12/11/2009 12:00 PM

Notre Dame and Boston College are now the only Catholic colleges playing at the very top of American college football.

But their glory days are over. Particularly for Notre Dame. New coach Brian Kelly might be able to revive Notre Dame somewhat but the reality is that the Fighting Irish have been on life support for some time.

Notre Dame watcher Murray Sperber says the demise of Notre Dame mirrors the demise of Catholic America.

Sperber, who wrote “Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football,” says the game's up for the Domers.

Speaking to The New York Times he said; “They are still, in some ways, Catholic America’s team, but Catholic America is shrinking. A whole generation of Catholics haven’t grown up with the Fighting Irish.”

Sperber's right. Although the Times can probaly expect another broadside from Archbishop Dolan for entertaining such heresy.

Catholic America, at least Irish Catholic America IS shrinking. Catholicism itself is alive and well in America but it's losing its Irish accent.

Brian Kelly has been handed an impossible task but maybe this Irish American Catholic can pull it off.

It's not just the fans who are depending on him. NBC also needs him to rescue their college football slot.

NBC hooked up with Notre Dame 18 years ago and their $15m-a-year contract runs out in 2015.

NBC Universal Sports chairman told the Times that they wanted to see some more wins. Well, he didn't say it quite like that. What he did say, very daintily, was: "Unquestionably, we would always like them to have a higher degree of consistency."

Of course what Ebersol really means, but is too polite to say so, is: "It's time for the Fighting Irish to live up to their name."

Notre Dame's dreadful season has exposed them as an expensive resource for cash-strapped NBC.

The Times says that the team is paid more than any other school on a pay-per-game basis.

But while the money is clearly a God-send for the school, you've got to wonder what NBC gets out of it.

Back to the polite Ebersol: “It’s one of the most important institutions in the United States,” he said.

“It’s not a property that we’ve made an enormous amount on but we’ve never had a loss that would frighten anyone.”

I wonder what constitutes a frightening loss for Ebersol?

But a lingering question hangs over the whole Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly affair.

In a month which has seen Hofstra and Northeastern axe their football programs, does Notre Dame really NEED a football team?