Notre Dame leaders go on the offensive amid college sports upheaval

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — As NFL talent scouts and team executives prepared to visit Notre Dame on Friday for its annual Pro Day workouts, two of the university’s leading officials launched a national plea for perspective in the rapidly changing world of big-time college sports.

“Put education at the center; put our students at the center,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said in a television interview aired Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” show. “Don’t make us into some second-class professional league. There’s no future in that.”

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s director of athletics who was interviewed separately in the NBC segment, lamented the mostly unregulated system of so-called collectives and the unintended consequences of college athletes since July 2021 being able to profit directly from their name, image and likeness.

“Third parties are promising a significant payment to a student-athlete if he or she will attend a certain school,” Swarbrick told NBC, the television broadcast partner of Notre Dame football for more than three decades.

In an opinion piece co-authored in Thursday’s editions of The New York Times, Jenkins and Swarbrick called on “universities to reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and to ensure that their athletic programs serve the schools’ broader educational mission, not the other way around.”

Entitled “College Sports Are a Treasure. Don’t Turn Them Into the Minor Leagues,” the 1,284-word essay suggested Congress, along with the NCAA and its athletic conferences, could restore some sense of order to an amateur sports model that continues to face ongoing legal challenges.

National lawmakers were urged to “protect the NCAA’s ability to regulate the competition for new players to ensure it remains fair and above board.”

Jenkins and Swarbrick also called for the NBA to eliminate the so-called “one and done rule” and asked that the NFL establish a minor league for young football players that lack “a real commitment to learning” in college.

Other reforms suggested by Jenkins and Swarbrick include NCAA-mandated limitations on the number of days away from campus a sports team can require; a national medical trust fund to “benefit all student-athletes who are injured while playing, regardless of sport, school size or standing;” and ensuring athletes who leave school early to turn pro can return with “the same financial grants” they originally received.

Thursday’s national media blitz echoed Jenkins’ comments in a September 2015 feature article in The New York Times. Notre Dame’s president was an early advocate of some form of NIL compensation for student-athletes, although he also noted the university’s role was “not to be their agent for financial gain.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.