Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Trading along two margins 

I was driving around this PM getting ready for a trip to Claremont tonight -- I'm in the airport just now -- and listened to Dan Patrick interview Paul Hornung to clarify his comments on Notre Dame needing to lower its academic standards to attract "the black athlete". Hornung has apologized for in essence using the adjective "black" to mean "best". But people are still getting on him over the comments, including our own NA colleague Captain Ed.
Notre Dame has always maintained that scholarship and athletics were not mutually incompatible programs, and for decades has fielded the teams that proved it. As recently as 1988, Notre Dame won a national championship with these same standards while benching star athletes for academic and rules violations. Rather than being proud of the integrity of his alma mater, Hornung instead endorsed the notion that a national championship justifies the exploitation of young men, challenging the Catholic university to lower its standards for athletes to those of Florida State and USC.

It's sickening, and Notre Dame should cut all ties with Hornung. We fans of the Irish love this university not because we attended it -- I didn't -- or because of Irish heritage, but because it has stood for integrity and excellence for over a hundred years, and we have few other examples of this in college sports. If Hornung can't be proud of that, then he needs to find somewhere else to work.
I have to disagree with Ed on this one. The increased chase for academically advanced students of color have made it more and more difficult for Notre Dame to get athletes. ND does not allow its athletic director or coaches to decide whether to admit a student, unlike most schools, including places as academically advanced as Duke. (Two words: Christian Laettner.) There is a story about Lou Holtz giving the admissions staff a list of the fifty best high school seniors and being told that only three would be admitted. And competition for them increases as schools chase these students to meet diversity requirements makes it harder. If you continually limit yourself to a subset of football recruits while other schools use the larger set of athletes with less regard for academic ability, you will eventually lose. In short, if you discriminate against lesser-academically gifted athletes but the other schools do not, you will lose. (This is an extension of the argument about baseball discrimination against black players -- a point that cuts close to my Red Sox heart, hello Pumpsie Green!)

Notre Dame can, of course, choose to pursue academic excellence and restrict who it recruits. Down that road lies the Ivy League and the military service academies. NBC isn't offering them exclusive broadcast fees. But ND is finding it increasingly hard to try to have it both ways, and Hornung is being villified for voicing the choice that dares not speaks its name.