So long and thanks for all the Fighting Irish

This past weekend, the Lawrence University fencing team traveled to Notre Dame for the D-I Midwest Fencing Conference Championships (MFCC). Yeah, I know. We have a D-I fencing team at Lawrence? It makes sense that most Lawrentians wouldn’t know about us. We don’t have the largest budget or flashy competitions on campus. But when a school like Notre Dame shoves us under the rug, it’s disappointing.

I’ll explain. Due to the geographical location of Lawrence and fiscal constraints, the fencing team has a limited number of meets they can compete in during their season to acquire the necessary number of bouts for Midwest Conference and NCAA regional qualifications. Basically, if we don’t have enough matches, we don’t get a chance to compete later. In past years, these numbers were acquired through one meet at Notre Dame and one at Northwestern.

So when Notre Dame dropped us from their schedule weeks before the DeCicco duels, it really, really sucked. Had it not been for the hard work of our coaches and the generosity of Northwestern to make a place for us to participate in necessary matches, we would have been screwed. A glance at the DeCicco duels schedule elucidates our ejection. In Lawrence’s place, both OSU and Penn State are present, two teams that had been absent in Notre Dame duels in the past.

It makes sense and I can’t fault them for their logic. If you want to have no more than eight schools compete—let’s be real, one more referee is such a hassle—why not kick out the no-name school with about 1,500 students from the middle of Wisconsin? What are they going to do? They don’t have your recognition or resources. Gotta keep up the rankings, am I right?

Still, Notre Dame’s decision grated with me because I have certain expectations for what a private higher-education Catholic institution’s primary goals are. My mother works for the University of Incarnate Word, and their goal is to provide a solid and affordable education to first-generation college students. They help the underdogs rather than kicking them.

I had expected the same from Notre Dame, whose “Statement of Principles for Intercollegiate Athletics” commit them “to the unquestioned integrity of its athletics programs. All individuals involved, directly or indirectly, in the athletics enterprise must maintain and foster the values and goals associated with the University’s mission as a Catholic institution of higher education […] Notre Dame espouses Christian values and principles. These include the development of the human person—spirit as well as body—the pursuit of excellence in all endeavors, the nurturing of Christian character and the call to personal integrity and responsibility”

Therein lies the genesis of my anger. I have no reservations when I say that the Notre Dame athletes whom I interacted with have embodied these principles despite the high stakes that often accompany a sport where the participants beat each other with metal sticks. I wish the same was true for the administrators who seem to care more about numbers than decency. Thank God they are leaving the Midwest Conference.

Last year, Notre Dame announced they would be moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference while managing to keep their Football team independent. Coincidentally, ESPN noted that “Revenues from the ACC television deal with ESPN are likely to increase to as much as $18 million per school,” and “that the Notre Dame football TV deal with NBC is worth around $15 million per year.” The ACC offers more coverage, more money and, of course, rankings, something which Notre Dame seems to think matters only when it applies to them.

During the MFCC, one of my teammates was initially seeded 68th in the competition rather than her true ranking of 32nd due to a mix-up with last names. Fortunately, she caught it and reported it to the Notre Dame officials. Unfortunately, they didn’t care and refused to change it. We’re Lawrence University, after all.

I like to think that competition and proximity beget cooperation, as the Olympics’ purpose hints at. It does seem to work when it comes to athletes. I get along with those I fence against, but that message—nor Catholic values, for that matter—doesn’t seem to permeate to the administrative level. So maybe the move will be for the best. If they’re no longer the biggest fish in the pond, they might be forced to adapt. On the bright side, Notre Dame’s departure means the conference will need a new location and Lawrence University seems a good enough location for me.

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