Nocera and Collins

Mr. Nocera has a question in “Notre Dame’s Big Bluff:”  Would the Fighting Irish ever really abandon football?  To which I reply:  So what, and who cares?  Ms. Collins tells us that “Rick Perry Meets His Alamo,” and that the Republican presidential candidate is gone, and there may not be another chance to point out the names of his right boot and left boot.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Has there ever been a university whose success was more dependent on football than Notre Dame?

Go back to the 1920s, when this middling Catholic school near South Bend, Ind., was a household name because the radio networks all broadcast Notre Dame football games. Notre Dame football had Knute Rockne, the legendary coach, and Grantland Rice’s “Four Horsemen.”

Its football team was even the subject of movies: “Knute Rockne — All American” in 1940 (with Ronald Reagan playing George Gipp) and, 53 years later, “Rudy.”

“The whole south campus of the school was built with football money,” says Murray Sperber, who has written extensively about Notre Dame football. That the University of Notre Dame today is a big, important, wealthy school — ranked 18th among national universities in the latest U.S. News and World Report survey, with the 12th largest endowment — is directly attributable to football.

Has there ever been a university savvier about the commercial possibilities of football than Notre Dame?

In 1990, Notre Dame stunned the college sports establishment by signing a five-year, $38 million deal with NBC, making it the only football program in history to have its own network deal. The most recent contract extension reportedly calls for Notre Dame to be paid $15 million a year until 2025. In 2014, it signed a 10-year deal with Under Armour worth more than $90 million — a deal that, amazingly, includes stock in the high-flying sports apparel company.

To this day, a Notre Dame football game is a unique marketing tool, which university executives are happy to use when trying to lure a new faculty member or land a sizable donation.

Thus, my first reaction upon reading in The Times that the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, was threatening to leave big-time college football if the athletes gained the right to be paid, was to scoff.

Jenkins told The Times’s Dan Barry that despite the revenue generated by Notre Dame football, he didn’t feel “some demand of justice” that players be paid; rather, he said, an education was “more valuable than however much money we might give you.” He described paying players as “a semipro model” and said that if it came to pass, Notre Dame would decline to participate and would start its own conference with like-minded schools.

But would it really? Would Notre Dame actually turn its back on something as central to the university’s identity just because it would have to pay a handful of its students?

Back in the 1940s, according to Sperber, the Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell, then Notre Dame’s president, said that athletic scholarships were a form of pay that had become a “cankerous sore” in intercollegiate football. But when push came to shove, the Fighting Irish gave athletic scholarships.

Just before the Times story ran, Northwestern University’s president emeritus, Henry Bienen, made remarks similar to Jenkins’s in a Bloomberg View column.

I think Jenkins and Bienen are aiming their remarks not just at the public, but also at the California appeals court that will soon decide whether to uphold a lower court’s decision in the Ed O’Bannon case. That decision calls for players to be paid up to $5,000, which wouldn’t exactly break the bank.

I also think they are bluffing. Not long ago, the University of Alabama at Birmingham — a nobody in football terms — tried to cancel football butquickly reinstated it after a huge outcry. Can you imagine what Notre Dame would face if it de-emphasized football?

And if Jenkins is not bluffing, well, so what? There are a lot of people in academia — and in America, for that matter — who believe that major college sports detract from the true purpose of a university. If paying players is the tipping point for Notre Dame and Northwestern, the moment they can no longer stomach the thoroughly commercial enterprise they are involved in, then de-emphasizing sports is probably the right choice.

The Ivy League schools were once major football powers, too; but, unlike Notre Dame, they chose not to grant athletic scholarships in the mid-1950s, and in so doing, collectively de-emphasized football. They haven’t looked back since.

Here’s another thought, though. Why does Jenkins assume that there are only these two choices: pay the players or drop out of the big time? No court is ever going to force a university to pay players; the most a court would do is eliminate the current price-fixing model and allow schools to pay if they so choose.

If Notre Dame truly believes that the education it offers is more valuable than money, that alone should be enough to lure real “student-athletes” who value education and “doing the right thing.” Athletes would have a choice: take cash and a joke education from a major conference football factory, or get a real education from Notre Dame or Northwestern.

C’mon, Notre Dame. What are you afraid of?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Rick Perry — out!

The new glasses apparently didn’t do the trick.

The former governor of Texas threw in the towel on Friday and the Republican race is now totally lacking in candidates who claimed to have shot a coyote while jogging.

His departure is a crushing blow for those of us who have already put in the time to read “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” in which Perry announced that Americans were tired of being bossed around and being told “how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house” and “what kind of cars we can drive.”

I will not even have the opportunity to point out that Washington doesn’t actually tell us any of those things.

And now the loser debate on Wednesday will only feature four candidates, one of them George Pataki.

We make fun of presidential debates, for excellent reasons. But you will remember that at this time four years ago, Rick Perry was at the top of the polls. Way ahead of the pack. Then one “Oops” and an entire major-league political career was ruined forever.

Does anybody out there remember the answer he flubbed? If he became president he was going to cut back on the cabinet, eliminating education, commerce and, what was that? Oh, yes! — energy. The Department of Energy is still with us, but the presidential candidate is no more.

Adieu, Rick Perry, adieu.

“We have a tremendous field of candidates, probably the greatest group of men and women,” he overstated in his farewell address. “I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, as long as we listen to the grass roots, listen to the cause of conservatism.”

Just so long as the roots don’t vote for Donald Trump. Rick Perry really hates Donald Trump. And maybe this could be the start of a Trump downswing. Maybe if five or six other people quit, the voters will start to get focused and look at the polls like a homeowner waking up from a drunken bender and noticing a car in the living room.

As a presidential candidate in 2015, Perry’s only talent seemed to be getting money from very rich acquaintances. His political action committee still had cash, but it wasn’t allowed to coordinate with the candidate, or give his campaign any of its money. By the end Perry had no staff, and he was wandering like a Labrador retriever being pulled around by a helium balloon attached to his collar.

Now we’ll no longer have to wonder about whether it’d be constitutionally problematic to have a ticket composed of Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Hehehehehe.

My favorite Perry memory is and always has been a 2010 interview he did when he was governor with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune. Smith expressed some doubts about the state’s policy of strongly encouraging abstinence-only sex education in the public schools.

Perry insisted things were going great.

Smith pointed out that Texas had one of the worst rates of teenage pregnancy in the country.

“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” Perry said doggedly.

Always wanted to hear the back story on that one. Now I guess we’ll never know.

Perry was governor for 14 years — he inherited the job when George W. Bush got promoted — and his entire career as a presidential candidate was based on promising to do for the United States what he did for Texas. According to his telling, the state’s economic success was based entirely on low taxes and low regulation, as opposed to being a huge, underdeveloped chunk of the Sunbelt sitting on top of a mass of oil deposits.

When you look at a booming state and wonder why it’s doing so well, the answer is almost never the governor.

But Texas has certainly done better than most of the country when it comes to job growth. If that wasn’t good enough to get even a twitch of interest from the public this time around, what does it say about others in the field? Jeb Bush’s success in Florida was mainly about a real estate bubble and Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana … wow.

So Rick Perry’s gone for good. We will never have another chance to point out that he named his boots “Freedom” and “Liberty.”

We will never again hear him explain why he thinks it would be an excellent idea to eliminate the popular election of U.S. senators and let the great minds in the state legislatures do the choosing. Although that could come up anyway. Several other candidates have the same conviction.

What a weird year.

And thank the FSM that she’s back from book leave to comment on it!


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