Columnists are having a field day with Notre Dame, in the wake of Tyrone Willingham's dismissal as head coach.
One wonders in these situations what is really going on. Here are two pieces which help cut through the fog. Skip Bayless defends Notre Dame, arguing that their mistake was in hiring Willingham, who Bayless has long believed to be an ordinary coach. Roy S. Johnson is less charitable towards the school. What stands out in his column is this observation on Notre Dame's exclusive TV contract:
Last December, NBC re-upped with Notre Dame, signing through 2010, despite seeing the ratings for Irish games plummet from an average of 6.2 million households in 1993 to just 2.63 million homes last season. Whether network officials grumbled this fall isn't known, but the potential impact of diminishing ratings could not have been far from the minds of those who decided Willingham's fate last week.
There is an important economic aspect of this issue. Notre Dame's history and tradition are unique - the contract with NBC testifies to that. But if Notre Dame fails to maintain its position as the Yankees of college football, the contract's value will evaporate. So the school will do whatever it can, and even risk allegations of racism, to cling to its perch at the top. But Notre Dame won't pay players (Holtz is long gone), and has not matched the competition in spending on facilities to attract top recruits.
The TV contract raises the stakes for Notre Dame, and the margin they are focused on is the coach. The head coach at Notre Dame stands to be the principal beneficiary of the TV contract, since the school must pay what it deems necessary to maintain the contract's value.
John Gruden makes $4m coaching the Tampa Bay Bucs. I used to regard talk of him returning to South Bend as ludicrous, but now I'm not so sure.