The last time the U. of Notre Dame played for the college football championship was back in 1988. Over the decades, Notre Dame has, probably more than any other school, used football to benefit academics.
Back in 2004, the golden dome's old golden boy Paul Hornung got fired from his radio job for advocating that Notre Dame lower admissions standards for black football players after the New York Times sportswriters denounced him as racist. For those trying to keep score at home, it's simple: being for lowered admissions standards for blacks is racist, but (as in the Supreme Court's upcoming Fisher case) so is being against them.
I did some research then on Notre Dame football recruiting, which I'll share because it's full of numbers that you don't see much of in sportswriting:
From John Steigerwald in the Valley News Dispatch:
The average SAT score of an incoming Notre Dame freshman is 1,360 [out of 1600]. The average SAT score for black high school students in 2003 was 857. The average SAT score for a white high school student in 2003 was 1,026. [Actually, those scores are for college-bound seniors. For all seniors, the averages would be lower if everybody took the test ... not to mention, all the high school dropouts would drive the averages down even lower.] The average SAT score for Notre Dame football players in 1997 (I couldn't find results from more recent years) was 899. So, Notre Dame has had lower standards for all football players for quite a while.
See if you can find a perennial Top-10 Division I football program in this list: Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Vanderbilt, Rice, Virginia, Oregon State, SMU, Pacific, Wake Forest. That's the list of the programs with the 10 highest SAT scores.
Notre Dame ranked 12th on that list. The University of Miami ranked 80th with an average SAT score of 803. Ohio State was 69th at 818. Do you think Notre Dame would be adding more white players or more black players if its average SAT scores dropped 200 points and was ranked below Miami? Would the increase in wins be proportionate to the drop in SAT scores?
Paul Hornung knows that Notre Dame has a lot of black players, but he also knows that his alma mater has limited itself to taking black players whose academic records predict an ability to do Notre Dame work. Notre Dame work is a lot tougher than Miami work. According to the average SAT scores of players -- black and white -- Miami is recruiting players -- black and white -- who are below average students. Notre Dame is recruiting black players who are better than average students. Hornung would like to see Notre Dame be a little less picky because he knows that would result in better players -- black and white -- and more wins.
Isn't it striking that if you use facts and logic in writing about race in sports, you wind up at the Valley News Dispatch, but if you just make up self-contradictory bilge, you get to work for the New York Times?
Some more data, this time from Phil Arvia in the Southtown Economist (notice a pattern here?):
According to the 2003 Racial and Gender Report Card compiled by Richard E. Lapchick for the Institution for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, the NFL in 2002 was 65 percent black, 33 percent white and 2 percent other. WSCR's Doug Buffone checked the first 64 picks in the last NFL draft and said on the air Thursday that 52 of those players were black. In the last Pro Bowl, 38 of the 44 starters were black.
And Brian S. Wise in Intellectual Conservative has some inside sources on how Notre Dame won its last national championship back in 1988:
Having been born and raised in South Bend has allowed me the chance to accumulate a few sources inside Notre Dame’s football program over the years; one was unavailable for this column, another told me that the things people should know are generally those they aren’t supposed to know at all. For example, that academic exceptions have been made when it mattered most, especially under Lou Holtz between 1986 and 1990. Todd Lyght (cornerback), Tony Rice (quarterback), Raghib Ismail (wide receiver), Bryant Young (defensive lineman) and Jerome Bettis (running back) are just five examples of very good players admitted with less than stellar academic backgrounds. All but Rice played in the NFL, they all managed to graduate. The point is that if the University truly had standards set in stone – as it suggested in a press release Wednesday – none of those players, and in that I mean none of them, would have ever been admitted.
Said my source, “If Tony Rice’s transcript and SAT scores were brought into the admissions office today, they would be set on fire.”
Quarterback Rice is said to have been one of only two "Proposition 48" athletes ever admitted to Notre Dame (i.e., he had to sit out the 1986 season because he couldn't meet the Prop. 48 standards). Under Proposition 48, student athletes were required to have a minimum SAT score of 700, or an ACT score of 17, and a minimum GPA of 2.0 in at least 11 courses in core classes, according to the NCAA Web site. Rice scored a scintillating 690. According to the anti-SAT Fairtest organization:
NCAA data on student-athletes' academic performance prior to the 1986 implementation of Prop. 48 reveal the discriminatory impact of these rules. The data, reanalyzed by the McIntosh Commission on Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions, show that had Prop. 48 been in effect in 1984 and 1985, it would have denied full eligibility to 47% of the African American student-athletes who went on to graduate, but just 8% of the white student-athletes. More recent NCAA research shows that the test score requirement disqualifies African American student-athletes at a rate 9-10 times the rate for white students.
More good stuff on ND recruiting from Return to Glory by Alan H. Grant:
During Lou Holtz's 11-year reign, the Irish came within two games of winning two more titles after 1988. Holtz had come in and done exactly what he had been asked to do: restore the power of the football program. But for the folks up top, whose priorities were slowly shifting back to academic pursuits, that was just about enough. For Holtz, the beginning of the end came in 1995. Coming off a 6-5-1 season, Holtz tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the admissions department to embrace a fleet "precocious" kid named Randy Moss. At the time, Moss was the West Virginia high school player of the year in both football and basketball, and he had committed to come to Notre Dame. But after Moss had been in several fights at school and was arrested for kicking a student who he mistakenly believed had written racial slurs on a desk, Notre Dame withdrew its commitment to him.
Had it been 1985 rather than 1995, things may have been different. But that trophy from 1988 still maintained a pretty fresh glow, so the admissions department decided it could do without Randy Moss... [Moss, of course, went on to be one of the greatest receiving talents of all time, but also one of the biggest jerks in the NFL.]
Notre Dame isn't the only university concerned with its image. There's a certain status that accompanies any scholastic university with successful sports teams. Take Duke University for instance. Some folks in Durham, North Carolina, swear that there's a vested interest in keeping the performance of the school's football team well below that of its storied basketball team. There's a reason for that. To field a good hoops team, you need just two or three excellent players. Schools like Duke, and Stanford for that matter, can dominate on the hardwood without visibly compromising their academic integrity. But football demands more than two or three bodies. It demands at least 50 guys who can compete with anyone in the country. And with 117 schools on the Division I-A level, all vying for those same players, it's just a fact that you can't routinely sign enough guys to fill your team without sacrificing some of your academic standards.
In other words, if you field a consistently dominant football team, your school's "meathead factor" is raised exponentially. Therein lay the rub for Notre Dame. They wanted it all. They desperately wanted to compare themselves to Duke and Stanford in the classroom, but they also wanted to be like Nebraska and Miami on the football field. Bob Davie had repeatedly said that what Notre Dame was asking him to do -- compete for the national championship with players who were held to a higher academic standard than their opponents -- was impossible. This was the same struggle that had plagued Notre Dame football for decades. It made the position of Notre Dame head coach one of the most demanding in college football.
It would be interesting to know what compromises Stanford has made over the last four years to become a football powerhouse.