I Don’t Hate Notre Dame

Anyone see this?

The following is the response I wrote, originally published on gomids.com:

If you’re reading this, then you have probably already read Chris Rohe’s piece about hating Notre Dame. After 43 years of losing to the same team, I’m sure he isn’t the only Navy fan to feel that way. That’s too bad. Losing is frustrating, but to hate Notre Dame as a result is a myopic point of view. Navy and Notre Dame have a bond that is very unique in the world of college sports.Most Navy and Notre Dame fans know the story. World War II took a huge toll on colleges and universities across the country as men of college age were called into service. Notre Dame was no exception, and the school faced a financial crisis because of it. The military had a completely different problem; the war had created a demand for officers that existing commissioning sources were unable to meet. Several service schools began to appear on college campuses and military installations; some, like Iowa Pre-Flight and Bainbridge Naval Training Center, even made a splash on the college football scene. Father Hugh O’Donnell, acting president of Notre Dame at the time, saw the military’s need as a solution to Notre Dame’s financial woes. He offered the school’s facilities to the Army, but was turned down. The Navy– particularly Chester Nimitz– was far more receptive, and a Naval training center was established at Notre Dame in 1941. During the war, 12,000 Naval officers were trained in South Bend. The influx of Navy trainees saved the school.Notre Dame awarded Nimitz, who had become Chief of Naval Operations, an honorary degree in 1946. At the ceremony, Nimitz spoke of his gratitude for the service that Notre Dame provided to the Navy, and for the officers that served under him in the Pacific fleet:

Father O’Donnell, you sent forth to me, as to other naval commands on every ocean and continent, men who had become imbued with more than the mechanical knowledge of warfare. Somehow, in the crowded hours of their preparation for the grim business of war, they had absorbed not only Notre Dame’s traditional fighting spirit, but the spiritual strength, too, that this University imparts to all, regardless of creed, who come under its influence.

Nimitz wasn’t alone in his expression of gratitude. In thanks for what the Navy did for the school, Notre Dame saves a place on its football schedule for Navy– Nimitz’s alma mater– each year.

College football has changed a lot since 1946. Once-sacred rivalries such as Oklahoma-Nebraska and Pitt-Penn State haven’t stood the test of time, falling victim to a shifting conference landscape driven by television money. But Notre Dame still honors its 60 year-old promise. Adherence to a decades-old vow is far from “disingenuous,” as Rohe chooses to describe the Notre Dame administration. It is, in fact, the most genuine form of loyalty that there is in college football. And don’t think that Notre Dame’s loyalty isn’t tested, either. The Irish are under constant criticism for playing Navy. John Feinstein describes Notre Dame as a bully for scheduling what he feels is an overwhelmed Navy team each year. In a BCS world where so much emphasis is placed on strength of schedule, there are many in the media who ridicule Notre Dame for not dropping Navy. The biggest names in college football want to schedule Notre Dame; the Irish could surely make more money by replacing Navy with a higher-profile opponent. Yet Notre Dame never hesitates to renew the series, recently extending it to 2016. Notre Dame does not turn its back on the promise it made.

The truth is that Navy needs this game far more than Notre Dame does. Playing Notre Dame is a financial windfall for the Naval Academy Athletic Association. The TV revenue, plus ticket sales in venues twice the size of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, account for a large part of NAAA’s operating budget. The “million dollar guarantee” between the two schools means that even when Notre Dame is the home team, Navy receives a substantial portion of the gate receipts at Notre Dame Stadium. Having this reliable revenue stream means several things. It allows NAAA to fund 30 different varsity teams, giving midshipmen more opportunities to fulfill the physical mission of the Academy. Just as important, it allows Navy to remain independent. Teams join conferences in large part because they can’t survive without the shared revenue. Navy doesn’t need that shared revenue to stay above water because it makes money off of playing Army and Notre Dame. Navy’s own football success of late has a lot to do with its independence, as our scheduling flexibility allows us to keep things manageable. Playing Notre Dame also pays dividends in recruiting, as players like knowing that they’ll get 4 shots to play on college football’s biggest stage during their Navy career. It would be hard to achieve any kind of success at Navy without Notre Dame.

