I’ve been thinking about Notre Dame football from the management analyst point of view recently. There are few key areas a management analyst looks at right off the bat. How healthy is the organization? Is it obtaining and developing the available talent? Who are the other direct market competitors? And, what’s the value proposition of the organization? I think these questions give us important perspective on the state of Notre Dame football.
For Notre Dame this a real strength, which hasn’t been the case in a long while. Under Coach Kelly’s leadership, the football team has turned the corner and can now realistically be considered a national level program. That’s a big deal. In the Ty Willingham years – and certainly during the Charlie Weis era – Notre Dame fielded a football team every year. But the overarching tenets of a program were sorely lacking. Now talk of “fit” and “culture” permeate the Gug. Corey Robinson’s run for student government notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear what Kelly and Co. are looking for in student-athlete and that clear sense of focus has paid off for the Irish. Consistently high recruiting rankings, increased depth on the two-deep, and players who truly “bought-in” lead to a really impressive 10-3 season last year in spite of the well documented rash of injuries.
Building off the solidified program identity, the available talent pool has also come into better focus. But let’s be clear: Going after guys that “fit” the program hasn’t limited ND’s recruiting footprint. Conversely, one could make the case that with a renewed understanding of the ideal Notre Dame player, the ability to recruit on a national level has increased. Like Stanford – or Duke basketball – there’s a smaller pool of players who fit the profile than for the average school, but there also only a handful of programs (or fewer) that can offer what the Irish do on the field and in the classroom. Just ask Steve Elmer.
So who is Notre Dame competing against? Regionally, Ohio State and Michigan are the prime competition. Both schools rank well academically, recruit nationally to cold weather environments, and have excellent coaches who have a clear understanding of what it takes to sustain programmatic success. Stanford and USC also fall within the universe of “direct market competitors.” Like Notre Dame, these private schools offer exceptional academic opportunities as well as non-football career opportunities. Southern Cal has an on-field tradition to compete with the Irish (not as rich, but nothing to brush off either) and Stanford can make a case that it’s the finest university in the world. SC’s coaching tumult aside, the local talent pool alone will keep the Trojans in the market, and so long as David Shaw is in Palo Alto (investing in virtual reality companies), the Cardinal are going to be primary competitors.
I’ll let Elmer speak to this on behalf of Notre Dame, “While playing football for Notre Dame has been nothing short of an honor, I have been presented with an incredible opportunity to pursue a career doing something in which I have great interest, and at a great company to boot. The experience of balancing Notre Dame’s academic rigors with my football commitments has given me a great foundation for my next endeavor.” In addition to Elmer’s endorsement – one that every mom will love – Notre Dame trailed only Ohio State in players invited to this year’s NFL combine.
In Part 2 of this assessment I’ll get into more quantitative analysis: How has ND fared in directing recruiting competitions? Graduation rates? Off-field behavior? And actual football wins and losses compared to its direct market competitors?