schools.

With many states making recession-driven cuts in higher education funding, school subsidies for athletics are starting to become a target. Last week, the Iowa board of regents instructed its three schools to make plans to “substantially reduce or eliminate” support of athletics from tuition and taxpayer dollars; Northern Iowa had been planning to tap booster funds to finance a new deal for Jacobson.

So tuition, student fees, booster funds, and in some cases, even tax dollars all fall under this umbrella of “institutional support” to balance the budget and, just to note, ticket sales and concessions do not fall under this umbrella as they are considered revenue from athletics.

Granted, some schools will likely see a financial boost in upcoming seasons.  The Big Ten, SEC, Big XII, and Pac 12 have all inked new TV deals or, in the case of the Big Ten, already have their own network.  New independent BYU will have its own TV network as will the Texas Longhorns.

Despite these increases though, we won’t be able to have any hard data on how much this will balance the budget for some schools until a year or two from now.  Just because the money is being pumped in, doesn’t mean schools won’t pump it right back out for new facilities or other athletic expenses like say the ever increasing salaries for head coaches and their staff.  And don’t think for a second it won’t happen either.  More “free money” means more spent to attract recruits and that race will indeed escalate spending so schools can stay competitive.

So on top of all of this, how is it wise to add in new player salaries into the budget?  Not to mention, if we are truly paying players that only bring in actual profit, how can the NCAA justify the practice of paying players at only certain schools, and only for one or two sports at most?  And if they were to allow such a practice, how do you control and or cap the salaries?

And that’s just the logistical issues off the top of my head.  Have fun trying to get a kid go to class and stay academically eligible when they are now making money for playing sports.  That’s a whole other Pandora’s Box that will fly wide open.

Not to mention players in the bigger revenue sports already see increased benefits than other athletics.  They get more issued gear, they have the nicer facilities, they stay in nicer hotels, they take chartered flights, and, in the case of football, they get to take advantage of free gifts from bowl games.  As an example, as just a football manager (that didn’t even work the actual game), I received a free ticket to the Fiesta Bowl, free sweatshirt, free shirt, and a free pair of shorts.  I know managers that worked the game got some more stuff, and the players got the full BCS bowl swag package that made my $200-300 gift seem like nothing.

The bottom line though is that the “simple solution” of paying the players simply based on the money they bring in, isn’t that simple at all.  With college’s already needing to use additional funding beyond just athletic revenue, the numbers just don’t quite add up and could very well cause college athletics to create a bigger red line on quite a few balance sheets.  Athletes in big revenue sports already receive additional benefits; however, the revenue argument alone simply isn’t enough, in my opinion, to be the sole justification of paying the players.

Paying the Players Series

Agents, pay to play, free cars, free houses, memorabilia for tattoos…the list can go and on in this seemingly unending stream of recent scandals in college sports.  There is no doubt that there is a severe lack of institutional control all over college sports, and I’m not talking about the universities found guilty of violations, I’m talking about the NCAA itself.

The NCAA is only able to handle these issues after the fact, and seemingly arbitrarily at that.  Look, as a ND fan, I enjoy the USC sanctions as much as anyone, but as of right now, the majority of the people suffering are the kids that did nothing wrong.  Reggie Bush still has his high-dollar NFL contract, and even though his Heisman was stripped, he still has his Super Bowl ring.  Pete Carroll skipped town to sneak the below-.500 Seahawks into the NFL playoffs.  Hell, if we even go back to the Pony Express scandal, it sure looks like Craig James is doing quite well, he’s still (somehow) employed by ESPN (and helped destroy another coach’s career as well).

More recently, Ohio State is bracing themselves for their own fate at the hands of the NCAA.  The same thing will happen there.  Tressel may or may not ever get a coaching job again, but, even if his name is forever mud, he can easily retire very comfortably.  And Pryor?  He can rid off into the supplemental draft and grab himself an NFL contract and avoid all retribution at the hands of the NCAA.  Again, the teammates left behind will suffer.

