Notre Dame AD rips Pitt hierarchy for protecting its own interests
Speaking to the media Monday, Todd Graham commented on Pitt's disappointing loss Saturday to Iowa and the university's move to the ACC conference from the Big East.
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The action will be fierce when Notre Dame visits Pitt Saturday at Heinz Field.
The game should be good, too.
I'm thinking the interaction between Notre Dame officials, including athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson in the luxury suites will be much more interesting than anything that happens on the lawn, although I'm not so sure they will come within a football field of each other. You've heard of teams that don't like each other? How about administrators with a bad case of hard feelings?
Swarbrick wasn't the harshest critic of the decision last weekend by Pitt and Syracuse to bail on the Big East Conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. That was Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who, if I'm understanding his comments to CBSSports.com correctly, accused Nordenberg and Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor of "lying" and "being disloyal."
But Swarbrick wasn't far behind. He told USA Today: "I don't understand it. How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you're affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it? I'd like to know how much of these discussions are: What's right? What is the best thing for the larger enterprise, and how many other schools would be adversely impacted?" Swarbrick went on to criticize Nordenberg for taking a leadership position in fighting to keep the Big East together and "with no notice to anybody, abandoning it. That's hard to understand in the context of an industry in which collegiality and integrity are supposed to be such key parts."
There is brass.
And then there is brass.
It's pretty hard to get too upset with Marinatto. His conference was left for dead as a football league with the Pitt and Syracuse defections. Of course, he's going to be bitter. Beyond that, blaming someone else is a lot easier than looking in the mirror and seeing a weak leader staring back, a weak leader who showed no signs of being able to keep the Big East together. Michael Tranghese and Dave Gavitt -- great Big East commissioners before him -- he is not.
But offensive and preposterous don't even begin to describe Swarbrick's remarks. How dare he criticize any other university's leadership for looking after its school's best interests? He and his Notre Dame bosses aren't the least bit interested in any "larger enterprise." They care only about Notre Dame's bottom line. That doesn't make them wrong or bad people. Any of us in their position would do the same thing. But it does make Swarbrick a hypocrite. I repeat: How dare he?
The Big East has been good to Notre Dame. It has given it a home for its men's and women's basketball teams and its Olympic sports teams while allowing it to keep its independent status in football. That's enabled Notre Dame to retain all of its television money from its NBC contract instead of dividing it evenly with conference partners. Remember, the Notre Dame leaders are stone cold, bottom-line people. Clearly, they don't like to share.
If Notre Dame officials cared about the Big East, they could have saved it by joining as a football member. If that had happened, there's no doubt the Big East would be a heavyweight in the college game. Pitt and Syracuse wouldn't have left. Other schools -- maybe, just maybe, even Penn State -- would be fighting to join. That's the clout that Notre Dame has.
I know, that's hard for a lot of people to believe. Notre Dame has been a mostly mediocre program for nearly two decades. It's been embarrassing, actually, considering its marvelous history and the built-in advantages that go with it. When was its most recent national championship? When Knute Rockne was coach? OK, Lou Holtz was in charge, but it was 23 years ago, in 1988. Since 1994, Notre Dame has won exactly two bowl games.
But Notre Dame still is Notre Dame. Right or wrong, it remains a magical name. That's why Heinz Field will be sold out Saturday for one of the few times for a Pitt game since it opened in 2001. People still turn on their television to watch Notre Dame play, although just as many hate it and want to see it lose as love it and want a win.
It's likely Swarbrick is mad at Pitt and Syracuse because the Big East breakup and the inevitable arrival of the college football super conferences could force Notre Dame to join a league. The Big Ten Conference, which has wanted it for years, would seem to be the natural fit, but there has been growing speculation that Notre Dame could be headed to -- how's this for coincidence? -- the ACC. Notre Dame officials want people to believe it cares about academics when it comes to its sports teams and it probably would love to be able to put its name in the same sentence with Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, although it hasn't seemed to have any problems being associated with West Virginia in a basketball league, has it?
There's that word again:
I requested an interview with Swarbrick this week to ask about all of this. I was told by a university spokesman that he would not be available. That's my loss -- and yours.
Just in case Notre Dame doesn't end up in the ACC, you should enjoy the game Saturday because it might be the final one in the Notre Dame-Pitt series. Games between the two are scheduled through 2016, but either side could terminate the agreement. It's hard to imagine Swarbrick and the others at Notre Dame wanting to continue to play a university that's headed by such a dishonorable man, Nordenberg.
I want to gag. Like Notre Dame is so pure. What garbage.
First Published September 23, 2011 12:00 am