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.
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“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.”