There is no doubt the NCAA has major issues: the system itself is broken.  However, the “solution” that seems to continue to be tossed around to fix the problem might be the worst idea possible and that’s paying the players.  I even saw on Twitter today that the ‘Ol Ball Coach thinks it is a good idea as well.

That is what prompted this series of posts.  Personally, I am completely against the idea, and this series will examine the issue and upon conclusion, attempt to examine possible solutions for this major issue.  In my mind, the only real way to make some serious progress will be to get past the idea of paying the players and try to get to the real root of the issue.

I have no real schedule for how often these posts will happen or how many I will make.  I tried to do one initial post on this and my research has already lead to ideas for a handful of shorter posts instead of a long novel.  Keep an eye out for them, it should be a rather interesting discussion.

The Annual BCS Sucks Post

It’s that time of year once again to slam the awful postseason system that continues to plague college football: the Bowl Championship Series.  It’s funny, I have written one of these every year that this site has been in existence dating back to three seasons ago.  First it started with my playoff solution to our current system (which I still think could work).  Last season, I managed to put together two different posts about this laughable system.  The first showed how the BCS could manipulate matchups to their liking as they pitted Boise State and TCU against each other instead of playing both against the “big boys”.  The second showed how the college football postseason is filled with non-competitive games and how now 60% of all FBS teams earn the “special honor” to play in a bowl game.

And this year, yet again, the BCS has provided me with new examples of how this system is a pathetic joke to determine a champion.

Thanks to the BCS’ new bitch flagship network, ESPN, we have been beaten over the head repeatedly that every week matters.  In the end, the only weeks that mattered were those played by Oregon and Auburn.  Ok, I take that back, Boise State’s loss to Nevada mattered too, but only because it completely knocked them out of the BCS picture.  Make no mistake though, had they stayed undefeated, there would be no way in hell they would’ve made the title game over Oregon or Auburn and had they even stayed undefeated, it likely would’ve meant that one non-AQ school would’ve been left in the cold.

This year, TCU is the shining example that the “every week matters” mantra is total bull.  Before, we were all fed the load of crap that the non-AQ schools could never get into the title picture because of their preseason ranking.  Along with that lie, we were told that if such a school were to be ranked high to start, an undefeated season would surely place them in the title picture.  Coming into the 2010 season though, TCU had that high ranking, coming in at #7 in the coaches poll and #6 in the AP poll, yet somehow could only claw their way up to a #3 in the final BCS rankings.

If every week matters, then that must mean Oregon and Auburn were clearly ranked above TCU and held on; however, this is not the case.  The teams initially ranked head of TCU were Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Boise State, and Virginia Tech, all of whom lost at least one game this season.  Oregon was able to leapfrog TCU to #2 starting at #11 in both polls, and Auburn was able to claim the #1 spot starting all the way down at #23 in the coaches and #22 in the AP poll.

Where does any of this make sense? TCU never lost, yet watched two teams move to the front over them.

Of course, the tired excuse of “strength of schedule” was pointed as the culprit for why TCU could never eclipse Oregon and Auburn in the rankings.  Many figured that Wisconsin would expose this very fact during the Rose Bowl, yet they feel to TCU.  To expand on this further, the BCS conferences, whom have the “better schedules” are preforming like total crap in the bowl games.  Right now, the only BCS conference that has a winning record is the Big East (3-2), whom is considered to be weakest of all BCS conferences to begin with.

[EDIT 1/4/10: Danger of writing posts the day before…the Pac-10 has a record of 2-1 at the time I published this. This also includes a BCS win.  This would be the only “strong” conference in my opinion to have winning bowl record thus far.  Apologies for the oversight (unless you wish to count Utah’s loss in the Pac-10 column, which would make the Pac-10 2-2 and the MWC 4-0!]

