Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Most Overrated Program In History

Notre Dame was lathered by Louisiana State last night in the Sugar Bowl by a score of 41-14. It was an NCAA record ninth straight bowl defeat for the Fighting Irish.

Let me repeat that for emphasis. It was an NCAA record ninth straight bowl defeat for the Fighting Irish.

How did this come to be? How can you lose nine straight bowl games when random chance says you should win at least four? Of course the first reason is that random chance has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is, however, all about the hype.

Hype and Notre Dame have been synonymous all the way back to the Knute Rockne era. This small school in Indiana discovered long before any other program that the secret to their success would be to build a media machine favorable to them in order to pull in the best athletes and then to deliver an exceptional product on the field. They built cross country rivalries with the military academies (and the east coast media centers) and with the University of Southern California (and the west coast media) and publicized themselves heavily. At least back then they lived up to the hype and as a result cemented their legacy with the American public.

But then the landscape changed during the 1970's as scholarship limits began to distribute more quality players across more programs. Notre Dame (and other stalwart programs) was losing its edge on the field and needed to secure its brand. The answer was to strike a major exclusive television deal with NBC for telecasts of all home games. Then, when the Bowl Championship Series was born, Notre Dame had the leverage as the last remaining major independent to demand a seat at the table. And thus the mechanism was born that would essentially guarantee huge paydays just as long as they didn't lose more than two games a year, supported by a fawning media because in those cases the media buzz would artificially inflate their ranking.

And the result? An annual mismatch in the BCS that brings in the viewers. A nine game postseason losing streak. And no end in sight. The bottom line? Notre Dame, despite its glory years in the early part of the last century, has become the most overrated college football program. Ever.

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