Notre Dame

Notre Dame will appeal NCAA recommendation it vacate all 2012, 2013 wins

Notre Dame will appeal NCAA recommendation it vacate all 2012, 2013 wins

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On the grounds of being an excessive penalty, Notre Dame will appeal the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions’ recommendation that the university’s football program vacate all its wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, 21 in total. 

The NCAA on Tuesday released its findings that a former student athletic trainer violated NCAA ethical conduct rules by providing impermissible benefits to eight football players (Notre Dame self-reputed thatch wrote papers for them), three of whom participated while ineligible during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. While the NCAA report did not name names, the violations handed down stem from the five players who were suspended by Notre Dame in August of 2014 due to academic misconduct: Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, safety Eilar Hardy, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams. 

Notre Dame is not contesting that a violation occurred, but it is appealing the NCAA’s recommendation it vacate its 2012 and 2013 wins. The NCAA also recommended a one-year probation period and a $5,000 fine for Notre Dame, as well as a two-year show-cause for the student athletic trainer. The NCAA penalty will not include a scholarship reduction or ban on participating in a bowl game. 

“We very much appreciate the hard work of the NCAA enforcement staff and the members of the Committee on Infractions for their review of our case, but we believe the penalty they have imposed is not justified,” Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, said.

The NCAA found “multiple years of academic violations” by the former student athletic trainer and football student athletes, including the trainer completing coursework for two players over a three-year period (2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years). Additionally, the trainer provided six other football players with impermissible academic benefits over a two-year span. Four of the players in question and the student athletic trainer were not enrolled at Notre Dame when the violations were discovered in 2014. The university self-reported its investigation into potential NCAA violations on Aug. 15, 2014. 

Coach Brian Kelly pointed to the NCAA finding that the violations occurred “without the involvement of institutional personnel” as a reason why the vacation of wins would be an excessive penalty. There was no lack of institutional control or a failure to monitor alleged by the NCAA. 

[SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear]

“It's never happened before, in the history of the NCAA,” Kelly said. “A penalty has never been issued in this fashion before. I think that qualifies for being — first of all, it was discretionary. This was a discretionary action by the committee. That's number one.

“Number two, it was student on student cheating. There was nobody implicated. The NCAA agreed across the board with that finding. And it was clearly excessive.

“So as you know, we're going to appeal this, and one of the options or clear reasons for appeal is that the penalty is excessive in its discretion. And we believe we have obviously grounds there.”

Kelly added that he feels his level of culpability as the head football coach is “zero, none, absolutely none” in this case. 

One of Notre Dame’s points of contention with the NCAA’s recommendation is that it could’ve simply expelled Daniels, Hardy, Moore, Russell and Williams and not been subject to an NCAA review. Instead, the university dismissed four of those five players (Daniels, Moore, Russell and Williams) in an effort to figure out what happened and to allow them to return to the school and graduate. Only Russell and Williams returned and earned their degrees. 

“We believe that imposition of the vacation of records penalty without serious underlying institutional misconduct will not primarily punish those responsible for the misconduct, but rather will punish coaches, student-athletes and indeed the entire institution who did nothing wrong and, with regard to this case, did everything right,” Jenkins said. “We are also concerned that establishing this precedent will infringe on universities’ autonomy in deterring academic dishonesty, for it will discourage the retroactive lowering of grades even when an honor code committee deems this appropriate.

“As we said at the outset of this investigation, Notre Dame would willingly accept a vacation of records penalty if it were appropriate. It is not in this case. Indeed, should this precedent stand, it could create a perverse incentive that will discourage institutions from investigating so aggressively and imposing the penalties for academic dishonesty that their honesty committees might judge appropriate.”  

Jenkins, Kelly, athletic director Jack Swarbrick and vice president and general counsel Marianne Corr represented Notre Dame at a hearing in Indianapolis a few months ago and laid out the argument that the vacation of wins would be an excessive penalty. The panel was “unpersuaded” by Notre Dame’s argument and concluded that the vacation of wins and certain team records remained appropriate. 

Notre Dame will submit its case to the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee. 

