Does Academic Excellence Hinder Notre Dame Football?

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Ryan Franks

3075_notre_dame_fighting_irish-alternate-1994The University is renowned for its strict admissions process, and demanding academic excellence from its admissions director, which is what fans say keeps the best players out of the school.

While the school boasts its team’s unprecedented graduation rates and grade point averages, fans and analysts focus on what is happening on the field rather than in the classroom. With a 97% graduation rate, Notre Dame leads all Division I football programs, but the SEC powerhouses are not far behind. LSU stands 6th with 77%, and Alabama and Florida at 7th and 8th with 75%.

So should Notre Dame trade grades for championships?

This is exactly what Notre Dame radio announcer Allen Pinkett had on his mind when he was suspended from his job for 3 games for suggesting that the Fighting Irish could benefit from having “a few bad characters” on the team. “You can’t have a football team full of choir boys,” Pinkett said.

In the 2012 season, the Irish took a trip to the BCS National Championship and the topic quickly died down. Maybe college kids could be exceptional students and phenomenal athletes. This idea did not last long after Notre Dame was embarrassed for three hours straight on national television by the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide crushed the Irish 42 to 14, capping its third BCS title in just four years, thus raising the idea again that brains and football skill do not come in the same package.

Since the installment of the BCS National Championship game in 1998, Alabama leads all FBS schools with three championships. Florida State, Florida and LSU each have two apiece. Notre Dame has none.

How does a school like Notre Dame win a BCS National Championship then?

Will they have to have the luck of the Irish like in the 2012-2013 season and execute when they get to the title game, or will they have to change their admissions standards to finally achieve greatness?

Notre Dame is all about tradition, and the admission directors are not about to change that and let in athletes who are not qualified or “Irish material”. TJ Duckett was a top prep football player who, after a heated interview at Notre Dame, went to play for the Michigan State Spartans. He then went on to be a first round NFL draft pick in 2002. In a 2000 Sports Illustrated article, the father of Duckett accused Saracino, a legendary admissions director at Notre Dame, known for scaring away potential stars with difficult questions during interviews, of being too demanding and “insulting” his son.

Over the years, Notre Dame has continued to let athletes slip through their fingers because of the their lack of academic accomplishments and the burden they do not want to carry if they enroll.

Even after the players enroll, they are not done with the school work. Freshman are required to take rigorous math courses like calculus and must maintain a 2.0 GPA by the end of the year and keep it there. Then, they are closely monitored by personal tutors and forced to attend mandatory study halls.

All of these academic factors contribute to the mediocrity of the university’s football team. The academic problems concerning star quarterback Everett Golson and the investigation going on now involving four other players confirms the severity put on grades by Notre Dame. If the school ever wants to compete with SEC heavyweights like Alabama, they need to change their admissions process. Notre Dame has to get their priorities straight. Is it going to continue to be faith, school, football, or will they change it to faith, football, school?