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Notre Dame's coach said something jarring (and refreshing) about player academics

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"I don't know that any of our players would get into the school" if they weren't exceptional athletes, Brian Kelly said. Whether you find that obvious or shocking, it's important to say.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had something to say on university academic standards in football, via the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen:

I think we recognized that all of my football players are at risk. All of them, really. Honestly, I don't know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now, with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.

So, making sure that with the rigors that we put them in -- playing on the road, playing night games, getting home at 4 o'clock in the morning, all of the demands that we place on them relative to the academics, and going into an incredibly competitive academic classroom every day -- we recognize this is a different group.

And we have to provide all the resources necessary for them to succeed and don't force them into finding shortcuts.

I think we've clearly identified that we need to do better. And we're not afraid to look at any shortcomings that we do have and fix them.

Steven Godfrey: I'm hesitant to laud Kelly as a progressive voice, because this frankness has only developed following two different Notre Dame academic scandals (former quarterback Everett Golson's dismissal for the 2013 season and the 2014 suspensions of five players). Regardless of the motivation, wow, it's nice to see this kind of realism. It's so rare.

Bud Elliott: Admitting that only one or two of 85 scholarship players would gain admission without the aid of football is refreshingly honest. Coaches celebrate when a prospect scores an 18 on his ACT. It's common sense that many recruits would be borderline admissions without football at schools with low standards and extreme longshots at schools with rigorous academics.

Godfrey: I like the tactical move of positioning players as a group of students that would never be afforded the opportunity of a Notre Dame education in any other circumstance. Kelly is framing his players as exceptions deserving of a chance to change their lives, not entitled athletes looking to coast.

Bud: He had motivation. The incidents had become ammunition for other schools on the recruiting trail.

Godfrey: How is that, exactly? Normally on-field issues like coaching turnover or play-calling philosophies are easier to co-opt for negative publicity.

Bud: A coach can point out to a recruit that he knew one of the players who struggled with Notre Dame's academic rigors. That coach is able to say to a recruit, "Hey, that player had a better GPA than you do, and he couldn't handle South Bend."

Notre Dame's gonna be really good, BTW

Godfrey: It's also smart not to excommunicate the players who were caught. (Golson returned in 2014, and at least one of last season's suspended players appears to be returning.) Kelly's admitting that the system needs to better serve the players, not the reverse.

And we're only talking about a handful of kids in trouble. Older-school logic might've been to cut the accused off and go with the old, "Some players can't handle the demands of an elite institution, blah blah blah ..."

Bud: Yeah, instead of putting the blame on those players and claiming Notre Dame's course load isn't tough, he is talking about helping to graduate students who don't fit the profile -- here, in a legal and ethical manner.

Godfrey: The stuffier side of the Irish universe gets to keep its academic plaudits. Kelly didn't advocate dumbing down or abridging the educational process. Notre Dame folks still get to brag about the greatness of Notre Dame, which they will.

Bud: On the recruiting trail, Irish coaches will continue to tout the value of Notre Dame academics and its network of alumni. By emphasizing the help it gives athletes and those changes he's saying it has made after scandals, Kelly can help reduce the impact of negative recruiting.

Godfrey: There's a minor caveat here. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see these quotes resurface on the side of organized labor or one of the many plaintiff's attorneys going after the NCAA. Kelly spells it out pretty well: being a football player at a major program is a highly time-consuming task. A job, one might even argue.

And the standby retort of "We're giving these kids an education in exchange for their efforts" holds even less water when a prominent head coach Kelly admits football subtracts from the reasonable pursuit of a degree.

★★★

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