The most disturbing part of Rohe’s piece is his description of Notre Dame fans as arrogant. We are all familiar with the bandwagon “subway alumni.” That group, like those of any school, can certainly be a mixed bag. My experiences in South Bend, however, are nothing like what Rohe described. I had the privilege of making two trips to Notre Dame Stadium while I was a midshipman, and in those two trips I was treated like a king. Notre Dame embraces its naval heritage, and still boasts the largest NROTC unit in the country. Notre Dame’s NROTC unit has always served as a wonderful host for mids who make the trip. The real treat, though, is walking around before and after a game. The uniform I wore was a ticket to every tailgater in the parking lot. I cannot count how many times I was invited by an old Irish alum who’d put his arm around me, put a hamburger in my hand, and tell stories about Navy games past and what those games meant to him. When the Superintendent announced the crackdown on movement orders at the beginning of the season, I was relieved that the one exception was Notre Dame. Every mid should have the opportunity to experience what my classmates and I did.

Rohe, if he had taken the time to understand Notre Dame fans, would know that Prop 48 admissions were a sore spot for many. And however bogus they might have been, one would think that Navy’s own steroid allegations and legal issues in the much more recent past would have forced Rohe to give pause before firing that shotgun in his glass house. As for “bastardizing” traditions– I don’t even know what that means.

I apologize if I come off as confrontational. That isn’t really my intent. Rohe’s attitude is the prevailing one among many college football fans. In all honesty, I am by no means a fan of Notre Dame football either. I thought Lou Holtz liked to run up the score, and I find Charlie Weis to be as arrogant as they come. However, I don’t let my opinion of the football team overshadow the importance of the relationship between Notre Dame and the Naval Academy, nor do I ignore the honor and integrity with which Notre Dame has carried out that relationship. Those two values are at the heart of everything that the Naval Academy stands for, and I am proud to have my alma mater associate itself with another institution that clearly feels the same way. And that is really what is at the heart of this rivalry. While the World War II tale is the most famous story behind Navy-Notre Dame, the series actually began in 1927. The following passage, written by Notre Dame president Rev. Matthew Walsh, appeared in that program:

Notre Dame, Army, and Navy make an ideal group for a football triangle. Their students live on campus, they draw their student body from all parts of the country. The outcome of our games with the Navy and with the Army is not so important as that the best feeling of sport and good-fellowship always prevail. We are indeed happy to have Navy on our schedule: we trust it will continue so long and so amiably as to become a part of our best loved traditions.

There might be some who hate Notre Dame, but their numbers do not include any Navy fan that understands the big picture. I actually wish we would play in more than just football. Navy and Notre Dame are adversaries for one day out of the year. For the other 364 days, they are partners.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

This is a blog about Navy sports, not general Naval Academy policy. It’s inevitable that the two subjects will collide occasionally, and when they do it’s usually bad news. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be an exception.

It’s always a nervous time for Navy sports fans when a new Superintendent comes on board. Like everywhere in the Navy, the CO sets the tone for the whole command; at USNA, that includes athletics. No one person has quite the same ability to set Navy teams up for success or failure. Some Supes recognize the value of intercollegiate athletics in fulfilling the Naval Academy’s mission. Others pull out the word that keeps me awake at night: “de-emphasize.” And while I haven’t heard him say that word (yet), the new Supe, VADM Jeffrey Fowler, looks like he’s ready to de-emphasize just about everything. Or as he puts it, “minimize distractions.”

