Autry Denson

Sep 03, 2012

FYI, during the past 16 years, before retiring from Notre Dame, I read every word in every Observer and Scholastic (except the awful GIPPER column).  When I enjoyed a piece of writing, I sent a note to the writer.  More than two dozen young men and women became great friends of mine because of this.  One put me in the dedication of the first book she wrote, which made me very proud.  I fancied myself as a writer when I was a student and benefited greatly by the encouragement I got from a lot of caring ND folks.

Because of your great work on the Denson piece I want to give you a suggestion for something which will make you famous.  I Promise.  And, you will be doing a GREAT service.

Here’s the LOOOONG background to the short suggestion I am making.  I enrolled at ND in 1962.  The people just ahead of me were the first ND class which graduated with a losing football record for their four years.  We went 5-5 in 1962 and 2-7 in 1963, so my class also felt we were heading in the same direction.  There was some talk that ND would never be able to compete because our academics were too tough, compared to the football factories (ironic, since we were once in that group and now we were being identified with the serious Universities!).

Many of us felt then (and still do now) that it IS possible for Notre Dame to be a great University AND win football games.  We found that with Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz, it was possible to win a National Championship, but this does not diminish the difficulty.  I still believe that we can do this.  Even coaches who were deemed a failure at ND (Davie, Willingham, and Weis) got us very close (two 9-win seasons by Davie; 10 wins by Willingham in his first year; and two BCS games by Weis in his first two seasons).

Where I differ from nearly ALL of those who criticize our recent lack of National Championships, is that I wouldn’t change much of anything about the way ND is doing things.  What I would like is a leveling of the playing field.  My ridiculously naïve hope was that someday alumni at other colleges would become outraged at the football tail wagging the University dog.  I can’t imagine a Notre Dame grad being happy with a National Championship if we had to do it the USC way; the Ohio State way; the Auburn way; etc.  My second ridiculously naïve hope was that the national media would develop some spine and start asking colleges to defend the practices of their colleges.  It’s a tragic irony that Penn State (a college which has generally done all the right things) is now being flayed by the entire media because of the horrible Sandusky case which gave them no competitive advantage in recruiting or coaching, but there is nobody in the media who can muster much outrage that USC and Alabama are still atop the heap in football despite all their actual football transgressions. 

Anyway, I think that the best hope for ND in the future (along with our great tradition; student, alumni, and fan support; great coaching, and great recruiting) will be if the rest of the country has to MOVE UP to our level.  I don’t want us to drop to their level.  The well-intentioned, but not politically correct, comments of Paul Hornung and Allan Pinkett, are another way of saying “Let’s copy those guys and DROP DOWN to their level”.

In 1972, I applied for a job with the NCAA.  As part of my application, I proposed that the NCAA require every school to publish its grad rates.  I got a polite decline on my suggestion with wording to the effect that “we couldn’t impose that on our members”.

If there is ONE THING today which helps level the playing field, it is that the NCAA has been publishing grad rates for a couple decades (without giving me any credit—LOL) and GSR’s for the past few years, an even stricter standard.

I have an idea to advance that a notch and this is where you come in.

Don’t worry, I’m getting closer to the idea.

On the first Wednesday in February, every Coach is sitting in front of the fax machine waiting for the Letters of Intent to come in.  Every fan is waiting for some Tom Lemming to tell us if we done good.  One year we lost a player to Oklahoma and he said that one of the reason he chose the Sooners was the academics!  He must have meant the ABSENCE thereof. 

Ok……….here it is………….What if every kid, before he signs his LOI, is given a one-page (double sided) “fact sheet” of the school and its “stats”.  When the kid signs the LOI, he and his parent(s) would also be signing that they have received, read, and understand the fact sheet.

What would be on this stat sheet?

  1. What the scholie is promising;
  2. NCAA rules limitations and compliance office phone # for questions;
  3. Average SAT score of the past five recruit classes;
  4. GSR numbers and rankings;
  5. NCAA probation history; and
  6. Where are they now*

*This is where you come in.

I got this idea many years ago when I read a great section in the Basketball Media Guide.  It listed a “Where are they Now” section on all of Digger Phelps former players.  It was very impressive.  Digger not only graduated all his kids, but their post-playing careers were remarkable.

In my W.A.T.N.? section, a college would have to give a summary for ALL their LOI players from the class they signed ten years previously.

I’m going to digress one more time before I give you your “assignment”.

Here's a back and forth one of my classmates sent me.......This Sooner guy is well aware that Stoops will take non-Rhodes Scholars, as long as they can block and tackle.  Oklahoma was DEAD LAST among the top 30 teams in their graduation rate...and a good dozen points behind the next worst. 

 

Cap-I thought you would enjoy a dialogue I had with a recent Sooner grad who was on their football team. He is a friend of one of my sons, and a good guy. I admit to pulling his chain a bit!  He is replying to my note about ND's student athlete grad rate.

Golf clap on you outstanding genius football players you have there.  We don't recruit rocket scientists to play football at OU. Our recruits are there to sign an NFL contract - Period.   Maybe ND should look into that.  Boomer Sooner!

Thank you for that tepid response!  ND did look into turning itself into an NFL prep college, but figured out that the average career of an NFL player is only 3.5 years, and that perhaps it is better for the football recruit to receive a quality education that prepares him for the remaining 50 years of his life.  Now that's rocket science!

 

Your assignment (you can probably make this a fun research project with a few of your friends and win a national newswriting award for it) is to get the ND LOI list from 10 years ago and do a “Where are They Now?” on all of those guys.

It is my hope that if ND did this, other schools would be forced to follow.  Because this list would get a lot of attention nation-wide, it might wake up some sportswriters and alumni to demand the same thing from their schools.

Where are They Now?

Name, letters earned, honors (Captain, All American, and major trophies), years in NFL, degree, major, and current job title (if the player left school, that should be mentioned).

My guess is that the student might be most interested now in how many guys make the NFL, but a W.A.T.N. list will also force him to confront life after football and how his prospective school is likely to prepare him.  A former player in his medical residency would sound better than unemployed/incarcerated/unable to locate.

What do you think?

Go Irish!

Cappy Gagnon, ‘66


Other news