Dec. 17, 2000
Excelling on Both Sides
Of the Student-Athlete Equation
By Dennis Brown
Academic excellence and athletic success are thought by some to be contradictory pursuits, but they’ve always been defining characteristics of Notre Dame, and the University continues to demonstrate that the two can go hand-in-hand.
As the first half of the 2000-01 academic and athletic year came to a close, Notre Dame had placed three teams among the nation’s top 10 in their respective sports, and four others in the top 25.
At the same time, Irish student-athletes once again were among the leaders in the NCAA’s annual survey of graduation rates.
In the various athletic arenas:
* Notre Dame is ranked 10th in football after a 9-2 season that includes an invitation to participate Jan. 1 in the Tostitoes Fiesta Bowl. (Not to be overlooked in that accomplishment is the approximately $13.5-million payout, most of which will be directed to the University’s general fund for student financial aid.)
* The women’s basketball team is ranked third, continuing a tradition of excellence that includes five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a berth in the 1997 Final Four.
* The women’s soccer team was ranked No. 1 for most of the season and reached the national semifinals for the sixth time in seven years.
* The Irish are No. 20 in men’s basketball, breaking into the national polls for the first time in more than a decade.
* The Irish finished ninth in the men’s NCAA cross country championships, placing in the top 10 for the second straight season and the fifth time in the last nine years.
* Notre Dame was ranked 21st in women’s volleyball and qualified for the NCAA championship tournament for the ninth consecutive season.
* Women’s swimming is ranked 18th, after finishing in that same position in last year’s NCAA Championships.
Meanwhile, in the 2000 NCAA Graduation-Rates Report released Nov. 20, Notre Dame ranked in the top five among Division I-A colleges and universities in five major categories:
* Overall, the University graduated a four-year average of 89 percent of its student-athletes, third only to Northwestern and Duke Universities at 92 and 91 percent, respectively.
* Among football players, Notre Dame graduated 82 percent rate of its student-athletes, the highest percentage among the 15 teams rated in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Among all Division I-A institutions, the football graduation rate for Notre Dame is third only to Northwestern at 88 percent and Stanford University at 83 percent.
* In women’s sports, Notre Dame compiled a 94-percent graduation rate, second only to Northwestern at 98 percent.
* Among men, Notre Dame’s 87-percent rate is fourth behind Duke and Northwestern at 90 percent and Stanford at 88 percent.
* Notre Dame’s 81-percent graduation rate for African-American student-athletes ranks behind only Northwestern, Duke, Vanderbilt University and Stanford.
The NCAA bases graduation rates on the raw percentage of student-athletes who entered an institution and graduated within six years. Students who leave or transfer, regardless of academic standing, are considered nongraduates. When using the more traditional method of considering only student-athletes who complete all four years of athletic eligibility, i.e., not considering those who leave or transfer, 99 percent at Notre Dame earn their degrees.
In addition to receiving high marks in the graduation rates survey, Notre Dame also has produced more Academic All-Americans than ever in the past few years. In 1999-2000, nine members of Irish athletic teams were honored for their accomplishments in and out of the classroom, and Notre Dame has had 42 such selections in the past five years, more than any other university in the nation.
It isn’t just by happenstance that Notre Dame is succeeding on both sides of the student-athlete equation.
Not to be overlooked in the strong performances of Irish teams this year is the outlook new athletic director Kevin White has brought to Notre Dame since his appointment in March.
“Kevin White has changed the dynamics of the athletic director’s role,” said head women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw.
“He is an exemplary leader who makes you want to be the best coach you can be. He makes everyone feel that they play an important part in our department, and he is genuinely interested in helping us get better. Notre Dame has always been supportive of our program, but Kevin has taken that support to a new level. He is the perfect fit for Notre Dame.”
Just as on the athletic side, the academic accomplishments of Notre Dame’s student-athletes can be attributed to several factors, notably the consistency of the admissions process in accepting well-qualified students and the monitoring efforts of the coaches and the University’s Office of Academic Services for Student-Athletes.
“The requirements for admission here at Notre Dame haven’t changed for 40 years,” Dan Saracino, assistant provost for enrollment, recently told Blue & Gold Illustrated.
“We look at everybody individually, obviously. But the bottom line is (whether) we think the prospective student-athlete would be successful here. Given their talents, given their previous academic record, given their character, would they be good matches for Notre Dame?”
Once enrolled, Irish student-athletes are closely monitored by their respective coaching staffs as well as by the staff of the academic services office, which was among the first such programs in higher education when it was established in 1964 under the direction of Mike DeCicco. Now directed by Kate Halischak, the office provides counseling, guidance and tutoring as needed to more than 600 varsity athletes each year. And the program will be even better equipped to provide support beginning in 2001 when it relocates to the new Coleman/Morse Center on campus.
An additional factor in the overall development of Notre Dame student-athletes is the work of the athletic department’s Life Skills Program. Created in 1996, Life Skills develops and carries out events and activities that assist student-athletes in five essential areas — academic excellence, athletic success, career preparation, community involvement, and personal development. The Notre Dame initiative received a Program of Excellence Award this year from the NCAA.
Notre Dame finished 21st in last year’s Sears Directors Cup, the annual survey of the universities that produce the best overall athletic programs. With the outstanding start this year — and with the anticipation of strong winter and spring seasons for fencing, swimming, tennis, lacrosse, track and field, softball and baseball — don’t be be surprised to see the Irish make a move toward the top 10.
Dennis K. Brown is Associate Director, Public Relations and Information, at the University of Notre Dame