Monday, July 30, 2007

How About A Little Fire, Scarecrow?

I can't believe I spent an hour over the weekend putting together my strawman list and still forgot the most galling of them all:

ND's recruiting is improving ... they must have lowered their academic standards

[smacking head on keyboard repeatedly]

This is probably one of the biggest canards in the ND universe -- that the Fighting Irish lower their academic standards when they want to get good and then raise them again when they get nervous about becoming a football factory.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm willing to assume there is always an inverse correlation between the academic achievement of high school juniors and seniors and their athletic ability, even though it's something I don't necessarily believe to be true.

The measure of admissions standards seems to be set by the average GPA and standardized test scores of the athletes ND admits. When those scores go up, the theory goes, ND has tightened the noose on its coach in an effort to reclaim some kind of accountability for classroom performance. When those scores go down, ND has realized they need to admit the quality athletes to succeed.

That all sounds great in theory. The problem is, it only measures the student athletes who accept a scholarship offer to Notre Dame, not the full range of student athletes who were offered a scholarship, and it's the offer range that truly determines what Notre Dame's "admissions standards" are.

Players want to go where they believe they will succeed in the areas they deem important. They want to play in the pros, and they want to make sure during their college careers they get the proper instruction and exposure that will maximize the chances they'll end up there. Therefore, they're going to be attracted to and sign with strong programs.

When Notre Dame is perceived as strong, they're going to sign good athletes. If you believe my assumption above that the good athletes are going to bring correspondingly low academic scores, the overall ratings will go down. When Notre Dame is perceived as weak or otherwise non-optimal, they're not going to sign good athletes. Once again, if the assumption is true, the overall ratings will go up. It has nothing to do with what Notre Dame has intended, but rather what they have achieved, which is not the same thing and not subject to the criteria being evaluated.

The current mantra is that ND somehow loosened the strings for Charlie Weis, and that's why he's pulling in top classes. The reality, however, if you talk to recruiting gurus, is ND bent over backwards to accommodate Bob Davie, and bent even further for Tyrone Willingham.

Remember that for the most part, student athletes cannot be offered a scholarship without the approval of admissions, and over the past 10 years there have been more than a few "question marks" that got (or accepted) offers to come to ND. The difference is, a lot of them didn't accept that offer, so their scores are not factored in to the data for their recruiting class.

Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were allowed to make plenty of offers to blue-chip athletes who still had academic issues to overcome. Aldo de la Garza went so far as to sign a letter of intent for Davie's squad, but never made it to campus after Clearinghouse issues. Justin Forsett and Jonathan Stewart were not what you'd call academic hotshots in high school, yet Willingham was permitted to pursue them and make the offer to them.

And academics didn't have anything to do with some of the other problems. Reggie Bush, who had his academic house in order, chose Southern Cal over the Irish, which had nothing to do with academic standards and everything to do with ND not being an attractive program under Willingham's leadership. Think TW's ND record would have been better with Bush in the backfield? Can't blame that one on admissions.

Does this mean ND never tightens the academic reins? Of course not, because they have in the past. But they usually do it more to affect the viability of a coach than to make some kind of overall statement. ND has goosed the standards up to push Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Digger Phelps out the door when firing them or otherwise terminating their contracts might have drawn hue and cry from the alumni and fanbase. But I don't believe they've ever done so to quiet complaints about being a football factory, because the only people who make those complaints are (or at least should be) irrelevant when it comes to ND charting its overall course.

As long as a coach keeps lines of communication open with the admissions office, he (or she) should have no issues with recruiting. When you keep those lines open, as Weis has, you benefit. When you don't keep those lines open, as Willingham didn't and Davie did haphazardly, you don't.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ND has goosed the standards up to push Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Digger Phelps out the door when firing them or otherwise terminating their contracts might have drawn hue and cry from the alumni and fanbase."

Proof? Source?

7/30/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

People involved in the various situations.

7/30/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, that's who I thought it was.

7/30/2007 07:24:00 PM  

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