The Mountain West Conference on the other hand, has outdone everyone, coming in at 4-1 in bowl play, including TCU’s Rose Bowl victory.  And those other three wins weren’t all against non-AQ opponents either.  Two of those wins were against BCS conference opponents: Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.  Another one of those wins was against a Navy team that was 9-3 coming into the Poinsettia Bowl.  The “worst” win was BYU’s lopsided victory over UTEP (C-USA).  The only loss came against a non-AQ opponent: Boise State who still finished #10 in the final BCS rankings and defeated a Utah team that finished #19 in the final BCS standings.

Of course, then follows the circular argument that BCS conferences are playing better opponents and thus do not have as good of a record as the MWC.  However, thus far the majority of bowl games have only been mediocrity against mediocrity and thus, I argue that the MWC has as much of an even playing field as any other BCS conference in bowl play.

In this wonderful system, TCU will finish 13-0 and hope that the AP has the balls to vote them #1 for a national title split instead of getting their justified shot at the winner of Oregon or Auburn.  While BCS pundits and supporters will note how much TCU cares about their victory and how much it means to them are correct, it doesn’t hide the fact that they still got screwed over.  TCU is happy with the slice of cake they were allowed; however, anyone believing that they are 100% satisfied are completely out of their minds.

It is no wonder that teams are jumping ship from the Mountain West Conference to BCS conferences.  Their treatment by the BCS is downright absurd.  Utah will be transferring over to the Pac-10 and TCU will be heading to the Big East.   To add on, BYU will be moving on as an independent football program.  Thanks to the BCS, the MWC has been forced to watch their strongest members jump ship.  Anyone thinking that the MWC’s newest member, Boise State, isn’t possibly looking to find a home in a BCS conference as well is out of their minds.

It is absolutely disgraceful that teams even feel a slight need to do this.

Even with the jump though, I don’t believe much will change.  Even had TCU been in the Big East conference this season, I don’t see their fate being any different.  We would still be hearing about how weak their conference schedule was since the next best Big East team would have been this year’s “champ”, 8-4 (and unranked) UCONN, who was spanked by an OU team that did not even play a good game themselves in the Fiesta Bowl.

Speaking of UCONN, that brings me to my next point.  It’s laughable that they were even allowed to play in the BCS as is the Big East in general.  Hell, we should really toss the ACC into this discussion too because they are even worse.  Since the BCS was in place, the Big East is 6-7 in BCS bowl games and their conference has produced zero at-large bids, meaning all their BCS appearances are from their champ as contractually obligated.  Now while 6-7 isn’t too awful, you have to keep in mind that three of those wins come from now departed (and now awful) Miami, so taking those wins away you are looking at 3-7, ouch.  The ACC has been even worse, going 2-11 in BCS bowls and, like the Big East, have produced zero at-large teams.

In comparison, the MWC has gone 3-1 and the WAC has gone 2-1.  The MWC’s sole loss has come at the hands of Boise State, meaning that against the “big boys”, non-AQs are now 5-1 in BCS bowl play.

So when the BCS pundits come rolling in saying that it is a joke the NFL has a sub-.500 team in the playoffs, they can rightly shove it.  That does nothing to show that their postseason system is worth a damn.

Unlike the BCS, the Saints season will not end if they crush the Seahawks.  They will get the chance to, get this, play for the title despite not being one of the top two records in the NFL.  Also to note, unlike the BCS, the NFL doesn’t exclude all but two teams to play for their title as well.  The top two teams in each conference get their bonus in a bye week, but they still have to earn the right to play for the Super Bowl just like all the other postseason bound teams.

When the NFL season ends, no one says “man, if only X team could play the winner of the Super Bowl”. It doesn’t happen, period.  This isn’t the first time 10 win teams have missed the playoffs due to a division winner having a worse record.  It’s just how it goes in the NFL, and guess what, it means that every week matters during the regular season as just one more win could have been the difference.

The only time I can recall there being any actual dispute of the NFL champion was when the AFL was in existence.  However, eventually the NFL had enough common sense to merge and crown an undisputed champion every year.

But no, teams will bust their ass year in and year out, and for some unlucky one loss or non-AQ team, their reward is usually to play Big East or ACC fodder that will end their season no matter how well they play.  Even worse is a team that remains undefeated and watches their season end unblemished, only to be sitting at home when another teams raises a trophy that they never got the right to play for.  For some reason, FBS football is the only sport that allows this to occur year in and year out with no real change.

