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South Bend Tribune looks at ResLife and admissions

Aug 22, 2011, 12:08 PM EDT

Kyle McAlarney, Preston Knowles

Any discussion between Irish fans about Notre Dame’s office of Residence Life or the school’s admissions policy usually ends up resembling a fireside fishing story — buried amidst the embellishment is some kernel of truth.

For every tale of draconian punishment decried there’s usually a high-profile disciplinary case where even the strictest of Irish fans have shaken their head over the school’s logic. Likewise, for every story about five-star recruit X getting slid through admissions when in the past he’d have never gotten a chance, there are more than likely examples of Notre Dame admitting students with lesser academic profiles than the norm.

While some high-profile stories this preseason have wondered aloud whether the handling of Michael Floyd‘s disciplinary case or the admission of some elite recruits signifies a lowering of standards in both discipline and academics, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

With unprecedented access, the South Bend Tribune‘s Eric Hansen looks at the two hot-button issues, penning comprehensive stories on the two issues that have drawn the microscopes of football fans everywhere. The Sunday morning print exclusives are now available on the internet and there is quite a bit to digest for those interested in a story that’s only tangentially about football.

In Hansen’s first piece on the evolution of ResLife, the university’s disciplinary arm for students, he cites the change in the discipline of other athletes — namely former Irish tight end Will Yeatman, former point guard Kyle McAlarney, and former fullback Rashon Powers-Neal — from that punishment levied recently on Floyd.

There was a PR whiplash of sorts for Notre Dame, though, for being responsive to the voices that pushed for change and taking what it considered a more fair, more progressive approach with not only Floyd but the dozens of other cases last fall and spring that involved lower-profile students.

Cynics connected the dots to the Yeatman/McAlarney/Powers-Neal cases and concluded there was some kind of legal gerrymandering going on because of Floyd’s importance to the team. And that, they argued – coupled with facility upgrades and alleged relaxing of admissions standards – meant Notre Dame was somehow compromising what it had long purported to stand for.

Pierce, and many alumni like him – including Yeatman – look at it instead as evolution. A very necessary evolution.

Those who adjudicated the verdicts in Res Life for Yeatman, McAlarney and Powers-Neal didn’t have the power to do anything short of suspending them. Du Lac didn’t allow for any other outcome in cases involving student probation.

And that was perhaps the most significant change in the 2010-11 handbook from its earlier iterations, that initial probation no longer came with an automatic suspension from extracurricular activities – student government, student media, retreat leaders and, yes, football.

“Probation is actually probation now,” said Brian Coughlin, associate vice president for student affairs/student development. “That means if you do something else, there will be further consequences.”

There were other significant changes, notably in how DUI and other alcohol-related offenses were defined and how incidents off-campus were treated as opposed to those that occurred on-campus. All of which could have changed the trajectory of Yeatman’s experience at ND and all of which were in print and online for the world to peruse seven months before Floyd’s future went temporarily gray on March 20.

That Notre Dame’s official handbook was not only enacted, but in print and available to the public more than seven months before Floyd ran afoul from the law seems to be the biggest revelation coming from the story.

The fact that many who have called the decision to let Floyd remain in school, therefore allowing him the chance to stay with the football team, special treatment are forgetting that this new policy first came into the headlines last May, when tight end Mike Ragone was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, an arrest that didn’t cost him any playing time with the Irish either.

Hansen’s other story takes a deeper look at the admissions policy of the university as it relates to student-athletes, starting with a look at former Irish linebacker John Foley‘s unlikely journey to Notre Dame.

“I was a kid from inner city Chicago, who came from a family with five kids who lived in a three-bedroom apartment,” said Foley, now a big name in the financial world with Barrington Research, “During my recruitment, I was offered $100,000 from one school. My parents were offered a new house, new jobs from another. My girlfriend and I were offered gifts to go to another.

