Admissions for athletes is very different than from the rest of the student body. I know because I was a student athlete at ND and I know what the football player requirements were because I had heard from my fellow athlete friends who were on the football team. While I was recruited by my ND coach during my Senior year of high school and received a special ND application and was on "the list," I would have be admitted anyway with my GPA, SAT score and athletic accomplishments, but I am glad that I had the help.
In terms of getting in as a football player, they needed to have a SAT score in the high 800s to mid 900s. They also needed to have Cs in their high school classes. There were not required classes that needed to be taken in high school like there are for normal ND admitted students. ND had classes for 0 credit that were there to get the football players (some basketball, etc on a need basis) to prepare them for the freshman course load. Some examples are math classes that fall below the most basic math class ND offers, Calculus. There were 0 credit Algebra II/ Trig classes and precalculus classes. Since they were for 0 credit, having them as course options didn't bring the overall academics difficulty down.
On top of this, football players took no more than 12 credits per semester (4 three credit classes), when the normal course load for a student was 15 credits or even 18 for the really aggressive ones (5 or 6 classes). All football players stayed during the summer, took summer school classes and trained. Summer classes are also notoriously easier. Many athletes took the more difficult required classes during the summer for this reason. Additionally, for certain mandatory classes that were more difficult that ALL students had to take, there were review sessions specifically organized by the coaches for the athletes to attend prior to exams. The best TAs taught them and basically reviewed everything that was pertinent to the exams, midterms and finals. Examples of these are freshman science, business major required economics, business major required accounting and business major required finance.
Certain sports had mandatory nightly study hall where they had to sit in a room and do their homework. They also had mandatory tutoring for anyone who needed it. Coaches received progress reports (sometimes as often as weekly to monitor their athletes performance in classes). There were also audits of the classes that the football players were in where someone from the athletic department would actually drop by the class, walk in and make sure the athlete was in attendance.
In addition to this, football players have counselors to help them pick their academic schedule of classes. They get first pick at all of the classes and if they don't get into a class they wanted, they can go into the registrar's office, tell them they are an athlete and they will be manually put into the class right then and there regardless of if the class is already full.
Many of these things are not just for football players, BUT FOR ALL STUDENT ATHLETES. This is for ALL sports. Certain sports with higher overall grade point averages do not have mandatory study hall, but all of these things to help the players succeed are there. I utilized many of these programs when I was in school there and I know that my overall GPA during the time I was on the team is higher because of it and would have been had I not participated in varsity sports.
Getting in is not hard for someone who the school is actively recruiting. Also, it is easier to fail out of ND as a freshman who just parties too much and doesn't want to go to class than it is for an athlete since there are so many mitigating controls in place to make sure that the athlete makes the grades to stay on the team and also to graduate.
Notre Dame DOES NOT NEED TO CHANGE THEIR ADMISSIONS POLICY. If they did, the kinds of athletes that would get in who were unable to be admitted before are those with a 4th grade reading level.