By Kevin York
I face a real dilemma tonight of who to cheer for in the BCS National Championship game. Alabama or Notre Dame?
I hate the SEC. I have for as long as I can remember. I’ve grown tired of the conference’s arrogant, better than you attitude with which they approach football. I also despise what they’ve done to push us further and further toward a college football system where student athletes are paid. The SEC has a win at all costs attitude. There are a ton of examples over the past few years about situations where programs, and players, have acted in some not so ethical ways. The easiest, and probably most popular, to point to is Cam Newton, both at Florida where he was kicked out of school for stealing computers, and at Auburn, where reports were rampant that his father put out a pay for play call for any schools recruiting him. Those close to me know well my hatred for the SEC.
I grew up about 20 minutes from the University of Notre Dame. For 22 years of my life I lived in the media bubble that is Notre Dame football. I witnessed the local sportscasters and their perspective that the school, and more specifically, the football team, could do no wrong. No matter how bad the team was, even during the dark days of Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, those guys were always talking national title. I grew weary of this extreme case of homerism.
The other thing that was prevalent around the area was an “holier than thou” attitude in regards to the football program. Academic standards, graduation rates, model citizenship were, and still are, all tossed around in regards to the Catholic institution’s football team. They may have had their struggles, but, as supporters would say, by god, they ran a cleaner football program than all those parolee SEC schools that sat at the top of AP rankings. For the most part, this was true. Sure, every now and then a rumor would surface (that would, of course, never be touched by the local sportscasters – that would be blasphemy against this great university!) that the school may have been a little lax with the grades of certain players so they could stay eligible, but on most counts it seemed to live up to its squeaky clean appearance.
When I was in college, a funny thing started to happen though. More rumors about the football program came out. I’m not talking about special academic treatment of players, I’m talking about deeper issues. Some include bar fights and alleged police assault, but others go even further and darker. When Brian Kelly took over the reigns of the program, these rumors reached all time highs, not only in number, but in darkness. These ‘issues’ never reached mainstream media though. The university’s PR program, the machine that it is, found ways to bury them. And for all the blind Irish supporters out there that want to say those rumors were unfounded and that’s the reason they never saw the light of day, I’ll reply with this: I’m in PR. I know that world and yes, what I just stated about the burial is exactly what happened.
This hypocritical nature that I sensed from the University was very bothersome. People around the country seemed to think this program and university were leading collegiate authorities on morality. I was pretty disgusted. Then in December, I finally saw it. A blog post in a leading national media outlet discussing some of Notre Dame’s dark issues. Even better, it was written by Melissa Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumni, writing for The Washington Post. Her post includes a link to an earlier story, written by her in March 2012, about some of the incidents I referred to earlier. Those incidents are sexual assault and rape, both reportedly tied to the football program and Irish players. Investigations into the incidents were conducted, but one of the victims is now deceased after committing suicide following the act and the other, as Henneberger put it, “decided to keep her mouth shut at least in part because she’d seen what happened to the first victim.” So the men thought to be responsible, and reported to be tied to the football team, were never charged with crimes. I’d love to say who one of the rumored players was, but don’t want to face a libel charge, so I can’t do that. I’ll simply say this, he’s gone on to bigger and better things than Notre Dame football.
One incident involving Notre Dame football that did receive a good deal of national attention was the 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, the team’s videographer. Sullivan was recording practice on a day in October 2010 from the top of a hydraulic lift tower, which was reported to be around 50 feet in the air. It’s common practice for football teams to record practice like this from a perspective this high. What’s not so common is to do so during a windstorm. Winds that day reached over 50 miles per hour. The tower Sullivan was recording from fell over, resulting in his death. What business did Coach Kelly have 1. having his team out in those conditions and 2. having Sullivan atop the tower?…
So back to the BCS title game. I’m left to choosing between Alabama, a team from a conference which I despise, and Notre Dame, an hypocritical program, one which I’ve grown to despise everything about. The answer to the question is actually not as difficult as I initially made it out to be earlier in this post.
Every college football program has its shadows, that’s for sure, but Notre Dame’s are of a different nature, dare I say a Penn State type nature? I mean, sexual assault, rape, suicide, wouldn’t you put those things on the same level as child molestation? I’m a Penn State fan and was disgusted by what went on there. I’m just as disgusted by Notre Dame. Sure, it’s very possible that there are bad stories about ‘Bama’s football team that could be told by someone who grew up 20 minutes outside Tuscaloosa. I don’t know those stories. I do know Notre Dame’s. Tonight’s decision is easy for me.
By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york