Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sociology and Sportswriting Don't Mix: Gregg Doyel on Notre Dame's Decline

Gregg Doyel takes on the state of the Irish and the decline in the program. I realize that this article is designed to prompt a response, but I'm going to respond to it in a thoughtful and reasoned manner, without trying to initiating some kind of yelling match, but rather making a calm presentation of several places where Gregg goes horribly wrong.

Here's his basic thesis:

Once upon a time, Army was Notre Dame.

Soon enough, Notre Dame will become Army.

Right - Army football was dominant once, and is irrelevant now. Notre Dame football was dominant once, and mediocre now. Ok, I see the connection; let's see how Gregg's going to work this out:

It's not Notre Dame's fault, so if there are any Notre Dame fans out there feeling angry -- assuming there are still Notre Dame fans out there at all -

Ok, let's see: Notre Dame, for six straight seasons ending in 2004 (I couldn't find more recent data), was voted the most popular team in all of college football. In other news, Forbes magazine ranked Notre Dame the "most valuable" college football program. (1/2/2007).

There are Notre Dame fans out there.

- don't be mad at me. Notre Dame hasn't screwed up. Notre Dame hasn't changed.

Actually, Notre Dame *has* changed; the real answer to the problem about Notre Dame's institutional decline has as much (or more) to do with internal (but not heavily covered by sports media) changes at the school.

The world has changed around it, much as the world changed around Army 50 years ago.

Well, sure, but there's really no reason Notre Dame can't be competitive right now.

Just like with Army football, the evolution of America is killing Notre Dame. The most influential person in the world is no longer the Pope.

What? Who cares? Is there some correlation between the power of the papacy and Notre Dame's winning percentage?

The Catholic Church is no longer dictating how our country acts,

What? This country has had one Catholic president in its history. While Catholics in the country have a significant political presence, they're still only approximately 1/4 of the nation, by self-identification (and it's sure that a good chunk of that 1/4 aren't active or practicing enough to dictate anything).

so what chance does it have to influence where our best young football talent plays? It has no chance.

Huh. I wonder how the hell Notre Dame's enrolled class of 2008 managed to rank... first? on Rivals.com's ratings. Notre Dame's 2009 class

The number of Catholic kids is dwindling, and their draw to Notre Dame is dying.

Apparently that didn't matter last year.

I wish I knew what percentage of ND football players in the past were Catholic, but this is still pretty irrelevant. It's still the most storied program in college football program, they still have pretty good facilities, the only national-tv contract, and a reasonably-good shot of making the NFL. There are a lot of reasons kids might go to Notre Dame.

You don't have to like it, but don't pretend it's not a fact.

Actually, in using actual facts, I have demonstrated that several of your premises are absolute bullshit, Gregg. And it took me four minutes with Firefox to do it. I don't much like any of this decline, but I don't have to pretend you're any kind of knowledgeable authority on it.

It's no coincidence that Notre Dame football was at its best before the integration of college football. According to Gallup polling research, there are 33 million Catholics in the United States -- but only 7 percent are black. What does that tell you? It tells you that back in the day when college football was mostly white, and the Catholic church was in power, that the best (available) recruits would naturally take a hard look at Notre Dame.

And yet, last year, a lot of the best available recruits did look at Notre Dame. This is the sort of stupid bullshit that gets spouted by people like Paul Hornung. Who knows what "competitive advantage" Notre Dame might had by getting this mythical "Catholic athlete" before... but Notre Dame isn't at a competitive disadvantage in getting most athletes right now. You know what Notre Dame sucks at? Getting the dumb athlete.

Tradition only lasts so long, and for Notre Dame it's fabulous tradition carried into the 1970s and seeped somewhat into the '80s thanks to Lou Holtz's creative interpretation of the NCAA rulebook.

Or maybe the early 1990s, where for the first four seasons, the Irish went 40-8 and culminated a streak of finishing in the AP top six five out of six years?