And somehow, it continues to sign multi-million, multi-year contracts with major television networks to keep it going.  We are three BCS games in thus far and only one hasn’t been a lopsided victory: the one with the non-AQ team.

It is truly the best scam in sports today.

ND Football 2010: A Year in Review

It’s been a while since I’ve have taken the time to sit down and write about ND Football.  My life has been a whirlwind with work and my free time has been spent doing other things not blog related.  When I sit down to write here, I like things to be well thought out and not horribly rushed just for the sake of getting something out there (besides, that’s what my Twitter feed is for).  So, if you are wondering why this space has been stagnant for so long, there you have it.

Anyways, now that I actually have the some free time and plenty of thoughts together for a post, it’s time to take a look at the 2010 Notre Dame football season (a will do an in-depth statistical analysis in the future).  Obviously, Brian Kelly’s first season with the Irish will be considered a success with a winning record, defeating USC, and taking down Miami in the Sun Bowl.  This of course happening in a season in which Kelly saw his starting quarterback, running back, and tight end go down, but was also faced with off-the-field issues: the tragic death of Declan Sullivan and a media blitzkrieg concerning the Lizzy Seeburg case (and talking about that would be another post in itself).

This season had every opportunity to be a complete disaster and yet it wasn’t.  Coach Kelly kept the Irish focused, and most importantly, improving throughout the season.

To me, 2010 is the story of two separate seasons with the Navy game splitting the two apart.  Prior to Navy, the Irish, for the most part, beat the teams that they should have beaten.  Losing to Stanford wasn’t too big of a shock, but losing to Michigan and Michigan State in the fashion that we did was simply gut wrenching (giving up a last minute TD drive and giving up a TD to a fake field goal).  However, losing to Navy seemed to be an example of how bad we were, especially on defense.

Navy was by no means an awful team, but that game looked like a scout team attempting to hang with the first stringers.  As Herbstreit put it, ND had a “high school defense” and after that kind of performance, it was hard to argue.  It was a sickening loss.  Hell, it’s still sickening to think about how soundly we were beaten on every side of the ball during that game.

I was wondering how ND would respond against Tulsa, especially with the death of Declan still very fresh on everyone’s mind.  Then Dayne Crist went down and my stomach turned.  I remembered how poorly our backup QBs fared against Michigan and considering how quickly Rees was yanked, I was positive that our season would quickly fall apart under a QB with no confidence.

Rees, thankfully, proved me wrong and not only kept the Irish in the game, but placed them in a spot to win.  Unfortunately, Kelly made the call to go for the jugular instead of playing safe for a game winning field goal and it completely backfired.  Kelly was unphased and I wondered how he wasn’t in complete panic mode like I was and the rest of the ND fanbase.  With #5 ranked Utah about to come in, I was expecting the worse.

Instead, the Irish came out and soundly destroyed Utah 28-3.  Our “high school” defense completely shut down one of the best offenses in the nation and Rees looked like a QB in total control.  ND continued the momentum against Army, holding them to only 3 points as well.  I actually felt like we had a slight chance to beat USC if we could keep playing this well, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Against USC though, the Irish finally surrendered a TD…a 3 yard, 4 down drive.  It couldn’t have happened at a worse time too as it allowed USC to tie the game up 13-13 late in the third quarter.  The Irish offense continued to struggle and USC took the lead with a 4th quarter field goal.  With 6:18 left to play, the Irish put together a 7 play 77 yard drive, primarily through the legs of Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes to put the Irish ahead 20-16.  However, there was still 2:16 left, and I had seen this movie before.  After an unreal drop by USC that would have easily been the winning TD, Harrison Smith intercepted Mitch Mustain to finally thrust the dagger into USC, sending ND Nation into pure bliss.

Then of course you have the Sun Bowl in which Notre Dame made Miami look absolutely ridiculous as they cruised to a 33-17 in a game that was basically over in the first half.

