Notre Dame holds line: No interest in semi-pro model

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The New York Times had a large feature on Notre Dame and college athletics, and the increasingly wobbly balancing act between some school’s pursuit of an academic mission and the business of college sports.

In a lengthy interview with university president Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame all but doubles-down on previous comments made by Jack Swarbrick, committed to its role as a leading academic institution and a university where its student-athletes are also able to compete in elite-level sports.

As the College Football Playoff spins off untold millions of dollars and the NCAA slowly and begrudgingly begins rolling out progressive measures like cost-of-attendance stipends, supporters on both sides of a complex issue continue to wonder if the entire amateurism model is sustainable. And if it isn’t, Notre Dame is ready to remain committed to their values.

“Perhaps institutions will make decisions about where they want to go — a semipro model or a different, more educational model — and I welcome that,” Jenkins told the Times. “I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, and I think there would be schools that would do that.”

The entire column is worth a read, though doesn’t differ from previously on the record statements by either Jenkins or Swarbrick. And while the university is certainly progressive when it comes to allowing student-athletes the ability to monetize their fame or likeness rights, it holds firm on its belief that Notre Dame will retain its identity even if other football powers want to go in a different direction.

Pundits scoffed when Jack Swarbrick, the university’s athletic director, voiced similar sentiments this year. No way would Notre Dame — practically French for college football — set aside its national ambitions and settle for Saturday matchups against, say, Carnegie Mellon.

Think of it, they reasoned. Television and sports-apparel contracts would dry up, alumni generosity would decline, and the best athletes would go elsewhere. Notre Dame would no longer be … Notre Dame.

The scholar-president disagrees. Notre Dame will remain Notre Dame no matter what, he says, fully aware that he is on the record.

It’s always good to hear Jenkins speaking about these issues, ones that’ll eventually come to a head as court room litigation, union consideration and congressional oversight all continue to be storylines in addition to the results on the field. And as the semi-pro model eventually could include paychecks for players playing for powerhouses like Ohio State, Alabama or Florida State, Jenkins stays very clear with his thoughts.

“I’d say that education is more valuable than however much money we might give you. So focus on that,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help you be successful in getting that education.”