Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI
Here is my 10-point plan to rejuvenate the Fighting Irish:
1. Lower academic standards -- at least occasionally -- for select recruits: We begin with this because it's the ultimate deal-breaker. I'm no fan of devaluing the brand of the university for football success, but if Notre Dame wants to compete for national titles, this has to happen.
2. Join the Big Ten: The NBC contract and the BCS exemptions are great, but they're going to evaporate if 6-6 seasons are the norm. Joining the Big East would make more sense for recruiting; that conference has a wider recruiting footprint that would allow the Irish to play regular games in Tampa, Fla., Pittsburgh and Piscataway, N.J. It also would allow Notre Dame's other programs to stay in the same conference. But joining the Big Ten would make that conference the nation's most powerful, and it would allow the Irish to play Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue every year. It also would allow the conference to play a championship game, which may be a necessity now that Ohio State's consecutive BCS title game losses have harmed the league's reputation. Also, a switch to the Big Ten could help Notre Dame's already excellent men's basketball team by getting it out of the top-heavy Big East.
3. That said, use your power to set the divisions: Hop into a division with the two Michigan schools, Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. Make Purdue the fixed opponent from the other division. That would eliminate the possibility of annual meetings with Ohio State and Penn State. The other schools will complain, but when they start getting the checks from the new TV contract, they'll welcome Notre Dame with open arms.
4. Keep up the neutral-site games: No team is a better neutral-site draw than Notre Dame, and, the Irish should continue to play non-conference games against beatable opponents in recruiting hotbeds. Next year, Notre Dame will play Washington State in San Antonio. In 2010 and 2011, the Irish will play Army in Chicago and then Orlando, Fla. Bring the band and try to sell any recruit who might be watching the best approximation of the Notre Dame Experience, which remains one of college football's most special.
5. Drop the arrogance: Whether Charlie Weis stays or goes, it's time the CEO of the football program realizes that the faith that rules Notre Dame considers pride a deadly sin. Be nice to the boosters, big-money or not, and stay humble in press conferences and on the recruiting trail. Ara never would have used the phrase "decided schematic advantage." Remember that.
6. Find a few recruiting hot spots and concentrate on them: The days of recruiting nationally are over. Set up bases in Southern California, Houston and South Florida and saturate those areas with assistants. Players from similar backgrounds will have a support system even though they're far from home, and high school coaches in those areas will send more players to South Bend.
7. Mow the field at Notre Dame Stadium: If you're going to recruit superior athletes, you can't make them feel like extras wandering between the cornstalks in Field of Dreams. Either keep it short or invest in FieldTurf.
8. Put the Jeweled Shillelagh away for a while: Nothing exposes Notre Dame's talent deficiencies more than the annual bloodletting against USC. Play the Trojans twice every six years as a nod to tradition, but stay away from an annual rivalry until USC hits another down cycle.
9. If you need regular nonconference opponents, consider, Duke, Stanford and Vanderbilt: Notre Dame already would play Northwestern on an annual basis, and beating the teams who recruit from the same pool of players would allow the Irish to pluck the best of the brainiacs. Even if the school allows a few academic exceptions, Notre Dame still will need to draw the best from this group to create depth.
10. Never, ever wear the green jerseys again: Does this really require an explanation?