And among the contemporary players, there is unmistakable pride in being honorable at a time when honor seems to be in short supply. Standout senior Defensive Back Dave Duerson was, of course, recruited by other schools. Duerson says one recruiter in the South told him, "When you take a test here, all you have to do is put your jersey number on top of the paper. That'll get you your grade." Duerson says the suggestion turned him off: "I had a 3.75 average in high school. I didn't need any free passes."
What these statements of devotion—especially the ones from more recent players—say is that the experience of being at Notre Dame is enhanced by the way football is integrated into the very marrow of university life. Football isn't a matter of survival at Notre Dame—it hasn't been that since the '20s when Rockne put the school on the map—it's a matter of enrichment. The game has greatly enhanced the school and continues to do so.
Why is it important to accept football's eminence in Notre Dame's life? Does doing so not admit that Notre Dame is, after all, a "football factory" just like a lot of other big-time schools? Of course it does; but the point is this: Notre Dame has a leadership that knows how to appreciate football as much as it knows how to control it. That's a combination that has led to an integrity of purpose that didn't spring from some bygone miracle but has been an evolutionary thing, brought about mainly by good people doing a good job. Notre Dame's special quality when it comes to athletics isn't a superior morality, but a superior and deeply involved leadership.
Says Hesburgh, "No coach can ever say he wasn't aware of our policies." Joyce, who with Hesburgh's blessing runs Notre Dame athletics as a sort of autonomous fiefdom, say he "constantly reminds people that integrity is our top priority here. I do that personally, not through an intermediary.... Many schools fail in athletics because of a lack of control at the top. We will never have that here."
Like all human institutions, Notre Dame isn't "pure" and never has been. It's not above reproach and never has been. But it strives mightily to attain purity and be above reproach. The heart of the matter is that Notre Dame is proud of being righteous. This creates a perpetuating kind of morality. In a way, this makes obeying the rules easier. When you build for yourself a glass house, you watch what you wear to the breakfast table.
All the testimony supports this trust. When Aubrey Lewis, one of the first blacks to play for Notre Dame and now a vice-president of FW. Woolworth Co. in New York, says, "The quality of the education, the quality of the people, the integrity, the honesty—they must never change," he means that Notre Dame is obligated to this. Parseghian says that he's proudest of the fact that he achieved what he did "without ever cheating." He says Notre Dame has an "obligation" to set this example. "People have a need to idolize, to look up to something. Notre Dame provides that."
It got to that only in time, however. Early on, Notre Dame was holier-than-thou, but not always so holy. Only in recent times has the reality come close to living up to the reputation. There's some irony in this, too. As its outside image became more liberal, Notre Dame's inner commitment to scrupulous behavior—at least in its athletics—became more conservative.
Notre Dame doesn't cheat in recruiting. At least there's no evidence that it does, and the prospect of having the man at the top intervene if it did is surely a reason for coaches not being tempted to cut corners. The leadership rides equally hard on academic matters. Joyce gets monthly progress reports from De Cicco, who gets them from deans and professors. Admissions are gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Notre Dame requires an incoming freshman athlete to have a combined score of at least 900 on his SATs, rate in the top third of his high school graduating class and be credited with 16 units of English, foreign language, social studies, science and math at a minimum 2.0 average. There are no special admissions.
Notre Dame doesn't take junior college or transfer athletes, ostensibly because it doesn't want to appear to be in the business of "prepping" players for big-time football or basketball, but also because it doesn't want to risk trusting the entrance criteria or normal progress rules of other institutions.
Those are guidelines; in point of fact, circumstances can warrant making exceptions—and two such cases were on the football team last fall. Fullback Larry Moriarity, whose grandfather and brother played at Notre Dame, came in from Santa Barbara City College. Tight End Ricky Gray transferred from Clemson to nearby Holy Cross Junior College, and then to Notre Dame. Both cases had to go to the athletic faculty board, whose chairman is Joyce. The rationales for their acceptances were that it had made sense for Moriarity to attend a college near his home while recovering from the trauma caused by a traffic accident and later a near fatal case of spinal meningitis, while Gray had been previously accepted by Notre Dame's admissions committee. Nevertheless, I have to think a considerable soul-searching was involved on Joyce's part.