Notre Dame Athletics: Winning On and Off the Field

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

When I was at my ND reunion a couple of weeks ago I had the chance to sit in on a panel discussion on the success of Notre Dame Athletics both on and off the field. The panel featured four speakers, including Dan Skendzel from Fighting Irish Digital Media and our athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

They shared some very enlightening facts and figures about the state of Notre Dame Athletics both on and off the field. Here is a bit of what they shared with us.

  • 24 of our 26 athletic programs competed in post season play this year and 8 of 26 *so far* have finished in the final 16 or better (some programs still had games left to play at the time of this panel discussion).
  • 7,500 hours of (voluntary) community service were complete this year by our student-athletes.
  • In 2012 our graduation success rate among all student-athletes was 99%. Ranked first among the NCAA schools included in this ranking, and it has been that way for four years.
  • Well over a third of our student-athletes have over a 3.4 GPA.

The Notre Dame athletic department has gone to great measures to ensure the success of our athletes both on and off the field. These athletes come to Notre Dame with the understanding that they are a student first, and an athlete second; but success is expected in both areas when you are a student-athlete at Notre Dame.

To ensure that we have this kind of success moving forward, the University values its athletic programs as an integral part of academics. The University has an internal structure that has been built to support this academic/athletic platform. They have leaders in place who are supportive of this philosophy of the student-athlete and also have the internal structure which drives it and creates success.

In accordance with this, the Fighting Irish Digital Media (FIDM) department is doing its best to put Notre Dame Athletics in front of the public, to showcase successes and human interest stories in not only football, but other sports as well. Fighting Irish Digital Media is also harnessing the power of its audience. We (yes, you and I) are all content producers, and we all control our media consumption. With this in mind, the challenge FIDM faces is to harness this digital medium and use it to tell the Notre Dame story.

By connecting with the Notre Dame audience, FIDM is able to both share and inspire its audience … and be inspired by its audience. It’s a two way street.

When our founder Father Sorin arrived in South Bend, Indiana and began to build this great University, naming it a “University” was completely outrageous, because at that point it was at best a college. But he named Notre Dame a “University” because he only wanted excellence and no less. And today that extends to programs both on and off the field.

“The athletic experience is primary to the education of students at Notre Dame. The best learning experience is real life. That is educational,” said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

When the panel was finished, they opened the floor to questions. A gentleman from the class of 1963, celebrating his 50-year reunion stood up and asked Jack Swarbrick, “Can you please tell us what happened to that fellow who used to be our quarterback?”

Very eloquently, Jack took the microphone and answered as follows, “there was no different standard for Everett (Golson). It does not matter that he is our starting quarterback. The consequences for what he did are the same as they would have been for any other student.”

Another gentleman asked a question about the “chicken” comments from Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to which Jack Swarbrick replied, “my advice to you in regards to the negative comments that you hear about Notre Dame … EMBRACE THEM. That is the flip side of being Notre Dame. If I did not learn how to embrace them, I would not sleep at night.”

As Notre Dame fans and alumni we many take a lot of heat for the actions of our University and how they handle their business, but I’ll take the heat if it means that they are doing things the right way. It may be a little painful for us to watch, but I’d rather see them take the high road than take the low road just to get the easy way out.



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  • Bill Dempsey

    With all the fine things that can and should be said about Notre Dame, it’s too bad that, while it is certainly a “university,” it can no longer properly be called an authentically Catholic university. The reason is simple and inarguable. In its drive for recognition by secular academe and those who rank its universities, it has shed so much of its Catholic faculty that it no longer comes close to meeting its own test for Catholic identity: the “predominant number of Catholic intellectuals” upon which its Catholic identity “depends.” (Notre Dame Mission Statement.) That’s why long-time philosophy professor Alfred Freddoso has so memorably described Notre Dame as “something like a public school in a Catholic neighborhood.” Lisa would have done well during Alumni Weekend to attend the annual panel discussion among faculty, students, and alumni put on by Sycamore Trust, an organization of Notre Dame alumni and others of the Notre Dame family concerned with the Catholic identity theft that’s gone on at the school. A good substitute for those who care about Notre Dame not only for its athletic excellence and U.S. News ranking but as a Catholic university is a visit to the organization’s website:

    • Lisa

      Good morning, Bill.
      This panel on Notre Dame athletics was not the only panel that I attended during my reunion weekend, however I thought it was a pertinent panel for me to attend based on my writing duties here at Her Loyal Sons. You and I both know that there is much more to Notre Dame than just athletics, however for many people not connected with the University athletics is all they know. That being said, the more that can be projected about successes off the field, and the concept of the Notre Dame “Student-Athlete” … the more people will learn about the Notre Dame that you and I know and love. My relationship with Our Lady’s University is much deeper than just my love for football, but with this being a “football blog” … that is primarily what I write here. If you want to see an insight into my spiritual side, that can be found on my personal blog. Like this, for example:
      God bless!

      • Bill Dempsey

        That certainly makes sense, Lisa. I commented only because in my view far too many alumni and others view Notre Dame only, or primarily, through the prism of the football program. I did not mean to be critical of what you wrote and I apologize if I seemed to be.

        • Lisa

          I appreciate your thoughts and comments, but remember … many of us love much more about Notre Dame than just football! :) Have a wonderful Saturday!