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FOOTBALL: Admissions, staff ‘on the same page’

Pat Leonard | Monday, March 21, 2005

Charlie Weis established his recruiting priority immediately by inviting 80 juniors to campus. He confirmed his concern for bringing top talent to Notre Dame by assembling an experienced coaching staff. But from the beginning, Weis understood his most significant relationship throughout the recruiting process would be his interaction with the admissions department.Over the brief time span Weis has spent in South Bend thus far, the head coach said his relationship and interactions with the admissions department have been positive and encouraging in accordance with his expectations of his alma mater.”I think that having a working relationship with the director of admissions, and the admissions staff is imperative to success,” Weis said.Standards for Notre Dame student-athletes differ from those of competing programs and schools. Dan Saracino, director of admissions, believes Weis, a 1978 Notre Dame graduate, has an advantage in being more familiar with the school.”One of the benefits of having a Notre Dame alumnus in that position is he understands Notre Dame,” Saracino said. “He understands and does not believe that we need to admit anyone just because they’re a good athlete.”Saracino visited Weis’ staff on Feb. 19 to inform the less-familiar assistant coaches of Notre Dame’s recruiting history and expectations, both Weis and Saracino said. Saracino said he was impressed with the coaches’ desire to learn the recruiting process from the alternative perspective of an admissions director.Weis said he and his assistants understand the guidelines Saracino has laid before them.”I think [the] admissions [department] is on the same page with athletics here and vice versa,” Weis said. “I think that not every athlete that comes to Notre Dame has to have a 1350 on their SATs, but it’s nice if some of them do. I think from the president right through the admissions office, there’s some give and take there, but I think it’s important that you try to get those guys, realizing that not everyone has that.”Weis also understands how emphasis on academics at Notre Dame can affect the recruiting process.Academic influence”What’s happened,” Weis said, “is that the student body’s SAT average continues to get higher and higher.”In an article published on April 14, 2004, The Observer reported the average SAT score of football players at Notre Dame had risen in almost direct proportion to rising standardized test scores of the average student from 1993 to 2004 – 6.3 to 6.7 percent, respectively, according to data compiled from a Social Science Quarterly article.At the time of the reported findings, Saracino disagreed standards for football players had toughened in terms of overall curriculum, grades and other factors.”We have not been any ‘tougher’ on the admissions of football players in recent years as we have with the overall applicants,” he said in the April 14 article.Over the past few years, critics have questioned Notre Dame’s recruiting capabilities, but Saracino maintains the roots of these complaints are not in a negative relationship between admissions and coaches.”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.”Saracino said the admissions department has remained consistent in its standards for student-athletes, reiterating its emphasis on a high school courseload that demonstrates an ability to handle the Notre Dame curriculum.Such a courseload, Saracino said, ensures “the transition from high school to Notre Dame will be minimized.””It’s insulting to think every single athlete can’t be a solid student,” Saracino said. “Overall, our concern is that they are students that can be successful at Notre Dame, and really that’s no different than the way it’s been for years at Notre Dame.”Developing relationshipsIrish assistant coaches have already brought potential recruit information over for Saracino to evaluate. Saracino said he has met individually with coaches he called “passionate” and “hard-working” who exhibit serious interest in becoming experts in operating recruiting practices within the expectations of the University.”In talking with them, I was really struck by how interested they were in the type of student who comes to Notre Dame,” Saracino said. “One of the coaches has a son who’s applied to Notre Dame and hopefully will be coming next year … His son could pretty much go anywhere and really is looking at Notre Dame. I take that as a good sign this coach specifically understands this is the kind of student that comes to Notre Dame.”Once assistant coaches like recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello fully grasp Notre Dame, they can fully explain it to potential recruits.”Notre Dame doesn’t have to be so much sold as the story told,” Saracino said. “If the student-athletes know what’s going on here, they’re going to want to be here.”Weis has made himself responsible for maintaining a solid relationship between Saracino, the admissions department and the coaching staff. In maintaining that relationship, the head coach – who has spent the majority of his coaching career in the NFL – has learned a few intricacies himself about what to look for in a recruit at Notre Dame.”I think that there are really three things that I think are independent that you have to bring together,” Weis said. “We’re all looking for good athletes. We’re all looking for high-character kids. And we’re all looking for kids that can graduate. Everyone’s looking for that.”Obviously, in almost every kid there’s a deficiency in one or two of those areas. The question is to what extent will you go down to, and it’s really got to be a mesh of all three of those ingredients.”