It’s apparent that when VADM Fowler arrived at USNA, he didn’t like what he saw and decided that changes had to be made. It’s hard sometimes to separate rumor from fact, especially living in Florida and not Annapolis. I’m extremely reluctant to discuss rumors as if they are facts on this blog, but a few changes have been reported widely enough that I think they’re worth addressing. These changes will have greater consequences than I think (and hope) were originally intended: mandatory study time each night (preventing mids from attending sporting events), and an end to movement orders to football games.

Last week the Superintendent wrote a letter to USNA alumni to share his vision of what the Naval Academy needs to be. He outlined three main ideas, including this:

Face of the Navy. The Naval Academy is a showplace. Every year millions of Americans view the Brigade in Annapolis or on television and walk away believing they have just seen the best of the United States Navy. We must remember that our midshipmen represent Sailors and Marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those who are forward deployed in harm’s way. Our behavior as an institution must reflect a commitment to excellence in everything we do.

In this, VADM Fowler is absolutely right. The question, then, is why he would want to lock the “Face of the Navy” behind closed doors where the American people will never see it. Navy sports are the single best recruiting tool that the Naval Academy has. Kids see midshipmen in the stands cheering for their team and want to be part of that camaraderie. I should know; I was one of those kids. Midshipmen attending sporting events are the cheapest, easiest way for the Naval Academy to reach the most people, whether it’s on the Yard or on the road. Tens of thousands of people will be at each football away game. Millions more will be watching on television. When people come to see a game at Navy, in any sport, midshipmen in the stands are what they want to see. When recruits make a visit to the Yard to watch a Navy game and see empty stands with no student support, what are they going to think? There are many ways to become a Naval officer; one of the things that set the Naval Academy apart from the others is the esprit de corps of the Brigade. When you keep midshipmen from attending sporting events, you take away the one way the American people– and potential midshipmen– can witness that esprit de corps for themselves. Want to crack down on appearance and behavior at games? Fine. Want to make sure that midshipmen who are struggling academically are focused on their studies and not the big soccer game? OK. But don’t keep the Brigade as a whole from supporting their friends and classmates on the field. Our sports teams will suffer for it, and the school in general will suffer for it. These two things should be unacceptable to an institution committed to “excellence in everything we do.”

When announcing these and other policy changes to the Brigade, VADM Fowler used the example of the Eisenhower Battle Group, which recently had a 7-month deployment with only 15 days of liberty. “Our midshipmen need to understand that’s what our Sailors are going through, and that’s who they’re going to lead,” he told reporters. I’m sure that VADM Fowler has been on enough deployments like that to understand what they do to people. They are draining, to say the least. I remember standing watch in CIC on my last deployment while my ship was pulling into Bahrain. Like several other ships, we had a telescopic video camera (with a monitor in CIC) that we used to help ID contacts and as a navigation aid. While making my way from station to station to make sure that everyone was doing their jobs, I noticed that the camera operator had locked the camera on something in the distance. It was a tree. I told him, “FC3, I don’t think that staring at that palm tree is going to keep us from hitting a fishing boat in the channel.” His response? “Sorry sir, I just forgot what a tree looked like.” I chuckled to myself because after 62 straight days underway, I think I had, too. That’s what a long deployment will do to you. The Sailors and Marines returning from cruise are exhausted. If you try to turn the Naval Academy into a 4-year deployment simulation, then the Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants that you send to the Fleet will be exhausted too. That’s the last thing that our Sailors need. They need junior officers who are focused, excited to be there, chomping at the bit to get qualified, and injecting some energy into the Fleet. This doesn’t mean that USNA needs to be a “country club,” but it does mean that locking down the Brigade just to make them feel like they’re on a deployment probably isn’t the best approach.

Among the other changes that VADM Fowler is reportedly making is limiting what extracurricular activities are available to midshipmen. I’ve heard rumors about what ECAs might be on the chopping block, but as they’re only rumors at this point I won’t pass them on. I will say this, though: I hope the Supe is very, very careful about what ECAs are deemed as too “distracting” from Naval training. There’s a familiar quote that has been the basis for the training curriculum received by every Naval officer in this country’s history. Every plebe commits this quote to memory in order to remember what he or she is to become at the end of 4 years in Annapolis. As many of you already know, it begins like this:

It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.

