Most Notre Dame fans had probably never heard of Assistant Provost for Enrollment Dan Saracino prior to a May 1, 2000 Sports Illustrated article focusing on Notre Dame's admission standards and their relationship to the football team's success (or lack thereof). Between Ted Duckett's (father of current Atlanta Falcons running back T.J. Duckett) harsh words and an unflattering "gatekeeper" photograph, Saracino was portrayed as the villain of the article.
However, in a series of interviews with The Observer, Saracino has sought to provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between the admissions department and the football program.
In an article from last spring, Saracino argued that Notre Dame's biggest recruiting hurdle was not recruits' inability to meet entrance requirements, but rather recruits' skepticism of the coaching acumen of the Davie and Willingham regimes. Saracino specifically disclaims any significant increase in admissions standards for the football team:
But University officials insist admissions standards have remained constant and are not tied to grade point averages or standardized test scores. And the school's director of admissions says that Notre Dame will overlook below-average numbers as long as it believes a potential recruit can survive in Notre Dame's rigorous academic environment.The Observer's own research indicated a slight increase, though one cannot be sure of the accuracy of the numbers to which the Observer had access.
"I've seen the profiles of the athletes over the 40-plus years," director of admissions Dan Saracino said, "and the academic profiles of the classes of football players has not changed. ... The 1984 recruits [who were seniors during the 1988 championship season] were no different as a class than any other year."
But statistics show that the average SAT scores for athletes have risen at almost the same rate as the scores of the regular student. The SAT scores for football players jumped roughly 6.3 percent from 1993 to 2004, while the scores of the average student rose 6.7 percent over the same period of time. Saracino, however, maintains that standards for football players have not toughened as the standards for regular students have risen.Finally, Saracino points to several "difference-makers" who had less interest in Notre Dame's previous coaching staff than the admissions office had in them.
"We get beat, and have gotten beat [in football] over recent years by young men who we clearly wanted to come here," Saracino said. "Reggie Bush was cleared by admissions, Allen Smith was and so was Lorenzo Booker."Note that this surprisingly candid last statement was made in April 2004, during the previous coaching staff's tenure. Based on his comments in a recent Observer article, it appears Saracino believes this situation has changed.
Top running backs Bush and Booker went to USC and Florida State, respectively, in recent years. Smith committed this winter to Stanford, also a school with a prestigious academic reputation.
So why are these players choosing schools, even a school like Stanford that has rigorous academic standards, over Notre Dame?
"I don't really know, but I am frustrated that we seem to be having less success in recruiting [top players] compared to the past," Saracino said. "It could be that our current coaches just don't understand Notre Dame and its "positives" well enough to convince these young men that Notre Dame is the place for them."
"One of the benefits of having a Notre Dame alumnus in that position is he understands Notre Dame," Saracino said.Saracino also reiterated that academic requirements had not kept Notre Dame from getting its top targets in recent years.
"It wasn't bad before," Saracino said of his relationship with former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham. "If we were having some difficulty in recruiting the student-athletes that we wanted, it wasn't because they were trying to get young men admitted who could not do the work. It was just that they weren't getting them."