Former Notre Dame all-american running back Jerome Bettis says the Notre Dame tradition is a crutch and it is time to make changes for Notre Dame to take the next step towards winning a national championship. Bettis, also a key member of Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XL champions, specifically cited historic Notre Dame Stadium as a target for needed renovation.
The university announced plans for a $400 million stadium renovation back in January but details, at least in terms of how it affected the stadium experience on football Saturdays were not available then. At the time of the announcement Notre Dame focused on the academic additions being made to the stadium but over the past four months details have emerged. Count Bettis as one who supports the changes and sees them changes as progress, not erosion of tradition.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “We want things to stay the same, but, unfortunately, the dynamics of college athletics has changed. And so we’ve got to kind of level the playing field. Right now we’re behind the curve. Usually, your tradition is a benefit. But in our particular situation, it’s a crutch, because the kids who are coming out of high school now haven’t seen Notre Dame in its truest luster and in its moment.”
Thus, for the first time in the history of Notre Dame the Fighting Irish will not be playing on natural grass as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced in April that Notre Dame Stadium was switching to field turf. This bit of news upset some traditionalists who had hoped Notre Dame would never move from a grass playing surface. Although to call it grass would be a stretch. The field conditions in 2013 were atrocious as the Fighting Irish played on something akin to a sand lot. Keeping the grass alive has long been a struggle for the university, who prefer to use the stadium for other events as well.
Bettis understands the pain of the traditionalists but deems the changes as a necessary step towards greater relevance. The Fighting Irish had not contended for a national championship for two decades before head coach Brian Kelly took Notre Dame to the BCS Title game in January 2013. The former Irish great sees these changes as a necessary step to keeping the Irish in title contention for years to come.
“Obviously, it’s going to rub some people the wrong way, but I think it’s necessary. If they love the university, like we all do, they should understand that it’s time to grow and build. I think this is the right thing to do.”
Kelly and Bettis were in Chicago along with Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz for a charity golf tournament that raises money for the different charities of the three Fighting Irish coaches. Kelly also weighed in on the topic of change and provided a preview of what the stadium will look.
The Fighting Irish head coach revealed there would be an interlocking ND at the 50-yard line of the stadium and a shamrock on both 30-yard lines, where teams kick off. The end zone will continue to feature the white vertical strips that Notre Dame Stadium has featured for years.
Kelly also indicated that the stadium would feature video boards and improved broad band capabilities. A jumbo tron has been hinted at for some time now but Kelly stopped short of confirming that. The Irish head coach is on record as saying he is in favor of a jumbotron but as with the field turn Swarbrick and the university have tip-toed around this subject, neither confirming nor denying the possibility.
Bettis’ statement about the Notre Dame tradition being a crutch was clearly held by others. Now a university steeped in tradition and history appear to be throwing that crutch away.
Commentary By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering Notre Dame Football
South Bend Tribune