Citing academic fraud of varying levels by eight different players during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, the NCAA has slapped Notre Dame University‘s football program with an order to vacate wins from those seasons, in addition to other penalties.
Notre Dame Academic Fraud Penalties Handed Down
The allegations from the NCAA’s Infractions Committee state that a female trainer for the Fighting Irish did major course work for two players during the seasons involved. They also state that six other players received improper academic assistance of a lesser degree from the same trainer in 18 different classes during the same time frame.
These infractions weren’t unbeknownst to the university or the football program. Five of the students named in the Notice of Allegations from the NCAA (KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore and Ellar Hardy) were suspended by the university in 2014 for these exact violations of Notre Dame’s honor code.
A statement by the university said that the school then self-reported the violations to the NCAA, retroactively lowered the grades of the students involved and stripped them of the credit previously earned in the classes. The infractions committee obviously determined that wasn’t sufficient, however.
The penalties include vacating all 21 wins from the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. In addition to that there is a one-year probation, $5,000 fine, a two-year show-cause order for the trainer (whom the university says has already been disassociated from the team) and a public reprimand.
Notre Dame’s Response to the Penalties
When the university was doing its own investigation in 2014, university president Rev. John Jenkins said that if their investigation concluded that players who would have been academically ineligible had the university been aware of the violations at the time of the infractions participated in wins, the university would voluntarily vacate those wins.
The university didn’t follow through on that promise, and now the NCAA is forcing the Fighting Irish to make good on Jenkins’ commitment. Notre Dame is appealing the order to vacate wins.
Head coach Brian Kelly said that the order to vacate wins was “discretionary” and “excessive.” The university’s statement described its own conduct throughout as honorable. The point of contention that Notre Dame plans to frame its appeal around is a rule change that has taken place since the infractions occurred.
Notre Dame’s Case for Appeal
Prior to the 2014-15 season, student employees like athletic trainers at NCAA member institutions were considered institutional staff members regardless of the fact that they were also students of their respective schools. Therefore, according to the status quo at the time of the violations, there was institutional involvement in the academic fraud.
Since that time, the NCAA’s membership has changed the bylaws and university employees who are also students no longer carry the label of institutional staff members. That distinction is important because it has a heavy impact on the matter of precedent.
Notre Dame correctly points out in its statement that an order to vacate such a large number of wins has never been put upon an institution in which the infractions did not involve institutional staff members. That fact, in their opinion, makes the order to vacate 21 wins excessive and unprecedented.
Whether or not the appeals panel will nullify or lessen the order to vacate wins on those grounds remains to be seen. What’s certain is that in the midst of a 4-7 season, vacating wins from his most successful campaign as head coach of the Fighting Irish isn’t helping Kelly’s support.