“Then I talked to (then-Notre Dame coach) Lou Holtz when I was on an official recruiting visit to ND and he said, ‘Hey if you want to come here and get an education, we’d love to have you. If you don’t, we don’t want you. Go home.’ ”

Holtz then told Foley, the nation’s premier linebacker prospect, that he needed to have a backup plan for his life in case he got hurt. And Foley did, early and often. His ND football career consisted of 27 minutes and eight seconds of cameos, all during his sophomore season (1987).

First, though, Foley had to get past then-director of undergraduate admissions Kevin Rooney, who made it a point to meet face-to-face with the football prospects.

“Lou Holtz told me, ‘Kid, this is going to be the interview of your life,’ ” Foley said. “ ‘If he says no, there’s nothing I can do to change that.’ Rooney was tough. He asked me why my test scores were so low. As it turns out, I was dyslexic, but didn’t know it at that time.

“He looked me in the eye, though, and saw how hard I was willing to work. I told him I wanted to be a student first. And every day, literally, I thank God Mr. Rooney let me in.”

Foley, quarterback Tony Rice and basketball player Keith Robinson were all admitted during the first year of the NCAA’s controversial Proposition 48 implementation. Each was forced by the NCAA to sit out all athletic activities their freshman year.

Two very interested reads, and two articles you should read in their entirety (ResLife and admissions). Great scoops by Hansen, who was given very good access by the university.

  1. whisk3yjack - Aug 22, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Real journalists like Hansen enjoy serious access to the subjects they cover. Brian Hamilton should take note.

    • seeeye - Aug 22, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      That was a pretty non-subtle dig at Hamilton there.

      • papadec - Aug 22, 2011 at 6:00 PM

        Deservedly so.

  2. johndepasquale - Aug 22, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    if Brian hamilton didn’t bash ND every chance he gets, maybe he would have been granted access. Hansen writes complimentary articles on ND, that’s why they let him in like that.

    • ND Geek - Aug 22, 2011 at 4:31 PM

      I think the difference is that Hansen isn’t out on a witch hunt with every article he writes. If ND deserves a bit of negative press, I don’t think Hansen would be afraid to write the story. Hamilton, on the other hand, has seemed to have it out for the Irish at every turn.

  3. Keith Arnold - Aug 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    Guys — Let’s keep this on topic and not on writers. Both guys are very good at their job.

    • oldestguard - Aug 23, 2011 at 11:20 AM

      Sorry, Keith…but I think it’s totally on topic.

      Hamilton’s “work” stands in contrast to Hansen’s article and it’s glaring.

    • socalgold - Aug 23, 2011 at 10:17 PM

      Good point Kieth.

      Hansen is good at his job of being a journalist.

      Hamilton is good at his job as a wannabe journalist.

  4. 1historian - Aug 25, 2011 at 7:47 AM

    Let’s not forget Chris Zorich.

    And I remember a story from when Lou was coaching @ ND. It seems there was a hot-shot H.S. kicker who was the focus of a recruiting battle between ND and Florida
    State. The kid was the son of a former ND player and so everyone assumed he would go to ND. At the last minute he signed with FSU. As the story goes Lou said “he didn’t make a 4 year mistake, he made a 40 year mistake.”

    Notre Dame is a bit (?) over the top arrogant and snobby, which irritates a LOT of people, but the fact is that they graduate somewhere around 95% of their athletes and they get a GOOD degree.

  5. papadec - Aug 25, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    Keith, I appreciate the article on ResLife – I have been wondering if there were changes, or an evolution, to the way student discipline is handled @ ND. That seemed to be an issue prior to Coach Kelly arriving. It looks to be improved. I could be wrong, but I sort of remember an article (I think by you) a few years ago that listed 4 things that needed to change in the FB program. Weight training (including a better nutrition table), ResLife, and I don’t remember the others. It looks like Coach Kelly has addressed those issues and is working closely with ND administrators regarding player discipline. Thank you.

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