If You Hate ND, That’s Fine…Unless…

I mean, we’ve been over this topic. Everyone hates Notre Dame athletics and especially football.

They hate the Irish because they, unlike all the other major independents, didn’t run away into the waiting arms of a conference in the early 1990s and instead lined up a national TV contract of their own. Never mind that 100% of the other ex-independents that joined a conference did so because it earned them more TV money – ND was greedy and arrogant enough to try to make money outside a multi-school cabal, so they’re the devil.

They hate them because some of their fans are sanctimonious, arrogant pricks. I can’t deny this is true, but it’s also an easy opinion to reach when you incessantly make fun of them and insult them, unprovoked, and just cry ‘arrogant!’ if they dare respond to any of it. (Recently, a former schoolmate of mine even celebrated ND’s basketball loss to Indiana on social media for no apparent reason — this person is a Purdue fan!! — which earned this person an unfollow on Twitter. It makes me feel retroactively bad for negative things I may have said about other fan bases who probably deal with similar garbage.)

They hate them because they get more media attention than their performance sometimes merits. Again, never mind that this is the case for pretty much every single ‘blue blood’ program  – it’s somehow different when it’s ND, probably because they’re independent.

They hate them because they’re a Catholic school, and religiously affiliated things are about the only things left in America that you can hate basically because they exist without anyone really questioning it.

Believe it or not (my money’s on your saying ‘not’ given the snark in the opening paragraphs), I’m mostly fine with all of this. We all hate, or at least ‘sports-hate’, teams, people or other fans, and the reasoning behind it doesn’t have to make a lot of sense to us. I despise, to varying degrees, the Miami Heat, the New England Patriots, Michigan athletics, and St. Louis’ pro baseball team among others, and my reasons for each of those are largely no better than those of the people that hate Notre Dame.

There is one exception to my being fine with it, though, and I decided this not too long ago. If you think college sports, as presently constituted, is immoral – like, not just in need of tweaks, not just sketchy, but full-blown immoral – and you hate Notre Dame – like, not just root against the teams on the field, but actually dislike them viscerally – then, in my opinion, you’re a hypocrite.

Let me explain. (Or don’t – I mean, it’s your life.) College sports has come under fire – much of it deserved – the last few years for not paying its players, specifically its football and men’s basketball players, as the revenue schools receive in those sports has soared. The reasoning, in large part, boils down to the opinion that most such players are essentially majoring in their sports and not getting a real education with the scholarships that presently serve as their compensation. (Some differ slightly from this view, but from what I’ve been able to gather, this is basically what much of the argument boils down to.)

Basically, the thinking goes that since the degrees these kids are getting without needing to be in student loan debt — a great benefit getting greater and greater as the cost of higher education continues to grow stupidly larger — often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on (if they even graduate), they should receive more hard cash in return for what they bring to the school.

Side note: I don’t entirely disagree with these people and would be fine with some sort of Olympic model hybrid being passed that would enable the tiny fraction of these players that really do have market value beyond their scholarships to capitalize on it. The overwhelming majority of players getting athletic scholarships aren’t actually worth the cost of said scholarship, so they’d still be getting a good deal, and the few dozen that aren’t getting a good deal could make some money.

I’m basically fine with anything that gives college athletes more money, unless it comes directly from the schools. This isn’t because of some old-fashioned dream of amateur purity. It’s because that action, I believe, would result in the already-hidestrapped regular students probably paying even more money in tuition/fees (what, you think the schools will actually cut back anything themselves? Now that’s a laugh).

Anyway, that’s the thought of most. And that’s fine if you feel that way. If you hate that college athletes don’t get more, if you loathe the system so much that you write this fiery piece about it or spearhead a study linking a desire not to pay athletes with being racist, as the Wall Street Journal did — fine. I’d question why you’re so ready and willing to get paid for talking about the activities of the people you believe are getting screwed so badly, but whatever.

But if you hate the current college athletics system as much as does SB Nation’s Spencer Hall (who, BTW, is a fan of one of the worst football-factory faux-degree offenders, the University of Florida), the author of the piece linked above, and you also hate Notre Dame, as Hall and so many in his camp do, then yeah, I think you’re a giant freaking hypocrite.

Because — and yes, I’m about to say something that a hater would happily call ‘arrogant’, and I know you’re sick of hearing it — Notre Dame does try to provide a real education and a meaningful degree. If you’re an ND athlete and you want to just skate, you can, and I’m sure some do. But if part of the reason you’re there is to better yourself off the field of play, that option is there. I’ve never heard a word about ND athletes being steered away from a ‘real’ major, like you hear about at so many football factories. Nor have I heard anything about an ND athlete making absolutely no meaningful progress toward a degree in four years, which happened to Michigan’s Dennis Norfleet. (Michigan might be low-key one of the worst offenders here — although it overall is a good school, their grad rate for athletes and especially black athletes is utterly shameful. It’s a big reason I hate them.)

Why do you think you’ve heard so many stories about ND athletes being booted for academic dishonesty — Everett Golson, KeiVarae Russell, Jerian Grant being just a few of the headliners? I’m aware this will also sound arrogant, but the fact of the matter is the reason you hear about them is because the school actually gives a shit about those guys outside the playing field. (Underscoring this point, all three of those athletes were permitted to return to school after taking classes elsewhere and regaining eligibility, and all ultimately graduated or, in Russell’s case, soon will.)

You don’t think anything like that happens at other schools? Hell, there was blatant systemic academic fraud at North Carolina to the point the whole school came under attack. And that, like Michigan, is a supposedly good school. You never, ever, ever hear anyone from a football factory getting kicked off for academic dishonesty. What, ND athletes are the only ones who ever cheat? Come on. That stuff happens everywhere to some degree and other schools just don’t do much, if anything, about it.

ND isn’t, of course, the only school that tries to do the right thing — and I always emphasize ‘tries’ because especially with 18-22 year olds, no one can be perfect, and ND isn’t either. (Prince Shembo comes to mind.) I don’t know the ins and outs with these schools as much as with ND, but Stanford, Vanderbilt, and yes, Duke, are other big-conference schools whose athletic reputations suggest they do the same. But to the best of my knowledge ND is the only school among them that attracts a legion of people nationwide who hate them for it — or at least who hate them because some of their fans are proud of it.

(No, ND fans are not perfect. Far from it. I’ve read things from ND fans that even make me roll my eyes, so I’m sure less biased observers would find more annoyances to critique. But I’ll largely defend them on their pride in treating student-athletes like people and not like means to an end.)

So, in sum, hate ND if you want. There are legitimate reasons to, most of them having to do with the school’s behavior outside the athletic arena. But if you hate them and also think college athletes as a whole are getting screwed, you might want to take a moment or two and consider that at least at some schools they’re getting treated like human beings, and not cogs in an athletic machine.

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If You Hate ND, That’s Fine…Unless…

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