This ending run was unlike any recent Irish “return(s) to glory”, which were all capped off with either a late November meltdown or bowl ass-kicking at the hands of a much better opponent.  This time around, Notre Dame ended on a high note, winning their last 4 games, taking down a ranked team and a hated rival in the process. Even better, the Irish closed out football games as they should.  Previous Irish teams would’ve folded against USC (much like this 2010 squad did against Michigan), would have let the slow (and scary) start to the Army game last for an entire half, and would’ve let the late Miami resurgence become a serious issue.  None of those happened this time around.

Not only that, but players on the defensive side of the ball started to step up in big ways.  In particular, Brian Smith and Harrison Smith stand out to me.  We’ve been waiting years for these guys to step up and late this season they did.  Harrison Smith has even done so to the point in which several Irish fans, myself included, would love to see him come back for a fifth year.  Whatever defensive adjustments Diaco made post-Navy paid off.  Clearly something has clicked with this coaching staff, our team, and our previously underachieving upperclassmen.  You can’t help but be thrilled by that.

Brain Kelly’s reputation of being able to switch QBs at will also held true to form.  Although the Michigan game scared everyone to death, with a little bit more time, Kelly was able to get true freshmen Tommy Rees ready to fill in for the Irish if needed.  After having his extremely short leash yanked during the Michigan game, I was fully expecting that to be a major blow to Rees’ confidence.  How do you come back from something like that?  Well, ending the year 4-0 as a starter is one hell of a way to do that.

Let that sit in your head for a bit.  4-0 as a starter.  As a true freshmen.  As a backup.  Against ranked Utah.  Against USC.  Against Miami in a bowl game.  Try to find that in ND’s history.

And of course, you had a myriad of other injuries that hit the Irish.  Allen and Rudolph were lost for the season.  T.J. Jones and Theo Riddick spent time sidelined with injuries just to name a few.  Yet the offense still managed to prosper for the most part.  This tells me two things: first, Kelly’s system can definitely work with what we already have in place, and, second, this system is something that the entire roster is able to grasp with relative ease thanks to this coaching staff.

And talk about some serious recruiting power that Kelly now has a hold of.  Rees is now the obvious example, but from just this season alone, Kelly will be able to point to a load of examples of players stepping in and doing so successfully under his system and coaching.

Unlike the start of the Weis era, there are signature wins to build off of instead of disappointing losses.  And unlike Weis, Kelly immediately came under some major fire for his calls on the field as well as issues surrounding the program off the field and handled it all as well as anyone could expect.  There is little doubt in my mind that Kelly is the right man to (re-re-re-re-re-)return this program to glory and I cannot wait to see what next season has in store.

Stanford: By the Numbers

As always, if you want to play along and see the numbers I’m referencing, you can do that here.

Offense

Let’s the the obvious out of the way: the offense was abysmal.  We didn’t get a TD until the fourth quarter and the game was pretty much over.  We only had five plays in the red zone total.  We couldn’t convert a third down to save our lives as well (4-13, 30.77%).

Just awful.

As far as play calling balance goes, Notre Dame set a season high in pass play percentage at 70.59%.  Unlike the last two weeks in which the Irish were able to squeeze more plays in the fast-paced Kelly offense, the Irish were only able to run 68 plays as opposed to 76 and 81 the two week prior.  The amount of plays is more along the lines of what we ran against Purdue (62) and in that game the Irish had a 53.23% run play percentage.

Granted, we were playing catch up for most of the game; however, we weren’t too far out of reach for well over a half.  And that fact still doesn’t take away the horrifying fact that rushing plays feel for the fourth consecutive week to 20 plays (three weeks prior: 33, 31, and 25).  Even more disheartening was the yards per rush feel again to an abysmal 1.91 for 44 total.

Our rushing attack is on life support and, in this game, we became without a shadow of a doubt a one dimensional team.

Crist’s passing percentage this week was another disappointing effort at only 57.78% which was just slightly lower than last week.  The 73.08% completion rate against Purdue seems like a distant memory right now.

