Recruiting with Standards: How high academic standards and other factors help & hinder recruiting

September 19, 2011
by Justin

There once was a time when the athletic programs of UCLA & Notre Dame were synonymous with elite college football. People would travel from many miles away to South Bend, Indiana to watch the best collection of talent from all over the United States. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California was one in the same. Men of great historic importance like Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson, once laced up his cleats to run wild in the UCLA backfield.

Those same programs sit at a dismal and identical record of 1-2. UCLA’s lone win came at home against the San Jose State Spartans, a low level mid-major from the WAC. The Fighting Irish squandered their preseason hype and their fifteenth ranking the first game of the year. Ironically, they also just got their first win against the fifteenth ranked Spartans, but these Spartans are from Michigan State. The question is how did programs like this, who once tasted national title glory, ever fall so far?

The obvious response is academic standards. UCLA is known for having a rigorous academic program. UCLA, unlike most Bowl Championship Series schools, has a quarter system that essentially gives students half the time to earn an A. Staying at schools like UCLA and Notre Dame isn’t the hardest part though; try getting in with a low grade point average or sub par standardized test scores. If you are apart of that high percentile of elite college athletes, who have legit professional aspirations, it’s more logical to attend an institution where athletic aptitude is paramount.

Another answer is the paradigm shift in culture amongst student athletes of this generation. A school like the University of Maryland at College Park has more of a buzz than both aforementioned universities based on one thing; brand new football uniforms. The founder of Under Armour and alumnus of Maryland, Kevin Plank, was responsible for the University’s push into the public eye this season. When his jerseys debuted on national television, it created a polarizing conversation separating the new school from the old school.

My grandfather (God rest his soul) was a purist when it came to athletics.  He was alive when helmets were made out of leather and jerseys had long sleeves with no names on the back. He would have taken a look at Maryland’s jersey and called them everything from “hard on the eyes” to “ loud and tacky.” He loved the Penn State, USC and Notre Dame jerseys that has each player’s number on the front and back.

My little brother, Elijah, is the exact opposite. He paraded around the living room with his first varsity basketball jersey, purposely turned backwards so that he could show off our freshly stitched family name. Along with his shiny new uniform came team themed head bands, arm sleeves, knee braces and most importantly (according to him at least) team shoes, with his nickname “Skywalker” stitched into the side, with his jersey number underneath.

Elijah, like most kids in his generation, feels like you won’t play at your highest level if you don’t look the part. I’ve seen him stare into the mirror admiring the way he presented his uniform, in the same way a woman gazes into the mirror when she puts on her wedding dress. In truth, Elijah, like his generation, is married to the ideal of his style communicating his substance.

Notre Dame still does not have names on the back of their jerseys and UCLA has yet to change to the less taxing, semester system. I personally know alumni that can’t wait until a time comes when a perfect storm of intellectually adept and athletically capable students, like the present day Stanford football team, bring their respective schools back to prominence. Until then, tradition will live, while their programs move to their demise.

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