When the president of Notre Dame fired Terry Brennan in December 1958, he said in your magazine that the reason was Notre Dame's desire for "excellence," on the football field and elsewhere. If so, how come he now rehires a coach who couldn't beat the girls of St. Trinian's?
New York City
?The above is one of many letters that questioned the retention of Joe Kuharich, who won two and lost eight games this past fall. We asked Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame's president, to comment. His letter follows.—ED.
We who were accused two years ago of abandoning academic excellence at Notre Dame ("The football clique is back in power"; "the Neanderthal age has returned") are now accused of being too serious about academic excellence to the extent that old Notre Dame will never again win over all, or any!
I suppose that any university president would be perfectly happy to stand accused of being serious about academic excellence in his institution. I certainly plead guilty. But the argument doesn't stop there.
The complete thesis is built up along these lines. One cannot seriously believe in academic excellence and athletic excellence. If one does, good athletes will not attend one's university, first, because they will not be able to make the grade (and be eligible), and secondly, they will be more attracted elsewhere by the lure of easy courses, special treatment and other inducements.
Lurking behind this thesis are assumptions that I simply repudiate as either malicious (when I'm in a bad mood), or at least false on the basis of our own experience at Notre Dame. I do not accept the assumptions that 1) all good football players are stupid or 2) that good football players do not want a good education or 3) that the best athletes will be most attracted to an institution of higher learning if they are assured that they will be fed better food but inferior classes, not be bound by the same rules and regulations that govern the student body at large and will have other inducements (not mentioned) that they will happily deny receiving under oath.
If these assumptions were true, then I would declare unequivocally that intercollegiate athletics have no place at any institution aspiring to higher learning and, presumably, higher integrity.
I can be wrong, of course, but until proven otherwise, I shall continue to believe that academic excellence is compatible with athletic excellence—and that the integrity of the academic program is completely applicable to the athletic program. Of course, I am assuming positively that there are good athletes who are also intelligent (a glance at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Silver Anniversary All-America athletes should help this assumption).
May I add that I think that there are hundreds of such good and intelligent athletes graduating from high schools across the nation each June. I might add that there would be hundreds more if more high schools and parents would insist on education first and athletic endeavor within the framework of good education and not the other way around. The personal equation comes first.
If all athletically talented youngsters were inspired to compete and still not allow themselves to be used without receiving what they need most for a fruitful life, a good education, then the solution would be simple. As long as youngsters are misguided—most often by adults who should know better—there will be institutions willing to use them and then to discard them. The athletic bum, abused and unlettered, is a sorry sight and a serious indictment against every human institution that helped create him. The reason that I contest so vehemently the assumptions mentioned above is that they seem to say just this—all good athletes are bums. The evidence, I submit, is mainly to the contrary. If it were not, athletics, in or out of schools, should cease to exist in our land.