A piss poor rushing attack and a shaky passing game equals disaster.  This is by far the best defense that ND has faced to date, but you would still hope for the numbers to look even just a little bit better than this.

I don’t doubt the potency of this offense.  Crist being a little more accurate alone will do wonders.  A bit of help from the rushing game sure wouldn’t hurt either though.

Defense

I think each time I run the numbers after a game, I continue to be surprised at how well the defense did all things considered.

Stanford scored 17 points off of turnovers.  7 of those, the defense couldn’t do a damned thing about as it came on an INT return by Stanford.  3 came from a Dayne Crist fumble in which Stanford started that drive on the ND 15 and was the only three and out for the defense all game.  The remaining 7 came off the ND failed fourth down conversion and the defense again had a short field as the drive started on the ND 49.

Stanford also had one more drive start in plus position after the failed ND onside kick, which resulted in a field goal.  Toss on those 3 points and you have a grand total of 20 points scored on a defense that was absolutely put into a hole.

Even more sickening is the fact that the Irish defense was able to force two Stanford turnovers from a QB that doesn’t throw picks and the offense got a big ‘ol goose egg in return.  The only points scored off a turnover came from a gift that Stanford’s punt returner coughed up to us at the start of the game.

The defense was far from phenomenal, don’t get me wrong, but again, they probably played well enough to win and kept the Irish in this game for far longer than they should have been.  They gave up 404 yards, which while not great is the least amount of yards given up to an opponent in a loss.

Stanford attacked ND primarily on the ground and kept it there to nurse the lead late, creating a total run percentage of 57.89%.  The defense had their best performance against the run since Purdue giving up only 3.77 yards/carry, which is nearly a full yard improvement from last week against the Spartans.

While all this is a thin silver lining in a horrid loss, there is one spot in which the defense can absolutely not be forgiven and that is on third down.  Stanford converted 11 of their 16 third down attempts (68.75%) which damn near doubles their second “worst” performance in this category which was against Michigan State at 35.29%.

Far too many drives were kept alive longer than they should’ve been.  Considering ND’s offensive woes, I doubt this would’ve changed the game drastically at all; however, this definitely needs to be a one game hiccup that goes away because a third down conversion rate that high is flat out unacceptable.

Um…Maybe This Does Mean Something…

Remember last week how I said ND has lost two games in a row that lasted 3 hours and 37 minutes?  And the only win against Purdue had a game time of 3 hours and 1 minute?

Game time against Stanford: 3 hours 35 minutes.

I’m not saying it’s a trend, but I will say this: if ND can only win games that are around 3 hours, it’s a freakin’ win-win for everyone.

Stanford Aftermath: Time to Look at the Big Picture

Notre Dame football is 1-3.  The sky is now falling.  Knee-jerk reactions on the Kelly regime are flying around.  I’m sure soon I’ll be reading how ND can’t recruit with the rest of college football and doesn’t have the speed to compete as well.  Some people my also be wondering why we can’t have a coach like Harbaugh and a team like Stanford.

Then there are those crazy people like myself who actually take a step back and look at the big picture.  An Irish fan that, while disappointed, is far from ready to hit the panic button.

I’ll do the statistical analysis in another post soon, but as far as my personal reaction to the game, the better team won plain and simple.  Yes, Stanford is far better than Notre Dame right now and anyone shocked by this fact hasn’t been paying attention to college football the past couple of years.  Stanford is a team now ranked #9 in the county, 4th in points for, 12th in points against, 19th in total rushing, and their narrowest margin of victory is 23.  They are good, damn good.

The Irish, however, are not that damned bad.

No, I haven’t lost it.  Let’s just take a look at the Stanford game for a quick second.  Stanford’s narrowest margin of victory is 23 and the team that was against? Notre Dame.  The first defense to make Andrew Luck turn the ball over? Notre Dame.  Before this game, Stanford was #1 in pass defense giving up only 90 yards/game.  After ND: now 11th with their average bumped up to 144.25 yards/game.

