An Interview with Notre Dame Athletic Director
Michael Wadsworth talks in regards to conference alignment.
September 16, 1998
Q. What’s the background of Notre Dame’s current discussions with the Big Ten Conference?
A. Notre Dame was approached by the commissioner of the Big Ten, Jim Delany, wanting us to explore the prospect of membership in the conference. At that time, we made known to him our position that we were very pleased with our association with the BIG EAST Conference for those sports that compete as part of that league. We’ve been very successful when you look at our three years of competition there. We’ve been very comfortable in terms of our identification with the schools in the BIG EAST. In addition, and we’ve said this very consistently, we prize the independence of our football program.
Q. Can you compare the decision to move the men’s basketball program to a conference setting with the possibility of doing the same thing for football?
A. When we moved the men’s basketball program from independence to conference membership, it was because we were having difficulty scheduling and because we wanted the advantage of having greater television exposure, not only because of the financial rewards but also because of the exposure for the purpose of recruiting. When it comes to recruiting in basketball, you can tell a much better story when you talk about the prestige of the conference, the level of the competition, the major population centers you are playing in, the television exposure — all those things we felt we needed to assist us in recruiting in men’s basketball.
However, none of that applies to football. First, we have no difficulty at all in filling our football schedule. We could literally fill in every date through 2011 if we simply accepted all the proposals out there right now. Second, we have no issues with respect to television. We have one of the unique television properties in the country and we have extended that relationship with NBC Sports to 2005. Just prior to the most recent extension, we knew that other networks were very anxious to have an opportunity to secure our football rights if we were to open it up for bidding. So every indication we’ve received is that the opportunity to continue this distinctive television situation will be there. Thirdly, our alumni are national — and even international — and we very much want to play a national schedule to serve their interest as well as to assist us as far as our recruiting efforts which are also national.
All those factors, which have been part of our traditional stance, were made known to the Big Ten going into this process. They understand our position and have simply said that they would like to talk to us about what the future holds and that they feel they have some things which would be of great interest to us. With the dynamics of intercollegiate athletics, it’s important that we hold true to our principles and we have a clear idea of what is valuable to us. It’s equally important that we continue to have our eyes open and that we learn and that we not be afraid of considering new information. That’s really what this opportunity means to us.
If we make no change at all we will have benefited greatly from our exchange with the Big Ten. The exchange has been a very open, candid and forthright exchange of information, including discussion about what the future may hold for intercollegiate athletics in this country. All that is very beneficial to us.
Q. How will this decision ultimately be made by the University?
A. The issue is not going to be determined on the basis of financial considerations. We have not completed our analysis to date, but from every indication, the financial considerations are not significant in one direction or another. In a sense, it would be a lot easier if it came down to financial considerations because you could do the math, have the answer and be done with it.
Instead it’s a more interesting but challenging consideration, and it is a University decision in which the University will be considering what its mission will be going into the future and how the athletic department can best serve and support that mission. Can that be accomplished better by remaining as we are with the football program independent or by folding the football program into a conference, whether it be the Big Ten or another conference? That decision can only be arrived at on a consultative basis by the interested constituencies within the University.
Q. What’s the timing of the Big Ten situation?
A. We in the athletic department have received all the information we need. There may only be points of clarification to arise as we further analyze the material. We think we will very soon be in a position to start the consultative process on campus, and we would hope this matter would come to a conclusion one way or another in the first quarter of the new year.
Q. Why did the University elect not to settle the Joe Moore suit before it went to trial?
A. Both parties were urged by the judge to pursue an out-of-court settlement, and the University made good-faith efforts to do so. The plaintiff requested a settlement of $1.3 million and was never willing to negotiate from that number. The University felt it had not discriminated on the basis of age, and that a settlement involving that amount of money was never realistic. Had the University settled for that $1.3 million figure, it then likely would have faced the prospect of even more damaging charges of paying hush money to cover up the entire matter.
Q. What has come from the publicity resulting from the Joe Moore and Kim Dunbar matters this past summer?
A. We are very sorry that all of our Notre Dame communities, alumni and supporters have had to endure this unwanted publicity. It has raised a lot of important questions and they are questions we must answer.
One question revolves around what we have learned from the Joe Moore lawsuit. From a practical point of view, with any new head coach coming to Notre Dame, if any staff changes are contemplated, that head coach should have the benefit of some instruction and guidance from our human resource experts. Equally important, a second person should be present for any discussion occurring with respect to terminating a member of the staff. Just because of this one lawsuit we do not expect this to be a continuing problem within our department. Nonetheless, if we had taken these safeguards, a true picture of what occurred with regard to Joe Moore would be clear.
Second, it has been made clear that actions of physical abuse as described in the Moore case will be subject to instant dismissal. Equally important, the failure to bring forward information of such actions, knowing that they would be bringing about a dismissal, also will bring about dismissal.
By far the most important lesson we learned in the Joe Moore case is the same one we learned from the matter involving Kim Dunbar. The reason the lessons are the same is that there’s a common theme that goes beyond the factual details. Each of these matters has a long tail on it. Each of them goes back five or six years. That is the major problem and it’s a major problem for a couple of different reasons. It gives rise to the question of why wasn’t anything done earlier. How could these things be going on and no action taken? What has been made clear is that what we must have is a much more open environment, so that head coaches will bring matters to the administration, assistant coaches and student-athletes will bring matters to the head coach and feel free — if necessary — to bring them to the administration.
Q. How can relationships between coaches and student-athletes be enhanced by this open environment?
A. Bob Davie — long before the lawsuit itself was tried this summer — had started to create this sort of environment of his own volition. It is his management style to work closely with his entire staff and in doing so he has established the norms by which they shall be evaluated annually. They include the usual progress made in terms of on-field performance, the recruiting efforts and the success rate of the individual coach and, maybe most importantly, an evaluation of the individual staff members with respect to the personal development of the student-athletes that he coaches. Personal development will take a look at academic progress, lifestyle issues — and any potential difficulties that the young person may be experiencing in one way or another.
The coach is in a unique position to be a positive influence on that individual. There is a great focus being put on the role of teacher that they play and that is being emphasized through that being one of the key factors in their evaluation. This is something that we have enumerated in the job description of our head coaches, so they know they are being held accountable for how their assistants handle this area. For them to be able to succeed in these areas, it means they will be spending more time with the players, they’ll be talking tothem about these subjects. The more they are spending time with them, the more they are talking about these subjects, the more the coaches will be learning about potential problems on a timely basis. That then gives us an opportunity to give support when support is necessary or to act decisively when decisive action is required. You will never eliminate mistakes or problems. But if we can position ourselves in a way in which people will be held accountable, and we’re in a position to act in a very timely matter, then we’ll be able to diffuse what could be potentially volatile situations.