by Mike Coffey
As we shiver in the cold, we now enter the 40 days of waiting, at the end of which will be a glorious day of resurrection. While it’s not the usual one Catholic folks expect, the 19 years between national title attempts certainly has been more excruciating than the worst Lent I can remember, so you’ll have to excuse me the metaphor.
As we sit for these 40+ days waiting for the tilt on South Beach, the scribes both national and local will be looking for their angles … after all, one can only write about Manti Te’o so many times (although the awards he’s bound to win will provide fresh material there). While they look, I hope almost against hope the obvious one does not become tiresome for them, and that the beat writers for schools great and small bring that story to their subjects’ doorstep:
Notre Dame is doing it. Why aren’t you?
The latest BCS rankings told us what we already know — Notre Dame is the #1-ranked team in the country and will play for the BCS title on January 7th. But another, even more important ranking released earlier this year told us something else we already knew — when it comes to graduating student athletes, Notre Dame is pretty damn good at that, too.
At Notre Dame, GSR stands for “Graduation Success Rate”, and the Fighting Irish continued their five-year streak atop the FBS rankings, graduating 99 percent of their student athletes overall, 98 percent of their African American student athletes, and 97 percent of their football players. At some of the other institutes of higher learning, where GSR is more likely to refer to “gunshot residue”, they don’t do nearly as well, particularly for their non-Caucasian charges.
But that was supposed to be the trade-off, we heard for years. You can’t win on the field and in the classroom, they mewled, and the field pays better. They ain’t there to play school, so why bother pretending? That’s how we ended up with schools graduating 11 percent of their players and the discovery that one finds plantations in the oddest places.
Overall, there has been improvement in this area. That’s good, because the most important thing is to ensure student athletes come out of their college experience ready to be productive members of society, especially for the vast majority of them whose athletic endeavors will not continue after their eligibility is exhausted.
But the job isn’t done, and Notre Dame is in a unique position to shine a spotlight into the vipers’ nest.
There’s no excuse for schools not to give their student athletes the opportunity for the best education they can get. Shoving class brochures under their noses and telling them to go crazy is not the solution. Setting expectations and providing guidance from the day they arrive until the day they leave is the way to go. That’s what Notre Dame does, and it’s reflected in the outstanding classroom performance of its players. Other schools should be just as capable, and yet they fall short.
I realize not everyone graduates from college, athlete or not. But NCAA athletes are being given a unique opportunity — a chance to advance themselves for reduced or no financial cost to them. For a decent percentage of them, this opportunity is one they would not be able to access if they couldn’t leverage their athletic abilities.
To not allow them to take advantage of that opportunity is awful. To do so while exploiting them financially is criminal.
Notre Dame has personified what academic eligibility should be for years. Now they’ve done so while achieving at the highest level in the highest-profile sport the NCAA offers. To paraphrase Ron White, we know we can, we’ve seen us do it. Now it’s time for others to do it, and it’s time for the students playing on the field and the people watching in the stands and the folks writing about the programs to start demanding it of themselves and of their schools. Everyone’s out of excuses. Time for some results.