Michigan State had to perfectly execute a ballsy fake FG to beat us.  Michigan had a last minute TD drive to defeat us (and a half without our best player).

To sum up the Irish’s current situation, it’s time to channel good ‘ol Dr. Lou: “Things are never as good as they seem and things are never as bad as they seem.”  We don’t have to look that far back into ND’s recent history to prove this fact.

Of course, the Lou Holtz first year comparisons are obvious.  His first year started with consecutive losses against Michigan and Michigan State, a victory against Purude, and a loss to Alabama.  Yep, good ‘ol Lou started 1-3 himself on his way to a 5-6 season and much like Kelly, his initial losses are quite similar as far as margin goes: two one score losses, a solid win, and a multiple score loss.

But wait, what about Bob Davie?! He also started 1-3 AND lost to Stanford the following week!  Well, that Stanford team was also 5-6 that season and his one win to start was 17-13 against a very mediocre Georgia Tech team that finished 7-5 that season.

Great first seasons aren’t exactly a fantastic measuring stick of how well a coach will do during his tenure.  Look no further than Ty Willingham who had a 10-3 first season and Charlie Weis who had not one, but two great seasons at 9-3 and 10-3.  The end result of those three amazing rides though were the same: the Irish were on the wrong side of a bowl game ass-kicking.  Things weren’t as nearly as great as they seemed then.

For those wondering why we can’t be the kind of running, pound-it-down-your-throat team like Stanford and having such a great coach like Harbaugh, I wonder how many of your would’ve liked his first few seasons.  Harbaugh took over a 1-11 team and improved them to only 4-8, which one of those losses coming against the woeful 2007 Irish team that was 3-9.  Of course, he did manage to throw in an crazy upset against USC that I’m sure helped to ease the pain.  His second season wasn’t much better though.  Stanford went 5-7 and USC got their revenge.  Last year though, Stanford turned the corner and went 8-5, which included a USC curb-stomping that I will forever love him for.

Now they are 4-0 and #9 in the nation.

Kelly’s starting situation is not nearly as dire as Harbaugh’s was, but he still has quite a bit to overcome.  The fact of the matter is that he took over a 6-6 team whose two biggest stars decided to leave early and go play football on Sundays.  Dayne Crist’s timetable got bumped up in a hurry and a huge hole was left in the WR corps to start everything off.  Both Willingham and Weis had the luxury of not only having upperclassmen as their starting QBs, but also QBs that had at least a full season of starting under their belts.  Both Holiday and Quinn also had receivers that stepped up for them in big ways during their great runs.

ND may still have Floyd and a damned good TE in Rudolph, but Crist is still very green and there isn’t much that we can do about that.  It’s going to take time for him to get better and not only adjust to Kelly’s new offense, but being a starting college QB in general.  I’m definitely critical of his pocket presence and accuracy (or lack thereof), but take a look at Quinn and Clausen in their first year under the helm and the results were not pretty either.

Add on to that with the fact that Kelly took over a woeful defense that could use another ten Manti T’eos.  There has been some marked improvement, but this has been a recruiting gap for years that is slowly (but hopefully, surely) getting its holes plugged in.

That’s the current reality that this team is in as of right now.  If Crist doesn’t get his head knocked around against Michigan and Calabrese is able to jam his man for a second longer on the fake FG, and we could very well be 3-1 and saying today “damn, we got beat by a good team, that sucks, let’s go get BC next week.”

The season is far from dead. Winning out isn’t very likely, but a chance to improve on last season is definitely well within reach.  Sure, it would be a disappointment to many, but you first have to stop the bleeding before the wound begins to heal.  Make no mistake, this program has been bleeding since 2007 and even an offense headed by Clausen, Tate, Floyd, and Rudolph couldn’t stop it.

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you have to honestly ask yourself if the current results are really all that surprising.  Sure, we all get swept in by the optimism that a regime change can bring, and we can all be disappointed in the current results that we are seeing, but folks never forget that it could be worse, it could be FAR, FAR worse: