Columnists, Sports

High tide

My senior year of high school I took a class on money management, titled “Personal Finance.”

The class was meant to wet our pallet to the world of finance and the big, bad economic monster that we constantly heard reporters and our parents talking about.

By no means did this class make me an economic expert — or even economically literate — but I learned a few interesting and valuable things over the course of the year.

Things I still think about.

Among the concepts I found interesting is the idea that a “rising tide lifts all boats.”

Basically, if the economy upticks everybody wins.  It doesn’t mean everyone will suddenly have a ton of money, but everybody — generally speaking — will be better off than before.

If you’re rich, you’ll be richer. If you’re struggling, you’ll struggle less.

Other than tee-ball, where the last place team gets trophies and pizza after each game, “everybody wins” is such a rare phenomenon in life.

But on Saturday night, when the University of Notre Dame won its way into the Bowl Championship Series title game, everybody won. It feels strange, doesn’t it? Seeing Notre Dame at the top of a list, with a decimal next to it?

It feels so strange because it’s never happened before.

The BCS went into place in 1998 and the Irish haven’t held the top spot in the polls since 1993. They’ve never even won a BCS bowl game.

Notre Dame’s resurgence raises all boats on the college football sea.  There’s more revenue floating around.  Television ratings spike.  That’s great for the NCAA and all Division I football programs.

And it also raises your boat — the boat captained and crewed by the fans.

All major sports, not just collegiate ones, are better when traditional powers — teams with rich history and mass followings — do well.

Since 1991, Notre Dame has had a national network television contract.  That’s a big deal in college sports.  In fact, the Irish is the only team in any college sport that has nationally network-televised games every week.

They’re the biggest draw in the country.

And for many of those years they’ve kind of stunk.

“Tune in this Saturday as Notre Dame gets lambasted by Purdue. On NBC.”

That’s bad television.  It’s bad for the sport when its most popular team loses to Navy.

But how exciting was that ND/USC game on Saturday?

Every year, people talk about “how great” of a rivalry that is because of what happened in the 1820s, but rarely has that rivalry produced anything special in recent seasons.

For the first time in a decade it actually felt like a big-time rivalry.

Notre Dame — one win from a championship birth and harboring a Heisman candidate.

That’s a great story.  You can’t help but be invested in that if you like college football.

Heck, even if you’re just a short guy with red hair you were probably glued to the TV.

Remember when the Pistons and Spurs were winning NBA titles?

The NBA went into hibernation.  It was the dark ages of professional basketball.

Then, all of a sudden the Lakers and Celtics were good again and the sport boomed.

Remember when the White Sox played the Astros in the World Series? How about the Rays and Phillies?

Of course you don’t.  You didn’t watch.

Can you guess the four highest rated World Series’ of the 2000s?

Three of them featured the Yankees and the other the Red Sox.  Shocker.

When Notre Dame is good, college football is better.

People care more.

Why are the Lakers interesting? Why are the Yankees interesting?

They’re polarizing.  A lot of people love them.  A lot more people hate them.

Either way, people watch. They’re invested.  They care.

The Notre Dame/USC game on Saturday got a 10.3 rating.

OK, but what does that mean?

A lot!

It was the highest rated game of the season.  The game was more watched than every BCS bowl game last season other than the title game.

In fact, it was the highest rated regular season game since 2006.

The Fighting Irish are the Lakers of college football.  They’re the Yankees — there are no neutral observers.  You’re either rooting for them or rooting against them.

Either way, you have that rooting interest.  Isn’t that what makes watching sports fun?

College football was already doing just fine with the SEC driving the bus.  Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia — all creating huge interest and ratings.

And now, you’ll get to see the best of the best, the winner of the SEC, take on Notre Dame in the championship.  Unreal.  The sport is about to enter a new stratosphere.

What happens when the best team from the biggest, best, most popular, most successful conference collides with the most popular and most followed team in the country?

Something big.  The hype and intrigue leading up to the game will be absurd.  The ratings will be monstrous — records will be broken.

You’ll be dying to see this game for a month and half, and it’ll be bliss when it arrives.

Everybody wins!

The NCAA wins.  But more importantly, you, the fan, wins.

If you love Notre Dame, if you hate Notre Dame, if you love the SEC, if you hate the SEC, if you have any interest in college football — you’ll care.  You’ll be invested.  You’ll watch.

Last year, you got a rematch between two teams from the same conference.

This year, everyone gets a trophy.  Everyone gets a slice of pizza.  Thanks, Notre Dame.

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