Should Notre Dame have a football team?

That may seem like an odd question, and an unadulterated heresy, especially in a week in which Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in college football for the first time since the Council of Trent. The team even merits the cover of Sports Illustrated -- and a bonus Latin headline! (Is it correct? Can Notre Dame students read it?)Of course the SI cover means the team is doomed.But in a more serious vein, Notre Dame's return to glory comes just as disturbing questions are being raised about college football and contact sports in general that are causing debilitating injuries, for young and old alike. Big-time football programs have the potential to corrupt colleges themselves, as we have seen at Penn States and in the incidences of execrable behavior by players who are shielded by the administration.The promo for the SI article says, "The Irish are marching onward to the national championship game and downward from the moral high ground they have claimed for a century."I don't have a subscription and don't know what problems the story might detail. But Notre Dame has had its share of scandals and the sport overall is undergoing intense scrutiny.At Real Clear Religion, Jeff Weiss has an article exploring some of the moral hazards, and even citing Tertullian -- via a recent Christian Century cover story.Earlier this month, the New York Times highlighted Liberty University's crusade to make the school founded by Jerry Falwell the evangelical Notre Dame when it comes to football:

We think there would be a vast, committed fan base of conservative, evangelical Christians around the country and maybe even folks who are conservative politically who would rally behind Liberty football, Falwell Jr. said, smiling at the thought. They would identify with our philosophy.The university has a motto for the cause: Champions for Christ.And yes, there are parallels to Notre Dame, Falwell continued. There might even be a little rivalry there the Catholics against the Protestants.

Well, better to battle it out on the gridiron rather than on the field of battle.At MOJ, Michael Moreland cites Mark Massa in noting how Notre Dame football "bequeathed a sense of pride and identity to generations of immigrant Catholics." I'm sure that's so. But what is the purpose of the program now? Still simple tribal pride? Evangelization? Or as a vehicle for the divine?Moreland writes:

"As the Catholic Church in America faces the legacy of scandal and seeming collapse of institutional presence, there's hope that God somehow brings about dramatic changes of fortune, sometimes in mundane ways (like college football, maybe) and sometimes in ways that change the world.It may all come to a crashing end this Saturday in Los Angeles against USC or on January 7th in the BCS national championship game, but, for at least a week, we can rejoice athow quickly things can change and our hope affirmed."

Does the success of Notre Dame football affirm such a thing? Or could it affirm the opposite -- that Notre Dame football should not field a team, or should at least diminish the role of the team?Or am I showing my Puritan roots here on the eve of Thanksgiving?

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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