"As far as Notre Dame is concerned, we're going to have to ease it up a little bit," Hornung told Detroit's WXYT-AM in an interview before the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame banquet Tuesday. "We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned, because we've got to get the black athlete."
Notre Dame spokesman Matthew Storin called Hornung an illustrious alumnus but objected to his comments.
"We strongly disagree with the thesis of his remarks," Storin said in a statement. "They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African-American student-athletes."
Hornung, who is white, won the 1956 Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. He went on to star for the NFL's Green Bay Packers and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athlete," Hornung said in the interview. "We must get the black athlete if we're going to compete."
Hornung, who is part of the Westwood One Radio team that broadcasts Notre Dame games, has previously criticized the school, saying its academic requirements have hurt the athletic department.
"We open up with Michigan, then go to Michigan State and Purdue — those are the first three games, you know, and you can't play a schedule like this unless you have the black athlete today," he told WXYT. "You just can't do it. And it's a very tough skill getting into Notre Dame."
Notre Dame's football team went 5-7 last season, its second under Tyrone Willingham, the first black head coach in any sport in school history.
Hornung did not return a call left by WXYT's sister Detroit station, WWJ-AM. WWJ-AM, WXYT-AM and CBS News.com are all owned by Viacom, which also has a business relationship with Westwood One.
The academic standards at Notre Dame have long been discussed as a reason why the Irish no longer win consistently. Ara Parseghian, who coached the Irish from 1964-74, winning two national championships, has said he heard the talk when he first took the job.
The talk about it has been growing more widespread in recent years, though. The Irish have gone 15 seasons without a national championship, the second longest drought in school history. The longest stretch was 1949-66.
"Our records show that admission requirements for athletes have remained constant over those years in which we have had both great success and occasional disappointments with our football teams," Storin said.
Of the 68 scholarship players on the Notre Dame roster for spring practice, 35 are black and 33 are white. Of the incoming freshmen, 12 are black and five are white. If no one leaves the program, 55.2 percent of Notre Dame's football players next season would be black.
According to the latest NCAA statistics available, during the 2001-02 season, the percentage of Division I-A football players who were white was 48.8 percent and 43.8 percent were black.