- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Notre Dame's method, if it does not instantly cause Dr. Gallagher to eat his hat, is at least very different from the bid-em-up kind of professionalism he has in mind and that no doubt exists at some places. The school does give athletic scholarships and has done so for a long time. Nowadays 20 to 25 each year go to football prospects for the full four-year term. Since the varsity squad averages about 60 men, this is enough to supply everybody on it with a scholarship, with many to spare for attrition. Some of these scholarships cover only tuition, others tuition and room, but most include tuition, board, room and laundry and thus are worth about $1,500 a year, or $6,000 for the four undergraduate years. In a literal sense, then, the Notre Dame team is made up almost entirely of "professionals," the very few exceptions being boys from well-to-do families and those whose football skills do not mature until after several years in school.
How can an institution of learning justify rewarding a merely physical skill? Father Hesburgh's favorite reply is one he borrows from Father John J. Cavanaugh, his predecessor: "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.... The father of the other boy is poor, but the boy himself has developed his natural abilities in difficult and typically American competition.... He is also willing to study, to keep the rules and to work. 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?"
There is some sophistry here, for the fact is that the scholarships are awarded chiefly on ability to play rather than lack of ability to pay. Nevertheless, somehow it works out nearly always to be the same thing. The survey asked, "Would you have been financially able to come to ND without a scholarship?" Only 12% answered "yes." It was notable that among the. entire group of football players the parents of only 2% had gone to college (compared with 53% for the tennis players, 39% for the golf players). The comments that many men added brim with gratitude: Joe Kurth, for instance, one of the greatest All-Americas (1931 and 1932), now a representative for a cost accounting firm, tells that he supported his widowed mother while he was in school and that college would have been out of the question for him without a scholarship. All-America Johnny Lujack (1946 and 1947), now the prosperous part owner, with his father-in-law, of an automobile business, comments, "Athletics are not for the wealthy people alone, and without a scholarship I'd hate to think what some of us would have done or would be doing now."
The scholarships are not free. Every boy has work to do—delivering mail, helping the resident proctor in his dormitory, waiting on table, helping in the kitchen, stacking equipment in the gym; none of it terribly demanding, to be sure, but all of it of a useful nature, unlike the feather duster jobs available at certain schools. Another distinction of the Notre Dame scholarships is that they are awarded unreservedly for the full four years, whether the boy makes the team or not. There is none of the sorry business of bringing in boys for freshman tryouts, then turning the rejects loose.
Have Notre Dame boys sold themselves to the "highest bidder"? Perhaps some did, but it is plain that most did not. To the survey question, "Did you receive scholarship offers from other schools?" a big majority answered "yes" (94% during the last 25 years) and their comments show how nearly universal this form of proselyting has become. Hardly a major school was left off the list, which included the service academies and a number of the Ivy League schools, indicating that there is more hanky-panky afoot (unofficially) than meets the eye. Some boys had literally dozens of offers, nor were these limited by any means to board, room and tuition. One man noted that "99% of other offers included money, position for my father, etc." Another said, "I visited 40 schools. All had better offers than ND."
Yet they chose Notre Dame. And to the question, "Aside from a basic scholarship, do you feel that athletes should be offered special inducements (cars, monthly checks, etc.) to enroll in college?" almost all of them answered "no" and many went on to add such admonitions as, "Absolutely not. If Notre Dame reaches that point, varsity athletics should be dropped."
What then, is the answer? Undoubtedly there is a strong religious factor involved. As the survey shows, again and again it was a priest, or even sometimes a nun, who primarily influenced the decision for Notre Dame—or it was "mother," or the wish for "a good Catholic education." Fordham, Loyola, et al. have their points and inspire their loyalties, but among Catholics Notre Dame has a very special status. As a coach at another Catholic college remarked to a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reporter, "Every time a good player comes out of Central Catholic, I know I'm licked before I start. He ends up at Notre Dame." And as another coach has remarked wistfully, "Let me choose a football team from 90% of the Irish boys or the Jewish boys or the Negro boys or the Slavs, and I'll come up with a great team, and every man on it will have good grades too."
Religion not only helps bring them to Notre Dame, it makes the successful end sweep, the blocked punt, almost a matter of divine duty. The school is consecrated to the Virgin. After the 1954 game with Michigan State, which Notre Dame won 20-19 when Michigan State missed the extra point, one player said, "I felt that Our Lady was up there and gave it a little tap to the right." It is difficult to translate this devotion statistically.
Strong as the religious factor is, however, there is another. Success breeds success, prestige feeds on itself, and Notre Dame is the constant beneficiary of its own great reputation. As the survey shows, many of the boys came there with a romanticized enthusiasm reaching back to childhood ("Never even considered another school," "My life's ambition," etc.). Arriving in such a condition, they are perfectly malleable to the influence of the Notre Dame tradition—a tradition of discipline, fellowship and sportsmanship which the university has nourished for many years, and in the formation of which Knute Rockne had a tremendous role. Each of his successors has inevitably been judged in comparison with his qualities as a man and an educator. Twenty-five years after his death, Notre Dame is still playing for Rockne and trying to play as he would have liked.
Now all this is fine—and the reader, if he is normally cynical, may well be thinking that it sounds too fine to be true. As a matter of fact, the same thought occurred to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. There is no arguing with the survey: the questionnaires have been interpreted correctly. And for normal survey purposes, the sample certainly was big enough—51%. But this was not a normal survey. It could be expected that the successful men would be glad to answer. It could be suspected that the unsuccessful ones would not. Under the reproving stare of alma mater, how to account for that hitch in Alcatraz, or even for one's failure to win his monogram in life? In this skeptical mood, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED went looking for the other 49 %—and located and interviewed a large part of them. As a cross-check, two old Notre Dame teams were compared with teams of the same vintages from Yale, Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Southern California. The results of this investigation will be reported next week.