There are many adjectives that could be used to describe the University of Notre Dame. Leadership. Excellence. Community. All are worthy descriptors. Despite the high achievements of the university, however, there is one area where Notre Dame still occasionally struggles.
Take a stroll through online college message boards and it isn’t uncommon to see well-intentioned prospective college students submitting inquiries as to whether or not Notre Dame is an uptight institution completely devoid of entertainment or fun. Sadly, such instances occasionally fall onto the positive side of Notre Dame’s image spectrum.
If the phrase “Notre Dame arrogance” is searched on Google, 451,000 results appear. With such a high return it should come as no surprise that websites such as notredamesucks.org are in existence, let alone that they sell merchandise (sadly, no coffee mugs). Blogs and message boards routinely blast the Fighting Irish, often in unique ways. One entertaining piece assigned every major college football program as a character from the hit television show “The Simpsons.” And, if the University of Notre Dame were a Simpsons character, who would they be?
Mr. Burns, of course.
The Fighting Irish were described as old, wealthy, and hated by the entire college football community, with one commentator complaining that only Notre Dame would be elitist enough to begin every fourth quarter with the marching band blaring Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Notre Dame’s image issues extend beyond Internet comment section attacks, with more recognizable outlets taking aim as well. The Bleacher Report released an article in 2012 titled “20 Reasons Why College Football Fans Hate Notre Dame”, though the second reason, “Seriously, Why Won’t They Just Go Away,” is my personal favorite.
Notre Dame’s image battle is real, and it’s reflected in the experiences from visiting high school football recruits. Even recruits who signed with Notre Dame have admitted initial reluctance to visit the university, only to fall in love with the institution upon doing so. To reference former head coach Lou Holtz’s famous quote describing the uniqueness of Notre Dame, “If you’ve been here, no explanation is necessary. If you haven’t been, no explanation will suffice.”
It stands to reason that creating an attractive environment for recruits is an important element for talent acquisition, and erasing the notion that Notre Dame is uptight, elitist, and boring is paramount. Though it may seem hard to believe currently, at one point Notre Dame was a stylish destination for recruits, as former NFL great Randy Moss recently mentioned in an interview with Fox Sports. Moss stated Notre Dame “was my team” and that he dreamed of receiving a phone call from Holtz. South Bend has shown in the past it can be an attractive location for football talent, but how can it once again earn such a reputation?
Since current head coach Brian Kelly’s arrival in South Bend an interesting trend has emerged: Notre Dame has signed a number of recruits from high profile families. One glance at the Fighting Irish roster and it’s hard to miss the star power. NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson’s son, Corey, will be a sophomore wide receiver in 2014, and NBC cameras routinely panned to the NBA legend throughout Corey’s freshman season. Torii Hunter Jr., the son of MLB star and nine-time Golden Glove winner Torii Hunter, is expected to see significant playing time for Notre Dame this fall. Bon Jovi’s son Jesse is a walk-on at the cornerback position, and Bon Jovi is regularly spotted at Notre Dame events. Fifth-year safety Austin Collinsworth is the son of NBC Sunday Night Football broadcaster, Cris Collinsworth, and the Fighting Irish currently hold a commitment from 2015 offensive line recruit, Tristen Hodge, the nephew of longtime ESPN broadcaster, Merril Hoge.
While nearly every player mentioned was a worthy recruit with numerous scholarship offers – with several being elite recruits – the hoarding of celebrity star power is an interesting outcome. While it’s impossible to know whether Kelly is actively recruiting the sons of star professional athletes and entertainers to shake up Notre Dame’s image, the unorthodox idea would fit Kelly’s outside-the-box thinking. Kelly has previously mentioned he employed unique strategies to draw attention to the universities he represented as he climbed the coaching ladder, including utilizing up-tempo, explosive offenses to draw crowds (fans love high-scoring games) while at old coaching stops Central Michigan and Cincinnati. While Kelly does not need to worry about drawing fans to Notre Dame Stadium, purposefully targeting high-profile families could be an interesting and effective strategy to loosen up Notre Dame’s stiff image.
Recently, Cordell Broadus, a Class of 2015 Rivals 4-star wide receiver, tweeted his decision to cut his list of suitors down to a final five, with Notre Dame being tabbed as a finalist. What makes Broadus’ decision unique from others is his background as the son of famed rapper, Snopp Dogg. While Notre Dame faces extremely tough competition from the likes of Florida State, USC and UCLA, the fact the Irish made the final cut is an indicator Notre Dame’s image issues are improving.
Should Notre Dame manage to land Broadus, Brian Kelly could sell future recruits on the university’s newly discovered edge when introducing them to the likes of Snopp Dogg’s son, Bon Jovi’s son, and David Robinson’s son. Recruiting such high-profile star power would provide a strategic advantage and appeal the Fighting Irish have lacked since Randy Moss’ high school days, even if Brian Kelly would merely label it coincidence.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.