There is no shortage of piling onto Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly these days. The Fighting Irish fans are certainly doing so in the midst of a 4-7 season, as is the media that covers the program – both with valid reasons. However, the NCAA got involved in the fray Tuesday and based on the information available, I’m going to come to the defense of Kelly, his program and university on this matter.
The NCAA ruled that Notre Dame must vacate 22 victories that were achieved during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons due to a case of academic dishonesty that involved several Notre Dame student-athletes. Handing down some level of punishment was to be expected, however, the NCAA’s ruling was not only unjust, and it was historic in its unfairness.
“We are disappointed in the actions of students who engaged in dishonesty,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said in a release.
This level of punishment has never been doled out to an institution that was found innocent of any wrongdoing.
That’s right. Not only did the NCAA rule that the university and its football program handle the situation promptly and properly, the NCAA found that no one involved – aside from the students – acted improperly in any way.
“We are gratified that the NCAA investigation confirmed the conclusions of our own internal investigation,” Father Jenkins continued, “(that) Notre Dame acted honorably throughout.
“In this case, everyone involved — those in Academic Services for Student-Athletes, in our football program and in our Compliance Office — and the faculty and students resolving these cases under our Honor Code did everything that we could have asked of them.”
That hasn’t always been the case with this university in recent years (see the Lizzy Seeberg case for just one example), but in this matter, it was according to the NCAA’s findings.
The vacating of victories has historically been a punishment delved out to those institutions that were complicit in “serious institutional misconduct,” according to Father Jenkins.
The exact opposite was ruled by the NCAA in its investigation of Notre Dame.
“It's never happened before,” Kelly said at his weekly press conference, “in the history of the NCAA. 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.”
The 2012 season was a memorable one for Kelly and the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame won its initial 13 games before falling to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. However, Kelly was adamant that, in his mind, any ruling wouldn’t erase that success from history.
“Here's what I can tell you,” Kelly said. “We did the right thing. 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 teams, so you can put an asterisk next to it. If that makes you feel better, then that's fine with me.”
Kelly stated that he felt no culpability for this situation occurring.
“Zero,” Kelly said. “None. Absolutely none.”
And he also said that the ruling has no bearing on his future with the program, which has been under scrutiny, by just about everyone that doesn’t actually have a say in the matter, during this struggling season.
“This matter is not - has nothing to do with me and my status here,” Kelly said. “This academic piece probably strengthens what I've been doing relative to advocating for our student-athletes and the support staff necessary for them to be successful.
“The announcement has nothing to do with lack or additional support for Brian Kelly. Any negative criticism that's out there about me right now is because we're 4-7. It has nothing to do with the public announcement that came out here today.”
Father Jenkins said that the university would begin the process of appealing the ruling.
“As we said at the outset of this investigation,” Father Jenkins said, “Notre Dame would willingly accept a vacation of records penalty if it were appropriate. It is not in this case.”
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.