SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly briefed his team after practice Tuesday on the academic violations Notre Dame was hit with earlier that day, and assured his players they had nothing to be worried about.
In addition to ruling Notre Dame should vacate its 2012 and 2013 records, the NCAA placed the Irish football program on one year of probation. As long as the program doesn’t commit any additional NCAA violations over the next year, it won’t face a bowl ban or reduction in scholarships.
So the message from Kelly to his players was that the NCAA violations and penalties handed out Tuesday won’t affect the current and future members of the team going forward.
“He just told us facts, told us what’s going on, just wanted to assure everybody that it doesn’t affect us,” defensive end and senior captain Isaac Rochell said. “It doesn’t affect our team now, it won’t affect Notre Dame next year and in the future so that’s pretty much all he said.”
Rochell and Notre Dame’s upperclassmen were here in August of 2014 when the academic scandal first rocked the university. Four players were removed from the team on Aug. 15 of that year: Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams. Safety Eilar Hardy was pulled out of practice and team activities later that month, and four additional players (who were not named) were implicated in the NCAA report released Tuesday, though they had left Notre Dame before the university opened its investigation that August.
But since they’re here now, they’re the ones who had to answer for the black eye their university was dealt by the NCAA.
“It’s unfortunate that the NCAA would take it at that point, but I’m not on the committee, I don’t know how all that works,” linebacker and captain James Onwualu said. “Honestly, I don’t even know where it goes, so who am I to say what punishment we should get or not. I think the board and whoever’s at the university that takes care of that will do a great job appealing it and we’ll see what happens. But yeah, as a football player, you obviously want all the wins for the program you can.”
“You never want to have those kind of mistakes in you program, especially with guys that you consider your teammates,” offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “But people make mistakes and it just so happened that, at this university, people like to throw a little hatred a little bit sometimes at our school. And that’s fine, we understand the hatred that comes with that that.
“There’s a lot of greatness on the other side and it’s just one of those things that yeah, it’s frustrating, but at the same time it has no effect on what’s going on moving forward.”
McGlilnchey said he’s seen a more hands-on approach from Notre Dame’s academic staff, led by academic counselor Adam Sargeant, in the wake of the university’s 2014 investigation into academic dishonesty. One of Notre Dame's goals in investigating this rash of academic dishonesty was to figure out how and why it happened to prevent it from occurring again in the future.
“I don’t think that we’ve ever let anything slip here,” McGlinchey said. “it just so happens that a couple guys did the wrong thing and it has no effect on what this university’s doing, because we’re top of the top of the world and there’s no getting around that. It just so happens that a couple guys made a mistake and the whole team goes down with it.”
Notre Dame’s captains on Tuesday didn’t feel like the newly-announced NCAA violations should tarnish the football program and university as a whole. All of them supported how Notre Dame handled things from the moment Daniels, Moore, Russell and Williams were removed from the team and eventually dismissed — which is a reason why university leadership is appealing the Committee on Infractions panel’s recommendation that Notre Dame vacate its 2012 and 2013 records.
“Bottom line, the university handled it well,” Rochell said. “… Notre Dame’s Notre Dame. And Notre Dame is going to be bigger than any individual. It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than you guys. I think the brand of Notre Dame isn’t tainted. We are who we are.”