I would love to see Allen Pinkett put together Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting board.
Pinkett should be fired from his radio job, or at least suspended. (
But Pinkett's comments were not all that new. In 2004, Paul Hornung put a racial spin on the same theme, when he told an interviewer: "We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athletes. We must get the black athletes if we're going to compete." Hornung, like Pinkett, was a former Notre Dame running back and radio analyst.
This is an ongoing debate at Notre Dame, between playing like a champion today and excelling in school from Monday to Friday. The school boasts one of the great winning traditions in American sports history, but it also has a history of worrying that football is too important at such a fine university. When the team has been too successful, the administration sometimes tightened academic standards or otherwise tried to reel it in. Notre Dame never wanted to be Alabama.
And even in this big-money era, when the entire enterprise feels like pro sports, Notre Dame is determined to be Notre Dame. When the NCAA announced its Academic Progress Rate scores in June, 17 Irish teams posted multi-year scores in the top 10 percent of the sport. That was more than any other Division I school in the country. Duke was second with 13. Boston College, Northwestern and Stanford each had 10. (The Irish football team was not one of the 17, but the football team has posted consistently strong APR scores.)
Notre Dame has tried to blend its athletes into the rest of the university, to make them go to class, to treat them like regular students.
You could say Notre Dame is stuck in the past. I think the rest of college football is stuck in the present.
Pinkett should be applauding his school. Columnists who rip Notre Dame for not winning enough (I have occasionally made cracks myself) should also be congratulating Notre Dame for remembering that the football team is a branch of the University, not the trunk or the roots. Twenty years ago, Notre Dame was one of the top five programs in college football. The Irish won the 1988 national title and came within a field goal of winning one in 1993. Lou Holtz brought in top-five recruiting classes every year. The program created future NFL stars like Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis and Ricky Watters.
Those were the glory days, but there were also some days that made administrators uncomfortable. A book called "Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Ideals for Football Glory," included accusations of steroid use, academic misconduct and a coach (Holtz) who cared only about winning.
Administrators decided to make some changes. Holtz desperately wanted to bring in a young, troubled receiver from West Virginia who loved Notre Dame. The administration denied him admission. His name was Randy Moss. He might have helped the passing game a bit.
Holtz left. The school has not won much of consequence since, in part because of poor hirings, and in part because, in this ultra-competitive age, even Notre Dame needs to do a lot of things really well in order to have a chance to win.
And the current Notre Dame team is far from perfect. Coach Brian Kelly refused to suspend star receiver Michael Floyd last year after Floyd was arrested for driving under the influence. But Kelly has suspended potential starting quarterback Tommy Rees, starting running back Cierre Wood, linebacker Carlos Calabrese and defensive end Justin Utupo to start the season. (Rees and Calabrese were arrested and Wood and Utupo violated team rules.) It would have been better if they didn't get in trouble in the first place, of course. But many teams would let them play.
Too many college teams are run like pro franchises, with the coaches and players doing as they please as long as the wins and revenue keep coming. Individuals will always make mistakes, but institutions can keep their integrity. Notre Dame is at least trying to run a football program that will make the school proud. So cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame. And hope that it is not replaced by a new Notre Dame.