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Saracino's retirement could have major implications

May 29, 2010, 4:22 AM EDT

News came from the University of Notre Dame that Director of Undergraduate Admissions Dan Saracino will retire after spending 13 years in the position.

“It truly has been an honor to have served my alma mater these past 13 years,”
Saracino released in a statement. “With a passionate and dedicated
staff, we have all labored tirelessly to reach those outstanding young
men and women who have indeed made this an even better Notre Dame. As
an alumnus, I have no doubt that this special place will continue to

While senior administrators come and go at universities, Saracino played an integral role within the athletic department, as he was the proverbial gatekeeper that decided what recruits were eligible or ineligible to be offered athletic scholarships by Irish coaches. While Saracino operated in the shadows of coaching staffs, many targeted him as the man that held the plight of each head coach in his hands.

Saracino’s reputation was largely built by a controversial article written just over a decade ago. Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden profiled the plight of the Notre Dame football program in May of 2000, targeting Saracino’s strengthened academic requirements for taking “the fight out of Notre Dame.”

Saracino was painted as the man that single-handedly kept T.J. Duckett, Jared Payton, David Terrell, and future Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer from being admitted into the university. (Three eventual first round draft picks.)

Photographed brashly in front of the Administrative building, Saracino inexplicably mugged for SI’s cameras, looking like a Lord reining mightily over his fiefdom, with an arrogance to match.

Here Layden details T.J. Duckett’s recruiting trip with his father Ted.

Their first stop had been beneath the Golden Dome itself, at the office
of Dan Saracino, the assistant provost for enrollment–in effect, the
admissions director. No student enrolls at Notre Dame without Saracino’s
approval, and the Ducketts’ meeting with him was ugly almost from the

Saracino believed that T.J.’s performance in math courses had not
been strong enough, and on this point the interview turned contentious.

“T.J. didn’t have precalculus, but there was still time to take
it [in summer school],” Ted says, recalling the meeting. “The man
assumed that my son wasn’t intelligent enough to get through his school.
He told me, ‘We don’t have basket-weaving at Notre Dame.’ I was livid.
My son is a quality individual. He comes from an educated family. [Ted
teaches high school history and physical education; T.J.’s late mother,
Jacqulyn Barham, was a retired special education teacher.] I believe
this man made judgments about T.J. because T.J. wore a long leather
jacket and jeans, instead of a suit. The bottom line is, this man
insulted my kid, and no matter what else happened that day, there was a
bad taste in our mouths.” Ted says that before he stormed out of the
admissions office, he told Saracino, “Plenty of fine universities aren’t
making these demands on my son.”

For many, Saracino never lived down that infamous article, and his role in recruiting became equal parts crutch for underachieving coaches like Bob Davie, and whipping boy for fans unable to understand why the Irish haven’t been able to achieve the levels of success they did under Lou Holtz, who worked hand-in-hand with then admissions director Kevin Rooney to build a recruiting juggernaut with Vinny Cerrato.

The truth of Saracino’s role in the demise of Notre Dame football likely lies somewhere in the grey. Saracino presided over admissions for the university during its greatest time of academic revival, with scholastic achievement and diversity increasing greatly during his 13 years in charge. Still, the late adaptation to the realities of modern recruiting likely hurt Notre Dame under Davie and Willingham, with Charlie Weis the first coach since Holtz to reach some kind of accord with the admissions office. Only under Weis did the university finally allow the Irish to make early offers to elite recruits pending their senior transcripts, and eventual even relented on letting incoming freshman enroll early for the spring semester.

In many ways, Saracino had one of the most challenging jobs in academia, balancing the rigors of a university intent on becoming elite and a traditional football power struggling to return to the same standing, two goals many believe to be diametrically opposed.

Whoever replaces Saracino in the position — a national search is currently underway — will likely do well for themselves by studying Saracino’s tenure.

There’s plenty to learn, both good and bad, from his time in charge.

  1. TLNDMA - May 31, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    Seems to me there have been some changes in admissions policy already, either that or BK and his staff are working way harder at recruiting than previous regimes. I say this due to the number of offers this staff had out there so early in the recuiting process. The offers out seem to far exceed previous years, both in numbers and quality.

  2. DocHR - Jun 1, 2010 at 1:01 AM

    Good article, Keith. Thanks for a behind-the-scenes look at the ND “problem”: growing academically while trying to regain it’s football prominence.

  3. Jonathan - Jun 1, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    You do a great job. But I would request that you go back to the history books on Holtz’s relationship with Kevin Rooney.
    I beleve that Holtz once made a comment that he did not speak to Rooney for the last five years of his tenure at ND.
    It was an adversarial relationship to be sure, and they certainly did not work “hand-in-hand.”

  4. Jim - Jun 1, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    I agree with the comment re Holtz and Rooney. One only need read Holtz’ autobiography to understand he did not agree with Rooney’s philosophy that he would not take a football player over another, more academically qualified, student from the same high school.

  5. test - Jun 1, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    this is a test ignone

  6. frank carpin - Jun 1, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    in january 1957 i was admitted to NOTRE DAME after the US state department intervened on my behalf so i could participate in a good will trip in central and south america during the fall semester. .originally i was accepted for september matriculation but the admissions office nixed my spring semester entrance ….two others were admitted in that semester as well after very influential interventions…the point is that the admissions office should have accomodated qualified football recruits long before charlie weis if that was necessary to keep us competitive with others….. the school recognized legitimate exceptions over 50 years ago in my case…why did it take so long for football recruits ?

  7. Stanford in South Bend - Jun 1, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Notre Dame is well on its way to becoming Stanford with a few Statues.
    Clearly, they are more interested in maintaining their “TOP 20” status, than their Catholic character/identity.
    You need only look here for proof of it.

  8. John Collins - Jun 1, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    I do think the ultimate goal here, is to create “Duke with a Dome” in South Bend.
    “The Universtity should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.” – University of Notre Dame, Faculty Senate, 4/09/08.

  9. wow - Jun 2, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    The most shocking part about the article was that they would reject recruits ON CAMPUS! They couldn’t check them out beforehand and determine their admissability? They had to wait till they flew up to Indiana to tell them they couldn’t pass calculus? If true, that’s shocking and downright unprofessional. Wow.

  10. Shazamrock - Jun 3, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    You can turn someone down without being rude. Politeness and respect are the common tools of modern successfull business.
    Just as USC is gaining a reputation as cheaters, it’s people like this Saracino fellow that stigmatise ND as arogant.
    You would think that showing up for work every day, year after year, at the top Catholic University in the country, that he would understand the “Golden Rule” by now.

  11. The Piper - Jun 3, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Keep in mind that the article was written in a way where Saracino was the antagonist. He was going to come across negatively no matter what he said.
    I would also say that Saracino rubbed many people the wrong way because of how forceful he was in meetings drawing a line in the sand about ND’s standards. However, I’d also highlight that many of the Letters To The Editor in the following weeks were quite supportive of Notre Dame. See this link:
    I also thought it necessary to highlight this letter concerning the Duckett comments:
    “T.J. Duckett’s father is quoted as saying that admissions director Saracino “made judgments about T.J. because T.J. wore a long leather jacket and jeans” to his interview. Earth to Mr. Duckett: Admissions directors at prestigious universities make judgments. T.J.’s decision to wear jeans to an interview speaks volumes about the mind-set of today’s college and pro athletes: Pay me my respect, and to hell with your standards and values.
    Bob Dee Jr., Potomac Falls, Va.”

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