“I was always hopeful that we wouldn't be at this day, but here's what I can tell you: We did the right thing,” Kelly said. “I’m proud of our support staff, our academic support staff. I'm proud of the people that represented us here at Notre Dame during this time. And if doing the right thing means that you've got to put an asterisk next to these games, that's fine with me. We still beat Oklahoma. We still beat Wake Forest, we still beat all those times, so you can put an asterisk next to it. If that makes you feel better, then that's fine with me.”

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.


I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

After a handful of late additions sent in their national letters of intent to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Notre Dame on Wednesday announced its 21-player recruiting class of 2017. There are a couple of ways to view the end of what was a volatile recruiting period for the Irish:

The glass-half-full take:

Two and a half months after wrapping up an embarrassing 4-8 season, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranks higher this year in 247 Sports' composite rankings (11th) than it did in 2016 (15th), when the Irish were coming off a 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl berth. 

Nearly scraping together a top-10 class after going 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches in Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive feat (Greg Hudson was only an interim defensive coordinator, and Brian VanGorder was far from a reliable recruiter). Plenty of kudos should be extended the way of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston for heading up the program's efforts to keep what began as a pretty strong class from disintegrating. 

Additionally, coach Brian Kelly pointed to the work of the 15 verbally-committed players who stuck with their pledges even as Notre Dame sustained a string of confounding losses and significant coaching turnover. 

"We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish," Kelly said. "Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame."

Five of those players enrolled early — tight end Brock Wright, offensive linemen Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, running back C.J. Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports rated as four-star recruits — and guys like tight end Cole Kmet, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg never wavered, too. 

That those players stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA-mandated dead period lifted after the College Football Playoff title game last month, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring in six late additions to the class: safety Jordan Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow. 

Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all filled red-line positions of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is hardly a bad thing. 

But the optimistic viewpoint here is the deck was stacked against Notre Dame in recruiting, and they actually turned out a pretty good hand thanks to a complete effort from everyone in the athletic department. 

"Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits," Kelly said. "That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

"In a lot of instances he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are."

Now, for the glass-half-empty take:

Notre Dame had six players decommit, five of whom were at positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only four-star defensive end Robert Beal jumped ship before Notre Dame's fall tailspin was underway, and four of those six decommitting players were four-star recruits. 

Notre Dame wound up replacing them with six late commitments, but five of those late-deciding players were three-star recruits and one (Doerner) was a two-star player. That's a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to one on the outside looking in. 

A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to sign five-star recruits lately, and while it's true the Irish haven't done that since 2013 — Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, as rated by 247 Sports — that's not as big an issue as it may seem. Just look at the disparity in college success between Smith and Redfield as a front-and-center example of how a five-star rating doesn't guarantee success in college. Signing more four/five-star recruits than two/three-star ones is far more important (more on that in a bit). 

But the bigger issue with Notre Dame's 2017 class perhaps has more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and re-worked its entire recruiting operation in response, which led to little oomph in a 2016 class that, based on the prior season, should've been much better than it was. 

Last year's group could ultimately build a legacy as a less-heralded crop of recruits that went on to success — the strong debuts of 247 Sports three-stars in cornerback Julian Love and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson were good starts — but there's a long way to go there. 

If 2016 was supposed to be a more transitional recruiting class, though, then 2017 represents a massive missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting machinations in place is a glaring shortcoming for the future of the program — even a nine-win season could've allowed Notre Dame to hang on to some of those four-star players it lost and earn a top-10 class ranking. 

More importantly than a top-10 class, though, is pulling in more four- and five-star recruits than two and-three star ones. Notre Dame didn't do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after hitting that benchmark each of the last three recruiting cycles. That's a worrying trend given the correlation between signing a majority of four- and five-star recruits and winning a championship

The last two recruiting cycles have been, in that context, significant disappointment. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 could prop up a playoff run as soon as this fall, the future of the program may not be on solid footing even if the Irish engineer a major turnaround in 2017. Next year's class likely will be critical to the long-term success of the program under Kelly, presuming he's still around to usher in the next group of recruits in February of 2018.