So, you’ve heard by now that Jaylon Smith verbally committed to ND on Saturday. Grantland-X did a great job covering the high points and what it means yesterday. I want to continue that analysis, but into an area that caught my eye. Not like this did, but also in a profound way. You see, to Jaylon Smith, football wasn’t the important thing about ND. When you read the quotes, and hat tip to Tony Krausz for laying most of them all out there, the school, and its proximity to mom, was the thing. To Jaylon Smith, it matters that ND graduates “99%” of its African-American athletes.
Let’s face it, the loss of Aaron Lynch to sunnier climes, and his girlfriend, gave the haters the opportunity to trot out the old tropes: ND can’t compete for premier athletes, ND needs to lower its standards, no one wants to play for ND anymore. Years back, Paul Hornung put race on the table in ham-fisted, and offensive, fashion. So now that Jaylon Smith put race back back on the table in a more positive and much more tweetable form, I wanted to explore the importance of race and academics to premier recruits. So I asked one.
“This is one of my pet peeves,” said Oscar McBride, former ND and NFL great. “If you’re an African-American, and even if you are not, and you go to a football school and you get hurt or you don’t get drafted, you’ve used your eligibility and you’ve got nothing. What Notre Dame is presenting an athlete is an opportunity beyond athletics.” And that opportunity is better now than ever, as “Notre Dame goes above and beyond to help the student-athlete. They have a development office that didn’t exist when [we] were there.” And he’s right. Notre Dame’s Student Welfare and Development office takes the student-athlete from admission through graduation. The value of that degree? Almost $1,000,000 according to the good people at payscale.com. That’s over-and-above anything the player makes in the NFL and is, in fact, a huge under-statement, because the recruits we’re talking about are scholarship players.
“Notre Dame is not for everyone,” Oscar continued. “Let’s put that out there. It’s different. It’s calm. But there’s an arrogance: we are ND and you are not.” When I pressed Oscar if ND means anything to today’s young, African-American top recruits from Florida, as opposed to a young, African-American top recruit from Florida in 1990, he said it did. “We were in a recruiting lull for a few years. The last great class was Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. Now, we’re starting to see what ‘great’ means: you’re five stars on the field, and off.” When asked if ND faced a challenge in recruiting African-American athletes specifically, Oscar responded, “Coach Holtz was able to find student-athletes all cut from the same cloth. If you put us in a bag and shook it up, we’d come out the same. We’re still great friends.” So, it’s not about race, it’s about cloth.
Oscar went after another implied assumption in my questioning, that ND isn’t competitive. “What’s that mean? Winning the championship? No. Competitive means you can win the game with five minutes left on the clock. You’re telling me we’re not competitive? You realize we were three plays away from 11-2, right?” He has a point. And not just in football. “We beat number one Syracuse [in men’s basketball], go to the championship in women’s hoops and get to the finals in lacrosse. We can combine athletics and academics in every other sport, and if you think it can’t be done in football, how do you explain Stanford?”
I get it now. It’s not about race, or the number of stars attached to a recruit’s name. It’s about putting 85 young men together who, twenty years later, value their education and each other. ND comes in for a lot of what I, now, believe to be highly unfair criticism that sells our student-athletes short and vastly undervalues the achievements of our non-football playing athletes. But if you believe Oscar McBride, and maybe you should, ND’s building something on, and off, the gridiron. Thanks for opening my eyes, O. And you, too, Jaylon Smith.
Author’s note: you can reach Oscar on Twitter @ask_oscar and on Facebook at Ask Oscar McBride.
Hating Hurricanes Since 1990.
Bayou Irish is a Jersey boy and Double Domer who fell under New Orleans' spell in 1995. He's been through Katrina and fourteen years in the Coast Guard, so we cut him some slack, mostly in the form of HLS-subsidized sazeracs. But, when he's not face down on the bar and communing with the ghosts of Faulkner and Capote at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, he's our man in SEC-land, doing his best to convince everyone around him that Graduation Success Rate is a better indicator of success than the number of MNC's won in the last five years.
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