Institutional integrity is the only sure guarantee in this matter. National policing agencies can only approve sound policy and wave a stick. We were somewhat chagrined a year or so ago when the NCAA publicly criticized us for a relatively minor abuse that we had ourselves discovered and corrected some time before they began to investigate it.
We have certain safeguards to assure a normal collegiate life for an athlete once he comes to the University. Our varsity athletes are evenly distributed in all the fourteen residence halls. They all have jobs compatible with their studies and seasonal sports activities. They make the morning and night check of all the other students on their floor, deliver mail, help the priest on the floor maintain order and do other odd jobs for which they are available. It is difficult to become a strutting hero if one has to work for the other students.
I must say, after some years of personal experience with these athletes as a teacher and as hall rector, that compared with the student body as a whole, most of the athletes are superior men in many ways. The record of their lives after graduation confirms this impression.
The nation at large knows that all of the Catholics on our squad (Notre Dame is open to students of all races and faiths) attend Mass and receive Holy Communion the morning of every game to pray that no serious injury will come to the players of either team that day. What most people do not know is that many of these boys are up earlier than necessary many other mornings, some every day, for Mass and Holy Communion before class.
Moreover, the athletes are bound by the same disciplinary regulations and penalties as every other student. The reason for all this is that since our monogram men are often national figures, we want them to be as representative of a Notre Dame education as any other student.
Some educators have said that athletic ability should not be considered at all in making an education available to a prospective student. Of course, athletic prowess should not be the only, or even the prime consideration. It cannot be, if the system outlined above is strictly maintained. A boy never loses a scholarship at Notre Dame for failure to make a team, but he will and often does forfeit a scholarship for academic or disciplinary failure.
FATHER CAVANAUGH'S VIEW
To answer the critics more directly, our former President, Father John J. Cavanaugh, used to ask: "In the matter of obtaining an education, what is so sacred about money? Here are two boys. Both have the ability and the desire to obtain a good education. The father of one boy has money. This boy is welcome at the University. The father of the other boy is poor, but the boy himself has developed his natural athletic abilities in difficult and typically American competition. This boy would like to represent some great school in intercollegiate athletics. He is also willing to study, to keep the rules, and to work as much as possible. Why should the first boy be given the access to an education because of something his father has, and the second boy refused if he offers the school something useful to it that he himself has developed?whether it be athletic ability, debating ability, musical or dramatic ability?"
Some will counter the argument: "But intercollegiate athletics today are commercial exploitation." To this I would reply that in the case of a private university like Notre Dame, a quarter of a million dollars athletic income in a good year makes a small contribution to an annual operating budget of $11,600,000.00. Our athletic income has always helped to face the deficit and to improve the educational facilities for all the students who pay only about 65% of the cost of running the University. With no outside support from Church or State (except Governmental research grants), any contribution looks good, even an athletic one.
Then, the critic adds, you have the temptation to commercialize athletics to pay the bills. To answer this, I return to my opening principle. There are no insurmountable temptations or dangers in intercollegiate athletics if the basic working principle is: Always consider first the boy and his education. I will not deny the temptation to get the bills paid. For example, during the past twenty-five years, we have had the offer of a post-season bowl game almost every year, with a possible total income of millions of dollars. We had four offers for postseason games last year alone. Notre Dame did play a bowl game in 1925. We will not play another. Why not? Because, as far as our students are concerned, we know that they cannot be engaged in as exciting a pursuit as football for three quarters of a semester and still maintain a 77% average. If they do not have the required average, either they do not play the next year, or we lower our standards, and then they stop getting diplomas. Like most temptations (if I might indulge in a little theology), this one involves a whole chain of further temptations. We don't want to start walking down that road. Because if we apply our basic principle of the boy's interest first, we cannot play one bowl game, and then a series of bowl games, despite the financial rewards involved.