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Does Notre Dame think the Midwest is doomed?
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June 06, 2013, 06:38 AM
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Notre Dame Fighting Irish
(I know this looks like I made
it up, but this logo is one of the
more valuable pieces of
intellectual property in the US)
  I realize that American college sports are a baffling topic for my foreign readers who make up a big fraction of my overnight audience. American college sports conferences are thus a particularly arcane subject, but they are actually of interest from a demographic / real estate investing perspective regarding which regions are likely long-term winners or losers.

Thus, this comment from long time reader "Drunk Idiot" about what he was told about why the University of Notre Dame is aligning itself with the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is centered in the South Atlantic states (e.g., the ACC`s most recent football champion is Florida State, 920 miles southeast of Notre Dame), is of broader interest.

It`s related to the firing of the president of Ohio State I noted earlier this week, but also says a lot about a Catholic institution with an impressive track record of betting right`s view of very long term trends in the U.S.
Background: Notre Dame has been the most legendary football college in the U.S. since the days of Knute Rockne and George Gipp (played by an insolent Ronald Reagan in this video), with Roman Catholic fans all around the country. Interestingly, it has used its football fame to raise its academic standards high enough that it has had trouble over the last quarter of a century competing at the very highest level. The word is that if today the football coach brought in the application of the quarterback who led ND to its last national championship in 1988, the Admissions Office would "set it on fire."
On the other hand, there are hints that college football might be able to support one or two academically upscale programs like Duke in basketball, with Notre Dame and Stanford vying for that role. Notre Dame went undefeated in last year`s regular season, but was shown up as an overachiever in the national championship game by the usual suspects from the Southeastern Conference.
Notre Dame is located in South Bend, an old, small industrial city in rural northern Indiana just south of the Michigan border. It`s 95 highway miles east of downtown Chicago.
Here`s a synopsis of the notoriously loquacious Notre Dame gadfly`s argument:  
The Big Ten is a Midwestern league, and Notre Dame views itself as an "East Coast" institution that just happens to be located in the Midwest. Notre Dame wants to maximize its East Coast visibility, and sees membership in the newly expanded ACC (Syracuse and Pittsburgh are new members) as the best way to accomplish that. 
What`s more, Notre Dame views the Midwest as a dying region that will suffer massive depopulation throughout the next century. And ethnic Catholic whites are one of the main demographic groups that are high tailing it out of the Midwest the fastest. But Catholics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in the Southeast: states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina either now have, or will soon have, more Catholics than historically heavily Catholic Ohio and Michigan.  
So Notre Dame thinks that disassociating itself from the sinking "Rust Belt" is a necessity if it intends to remain relevant for the next 100 years (which it definitely does intend to do). The university is so convinced that the Northeastern-Southeastern theater is the way forward that it`s even willing to ditch decades-long football commitments with some of its most storied, traditional rivals (and wouldn`t you know it, after Notre Dame announced that it was joining the ACC, the Irish backed out of future games with historic football rivals Michigan and Michigan St.).  
But despite Notre Dame`s now less-than-advantageous Midwestern location, the university has an enormous national following -- particularly in the New York market -- and is uniquely positioned to ditch its old ties, and to start anew in the the increasingly dynamic (and real estate intensive) Boston-to-New York-to-Washington, D.C.-to-Miami I-95 corridor.  
Chicago stands alone as the only Midwestern market with which Notre Dame wishes to maintain ties. It`s the nation`s third largest city and media market, and the Chicagoland region is the only heavily Catholic region in the Midwest that`s not undergoing a long term demographic collapse.  
Indeed, even as Notre Dame thinks of itself as an "East Coast" school that happens to be located in the Midwest, it also thinks of itself as a "Chicago" school (which it sort of almost is).  
So Notre Dame sees Chicago as its home base and main media market, followed by New York, California, and increasingly (it hopes), the Southeast. But although the school`s decision makers think the Irish need to play two California teams per year in football to maintain their California visibility (which explains why, after they joined the ACC, Notre Dame dropped Michigan and Michigan State from the football schedule but kept USC and Stanford), they think they "own" Chicago so thoroughly that there`s no need to play local teams ... note, however, that after they joined the ACC, the Irish signed a deal to play a series with Northwestern. So maybe they were a little bit more nervous about continuing to "own" Chicago than the gadfly Irish ambassador was letting on. 
Interestingly, not only did that conversation go down before Notre Dame announced that it would join the ACC, it went down before the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers. If anything, the Big Ten`s subsequent East Coast expansion probably indicates that the Jim Delaney and the decision makers in Park Ridge (Big Ten headquarters) are trying to react to the same emerging demographic trends that Notre Dame officials are.


The opinions of the Inner Party at Notre Dame are not to be lightly dismissed.

Still, I wonder whether they are stuck with a 20th Century model of a heating v. air conditioning dichotomy. Heating homes was invented first, so cold northern regions prospered earlier. Fans more or less required electricity, and air conditioning was a 20th Century invention. Much of Florida, for example, was more or less uninhabited until electric fans and, especially, air conditioning came along.

Will this trend continue in the 21st Century? Or is the Southeast more vulnerable than the North Central to demographic trends that aren`t conducive to a high cost high brow institution like Notre Dame wants to be? Perhaps being, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, being closer to the Canadian Border will have its advantages?