12/12/09

Brian Kelly and Notre Dame's Moral Muddle in the Huddle


Note the lack of a Notre Dame logo on Jesus's jersey!
Some people, universities, and religions are (apparently) shameless. University of Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly announced that he is leaving his post to accept a position at Notre Dame University. His announcement comes just three weeks before his undefeated team is scheduled to appear in the Sugar Bowl—the biggest event in the history of U of C football.

I find football a colossal bore and the only Sugar Bowl I care about is the one in my kitchen closet. As an educator, I do, however, care about young people and I know that for the young men on Kelly’s team the Sugar Bowl is a very big deal indeed. What manner of heartless egocentrism must lurk in Kelly’s soul? Call him the Grinch who stole New Year’s Day. What--this announcement couldn’t wait until the day after the big game? It is, simply, reprehensible for Kelly to betray those young men on the eve of what should be their greatest moment of glory.

I am not so na├»ve as to accuse Kelly of violating the spirit of college athletics. It’s been decades since college football embodied amateurism and good sportsmanship. College football is soaked in cash and under the current logic Kelly is entitled to gobble down a big slice of Money Pie. U of C wide receiver Mardy Gilyard pulled no punches when he summed up Kelly’s decision: “He went for the money.” I hope everyone remembers that the next time a star player leaves school early to pursue a professional career. Like role model, like player. But, again, what’s the rush? Why didn’t Kelly just shake hands behind closed doors and hold the press conference later? To unravel the root of our sordid tale we turn our attention to a more vile cast: the athletics department and administration at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame used to claim it was a “special place” where character, integrity, and morality mattered. I guess those things all presupposed winning football seasons, because none of those high-toned principles were in play in the Kelly hiring. Desperate to revitalize faith in its true god, football, Notre Dame put out feelers to raid a high-profile coach from another program. Brian Kelly fit the bill for being sufficiently morally compromised. Notre Dame pushed for an early announcement so that it could get maximum press coverage. (It wouldn’t get it any other way as Notre Dame isn’t going to a bowl game and reporters will be busy with those schools that are competing.) If Notre Dame officials had any qualms about breaking the hearts of young men at the University of Cincinnati, they sure haven’t voiced them. The decision must have taken place in the same hierarchical Roman Catholic circles that decide that bishops should damn women demanding abortion rights while sweeping a pedophile priest scandal under the rug.

God probably cares about football even less than I, but maybe God should. May God bless the University of Cincinnati with a Sugar Bowl victory under its interim head coach, and may God smite Brian Kelly-led Notre Dame teams with miserable seasons for each of the five years of his contract.

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