Naval officers that have served this country for generations were trained according to this philosophy, including the Superintendent himself. What VADM Fowler may consider “distracting” now could just as easily have been considered essential for over two centuries, through peace and war. Saying that “we are a nation at war” is no excuse to limit opportunities for midshipmen to grow and develop themselves in all kinds of endeavors. Naval officers are supposed to be renaissance men. They are expected to try new things and be exposed to the world around them. ECAs are as much a part of the shaping of Naval officers as their EE class. To tamper with that philosophy is to tamper with success.

There’s a lot more to this than just changing liberty policy. Those things come and go. This is a more fundamental shift in the idea of what a Naval officer should be, and I am afraid that it isn’t for the better. “Minimizing distractions” is one thing. Tunnel vision is another.

Jason Tomlinson Didn’t Graduate

That piece of WTF information comes courtesy of Bill Wagner at The Capital. It was Jason’s choice, not the result of any military or academic shortcoming.

I have no idea what he was thinking. I think it is a huge mistake. He has probably heard that a million times by now from friends and advisors, so I’m sure he doesn’t need some dude who doesn’t know him running his piehole on the internet about it. But I will say this: I spent four years rooting like hell for him. I’m not going to turn my back on him and condemn him now. I will continue to root for him in whatever he does. I just hope he knows what he is doing.

No word yet on how the Navy will have him repay the cost of his education.

In other news, don’t miss Christian Swezey’s excellent piece on Sander Gossard and other prior enlisted football players. It’ll make you proud. So will Irv Spencer’s beard!

Loose Change

Lots of chatter popping up in the last couple of days:

  • In the “ignorance is bliss” category, we have PJ’s Monday presser. Talk about a list of things you wish you didn’t know… Kaipo’s in a neck brace, none of the punters are consistent, the secondary’s all hurt, and Greg Thrasher is in PJ’s doghouse. Yeesh. I guess there’s a silver lining in that Rashawn King is recovering well from his shoulder injury, but anyone who didn’t like PJ’s media day optimism can feel better knowing that it’s back to business as usual.
  • Navy will once again be an NCAA lacrosse tournament quarterfinal host this year. The ability to host events like these were a big reason why Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium made the switch to FieldTurf, so it’s nice to see that move pay off. It’ll be nicer if it’s a Navy home game this year.
  • The unending football conference affiliation talk resumed as Chet talked to Ron Snyder about the difficulties of finding bowl games as an independent. Conference membership means a lot more than bowl game access, though. I still don’t think that this will happen anytime soon, if at all.
  • Navy’s been sold out of Army-Navy tickets for a while. Now Army is too. If you want tickets, looks like you’ll be headed to Stubhub or eBay.
  • Scout.com’s Temple site previews Navy (subscription required). For those without a subscription, it’s very complimentary, saying that Navy “might be the second-toughest team on the schedule.” In case you’re wondering, Temple plays Penn State this year.
  • Some Air Force Academy grad wants to play pro baseball. I don’t really care that much as long as this doesn’t become a habit; the Air Force will do what it thinks is best for itself. But will people PLEASE stop comparing every scrub that wants to turn pro to David Robinson? By the time Robinson played his first game in San Antonio, he had already been an Olympic medalist, a Naismith Award winner, a Wooden Award winner, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and led Navy to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. That is a far, far cry from being one of thousands of players struggling to find a place in minor league baseball. Robinson is one of the best players in the history of his sport. Karl Bolt is not. It makes a difference when the Navy or Air Force is considering an athlete’s fate.
  • Bill Wagner offers a look at college recruiting, including Billy Lange’s approach.
  • ESPN.com talks Patriot League basketball as part of their “Shoot Around” series.