In 1988, Notre Dame and the Miami Hurricanes took to the field in a hotly contested game known as "Catholics vs. Convicts". The game was preceded by a fight in the entrance tunnel between the two teams; Notre Dame eventually won the game 31-30. The Irish went on to win the national title, and that game proved to be Miami's only loss of the season.
Twenty-two years later, Notre Dame has a new coach dealing with an identity crisis before his first game. Brian Kelly, a successful coach everywhere he's been, has to now face the reality that several of his key players were arrested for underage drinking. The South Bend Tribune has reported that up to 27 Notre Dame athletes are among the 44 persons detained from a party held into the morning of Saturday, July 17th.
This impacts the Irish football team immediately. Time will heal the damage to the other programs, but the football team is preparing for their upcoming schedule. Former coach Charlie Weis made positive impressions in the community, always working towards helping the needy. However, he was also known for defending and ignoring immature and inappropriate behavior.
Brian Kelly inherited the roster and has to face this problem head-on. Notre Dame football has an identity crisis that has been developing for years. The university is known for its Catholic identity, but has been gaining a negative reputation for the behavior of its athletes over the years. This new convict-type behavior has to be addressed by Kelly. The "Catholics vs. Convicts" label has taken on a new meaning. The athletes are young men and women who, in many cases, are getting a free education from one of the top universities in the nation. That free education comes with a charge of representing the university.
Notre Dame's first game is against dysfunctional Purdue, followed by a Michigan team that is also in an identity crisis. However, there is more at stake than just wins and losses with this recent behavior. Support, boosters, administrators, and public image all hang in the balance. Will Notre Dame demonstrate that the student comes before the athlete, or will new coach Kelly continue to allow the lack of discipline off the field that Weis did? Irish legend and beloved coach Lou Holtz was known for keeping a tight leash on the behavior of players off the field. The program has lacked a true identity since Holtz's tenure ended. Kelly has an opportunity to do the one thing other coaches have failed to do: clear up the identity crisis.
It seems fitting that this year's leading question is not whether the team will win, but whether the team builds the foundation necessary for success in the coming years. Brian Kelly: I do not envy your position. Good luck in this most difficult of tasks.