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HOW NOTRE DAME DOES IT
You will note that basic to all of these conclusions is the thought that the boy and his education are the first consideration?not public relations, not financial benefits to the school, not conference championships. I have said that it takes some doing to conduct intercollegiate athletics in such a collegiate framework. Maybe you would be interested in how we try to do it at the University of Notre Dame.
First, entrance requirements are the same for athletes at Notre Dame as for everyone else?and they are rather high, because we always have more applications than openings at the University. Many excellent athletes are not admitted because of their high school deficiencies. I recall one fine halfback who applied with only six, instead of the required sixteen credits, for four years of high school work. He was not accepted at Notre Dame, but he certainly had his day elsewhere, making long runs against us on a Saturday afternoon a year later.
Secondly, all the student athletes who come to Notre Dame are told that we would like them to win a monogram, but not without a diploma. Of course, this takes some doing too, and continual doing. The passing mark at Notre Dame is 70%. Athletes must have a 77% average before they are eligible for competition in any varsity sport. The watchdog in this case is our Executive Vice President, Father Joyce, who is also Chairman of the Faculty Board in control of Athletics.
The academic averages for athletes are the first to be compiled after semester examinations. I remember receiving the list about five o'clock one bleak Friday afternoon in February. A quick glance showed that two first-string basketball players, and one of the best substitutes, who had tossed the winning basket in the last game, had fallen below the required 77% average. A phone call followed to the Director of Athletics. "My gosh, Father," he moaned, "the team is just leaving for the toughest game of the season against Kentucky tomorrow night. They'll be murdered without these men. If you sent me word by mail, the normal way, I'd get it Monday morning."
"YOU'VE GOT THE WORD"
No one likes to be Simon Legree, but all I could say is: "You've got the word now. And I'm not so much worried about being murdered as about being right." As a matter of fact, we did lose the game to Kentucky, but only by one point, in an overtime period. At times like this, when the walls are falling in on an administrator, it is good to seek quiet courage in the epigram above a hero's grave: "Death is not rare, nor is it of ultimate importance. Heroism is both." But no medals yet!
I remember another recent case when a star athlete almost hit the mark, but not quite: his average was 76.8%. You can understand them asking you to be reasonable in situations like this, but then even athletes did not get excited about the mile as long as there were fractions, no matter how small, after the four minute mark. And you don't catch planes two seconds after they leave. When the pressure is on, once you tamper with a standard, you lose it.
Then there was the sad September day when I went over to the stadium for the opening of fall practice. A quick count of the varsity squad showed only 48 players on the field, which in the days of the two-platoon system was not enough to scrimmage offensive and defensive squads, given the disproportionate number of backfield substitutes. I asked the coach where the rest of the players were. With a monumental effort to maintain his accustomed poise and gentility he replied evenly: "Two of them are still at home, and you dropped the others from school in June on account of their academic work."
Another incident grew out of that small squad. Before the first game, a senior came to see me. He was one of the former football players at the Military Academy who had transferred to Notre Dame, following the difficulty there. "You have the smallest squad and the toughest schedule in the country," he began. "There are about a dozen ex-Army football players here who would be delighted to play for Notre Dame, if you let us. After all, the other schools are letting the ex-Army athletes play."