The Band Played On (A New Practice Field): A Quick Look at a Unique Campus Gift

For those of us here at IP who dabbled in marching band in our younger, more idealistic years, we can say without shame that we weren't exactly the top dogs on campus. In the social activities pecking order, the marching band was just above the Scrabble Club.

But things have changed in recent years. Perhaps it's the "Drumline Effect." How else to explain an impressive $5 million dollar gift to Notre Dame's marching band program?

The school's marching band and its RecSports program received the hefty donation from Ohio's Kenn and Pamela Ricci. The money is earmarked for the construction of an outdoor facility that will serve as a rehearsal field for the Band of the Fighting Irish, proving that first, the allure of ambitious construction projects certainly isn't limited to big-time art museums, and two, that a big-time college marching band sometimes needs its own practice field.

Now, if you aren't convinced that big-time college marching band needs $5 million for its own practice field, it's worth noting that, according to the university, the band has never had a location to practice on a consistent basis throughout a football season in its 170-year history.

That's close to two centuries of mark-timing in the Midwest wilderness.

And it won't be just any practice field. According to the Riccis, it will be a fully-lit, artificial turf football field with a band director's tower. The project will also include a new storage building, restrooms and locker room facilities.

But there's more.

According to John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president of Notre Dame, the construction project creates an opportunity to build a "1,350-ton geothermal well field beneath the new playing field" to help the university pursue its "ambitious path toward carbon reduction."

What's that, you say?

Well, it's simple. Geothermal systems use the relatively constant temperature of the mass of land below the surface of the field to lower heating and cooling bills. (Admit it: You didn't expect a seemingly innocuous piece on a marching band to also include a lesson in geothermal energy, did you? We kinda did.)

As for Ken Ricci, he graduated from Notre Dame in 1978 and was recently elected to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. He and his wife have made other gifts to the university in the past, including the Ricci Band Rehearsal Hall and the Ricci Band Musical Excellence fund, among others.

One last point here. It's tempting to try and lump this gift in with other big-time athletic gifts and debate its relative merits, particularly during an era of skyrocketing tuition and academic budget cuts. But we won't go down that road right now for two reasons.

One, we've been down that road somewhat recently. And two, all gifts are contextual, and we're therefore obligated to reference a more pressing dynamic—the current turmoil roiling the Notre Dame academic and donor community.

In a piece in First Things titled "Notre Dame's Devil With the Devil," William Dempsy argues that by embracing pro-choice politicians, the school is abdicating its moral responsibility as the nation's preeminent Catholic University:

Notre Dame’s administration seems to think it can have the best of both worlds: the money, acclaim, and prestige of benchmarking itself against Ivy League schools and the honor and distinction of being the leading American Catholic university. This is inherently impossible.

We bring it up only to mention that the university's actions have financial consequences as well. Will donors keep their checkbooks closed if the university continues to embrace the un-Catholic elements of the modern world? Absolutely.

When you weigh the gravity of this "deal with the devil," a gift to the marching band seems rather quaint, doesn't it?