Notre Dame football is mediocre right now. Notre Dame football, except for a few momentary flashes, has been utterly mediocre since 1993. Yet there's really no reason to believe that this is the result of some sort of pseudo-sociological argument about the decline of the Church in America. More useful might be some thought about why ND has become so mediocre: it's NOT because they haven't gotten recruits - in fact, the talent level has remained (mostly) excellent. It's because their coaches have been objectively mediocre. The changes at Notre Dame that have resulted in this string of reasonably-poor coaches are at the higher level.

Doyel's is a stupid, un-reasoned article. The basic premise is completely illogical:

1. The Catholic church has declined in America over the last 50 years - and isn't coming back.

2. Notre Dame football has declined over the last 20 years.

∴ Notre Dame football isn't coming back.

The funny thing is, Gregg might be right. Notre Dame football might never make it bacl to the upper echelon of college football. But if ND never does, it has itself to blame, not some bullshit sociology.


AH said...

Let's just be thankful that the 2002 sex abuse scandal wasn't related as another reason for Notre Dame's precipitous downfall according to Gregg. Because when we're taking cheap shots at the Papists, that's always a winner when it gets trotted out.

Larry B said...

Gregg Doyle must've lived under power lines as a kid. He's like a version of Mariotti who's not quite as good at pushing peoples' buttons.

Larry B said...

Excuse me, Gregg DoyEL... fuck him and the spelling of his last name

Chris W said...

proofread plz

Anonymous said...

When the fuck was the Catholic Church ever in charge of anything in this country? The whole point of half of the colonists coming here was to escape centralized religious authority, which is one of the many reasons freedom of religion is part of the first god damned amendment to the Constitution. Fuck Gregg Doyel.

Word verification: catoic. Coincidence?

Tonus said...

Guys named Gregg-with-three-Gs should probably not write sports columns.

Bengoodfella said...

It is the popular thing to do this year in writing off Notre Dame but I really don't think they should be written off no matter how much bad coaching Charlie Weis does. I definitely think sociology has nothing to do with their downfall but maybe Greggggggg Doyel/Doyle was looking for a new angle and found the worst one ever.

I actually think Notre Dame is going to be pretty good next year and I think that means winning 9-10 games.

Chris W said...

Here is the plain and simple reason it is borderline retarded to compare Army and Notre Dame's decline:

Army's decline is owing chiefly to

a.) Size restrictions of recruits

b.) NFL caliber players being unwilling to committ to service after graduation

Those are unlikely to go away, and there is literally NOTHING short of compromising the integrity of the institution that West Point can do to get around these factors.

On the other hand, Notre Dame has no inherent size restriction nor anything keeping pro prospects from becoming pros after attending ND.

Everything that has led to Notre Dame's decline is theoretically correctible. Everything that has led to Army's decline as a football powerhouse is almost 100% irreversible.

Passive Voice said...

What's your collective take on the notion (put forth not just by message board weirdos but actual media people [who, as you've shown on this site, are always right about everything, but nevermind]) that ND's recruits are overrated (very literally) by Rivals et al. because ND wants them in the first place? I find it...hard to believe, to say the least. Et vous?

Chris W said...

It's plausible, but seems unlikely given that ND does routinely place NFL players.

It seems more likely that the players recruited are accurately ranked but underutilized by poor Notre Dame coaching.

Then again, who knows.

Martin said...

As a Catholic, somehow Gregg managed to offend me, and I never give a crap about what people say about the religion. His entire bizarro world idea that somehow the Pope and the church had some major influence in this country until recently, and that as that power waned, so did Notre Dames football team, is freaky in a bad way. How can he be so misinformed, and how can his editor let such crap just slide on out into a major public site? The ignorance he displays is astounding. it's not Jemele Hill "Hitler" offensive, it's more "Holy shit he's a moron, I'm really offended by his lack of knowledge." It's like the old guy at the donut shop who told me one day that "Ya know, during Chanukha, the Jews used to steal babies, but not in this country. We stopped that crap."


If Notre Dame lowered the entrance requirements for some student athletes, it could field better teams. That was, allegedly, the reason Urban Meyer turned down the job.

I would think that Rivals and the other rating sites would rate the recruits before any recruiting started. To start rating recruits after would leave them a year behind in the big "Where will this kid go, who wants him?" debate for their junior years.