SOUTH BEND, Ind. – For decades, Notre Dame has tried to balance its desire to be one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country while still maintaining a football program that could compete on a national level.
In the last year, those two dynamics have never been more at odds, with numerous academic suspensions rocking the school’s athletic department.
But none may have the impact or reach as what happened Friday, with the school saying it was investigating four football players among several students who may have been involved with academic fraud.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed the identities of the four players involved in the investigation – receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams, and linebacker Kendall Moore – with the school saying there was no timetable to complete its investigation.
Fox Sports reported the players would be suspended for their involvement in the scandal; however, Notre Dame said the players were not suspended since the investigation is ongoing. The players will be held out of practice, but remain enrolled in the school. The players face a wide array of punishments, with suspension or outright dismissal among the most severe. Williams, Daniels and Russell are expected to be starters on this year’s team.
“No one has been dismissed from the university, and no sanctions have been imposed, and no judgment has been made yet,” said Rev. John Jenkins, the school’s president. “Integrity is at the heart of our missions as a university. Academic dishonesty strikes at that heart. As we investigate, we will redouble our efforts to reinforce the importance of honesty in all we do.”
According to a statement released by the school, evidence that the students submitted homework and papers which were not their own was detected at the end of the school’s summer session, and referred to the compliance office on July 29. The school then began its investigation.
Jenkins said Notre Dame notified the NCAA of its investigation, and Swarbrick said the school will follow information “wherever it leads us.” Swarbrick and Jenkins reaffirmed their confidence in coach Brian Kelly, whom they said has been cooperative during the process.
“Like all of us, he was devastated when he got the report,” Swarbrick said. “But he was also quick to want to understand the process, how he and his staff could be of assistance in the process, and how it would work, and so that was quickly the focus of the discussion.”
Jenkins said if the investigation determines the players were ineligible during previous years of competition, it would vacate the victories. That puts the Irish’s 2012 season in jeopardy of banishment from the school’s record books, since all four players in the probe participated that season.
Notre Dame went 12-1 and reached the BCS National Championship where it lost to Alabama in the school’s most successful season since it won the national championship in 1988.
Swarbrick and Jenkins offered few details about the investigation since it was ongoing. They did not say whether former players were involved, or if they had been contacted. Jenkins stressed that “thoroughness” would be the guiding principle during the probe.
“Look, at any university, you’re dealing with young people. The vast majority of them make good decisions, but young people sometimes make bad decisions,” Jenkins said. “Our job is to hold them accountable and to use those incidents as a way to educate them, and that’s what we’re doing.”
More than a year ago, starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the 2013 season after he was caught cheating on an exam. However, he was allowed to return to Notre Dame for the winter semester, and is back as the starter.
Guard Jerian Grant on Notre Dame’s basketball team missed the Irish’s final 20 games after he was suspended for the spring semester for an academic transgression, and Daniels was banished for the spring semester for a previous academic transgression.
Just how far Notre Dame should bend its stringent admissions standards to recruit top-tier athletes has been a constant topic for debate within the school and among fans for a long time, and one that is likely to flicker again given Notre Dame’s recent history.
Jenkins said he viewed the transgressions as Notre Dame’s system of academic procedures working, and did not indicate the school might be looking to alter its admission standards for athletes.
“We’re confident that the students we admit have the capacity to be successful here,” Jenkins said. “I am confident in our admissions office to make those decisions. We’ll continue to make those decisions, and again, this is not a student-athlete issue. Students sometimes make bad decisions.”