Suspended football players await decision
In the middle of August, the Notre Dame community was shocked to learn that five of its football players were being indefinitely suspended for potential academic fraud. Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive back KeiVarae Russell, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams, linebacker Kendall Moore, and safety Eilar Hardy currently are, at time of publication, withheld from practice and competition.
Notre Dame suspended Daniels, Russell, Williams, and Moore on August 15and Hardy on August 28. An academic honor committee will soon determine whether or not, and to what extent, the players are accountable for submitting papers written for them by others.
This news brought Notre Dame academics and football to the front of the national stage, as analysts and fans sought to figure out what this meant for Notre Dame, the football team, and the student body. The news hit home doubly hard, as the Fighting Irish were coming off of a 2013 season that saw Everett Golson dismissed from the university. Golson was able to return this season, but only after missing the entirety of the 2013 season.
Additionally, Daniels was already in academic trouble, having been dismissed from Notre Dame in the spring semester of 2013 before being readmitted in time for summer sessions.
University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, was emphatic that “at this juncture, no one has been judged responsible for academic dishonesty, no one has been dismissed from the university, and no sanctions have been imposed.”
After several weeks of deliberation, it appears that a final decision from the Academic Honesty committees might be announced soon. The university released a statement this past weekend stating that the hearings were completed Friday, October 3, and that the decisions would be “communicated individually to affected student-athletes and other students alike, as deliberations on each case conclude.”
Although there is no time constraint on when the rulings need be released, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly expressed confidence that the resolution might come out sometime before the October 11 matchup with the University of North Carolina.
The unusually long duration of the investigation, combined with its high-profile nature, has led to significant discussion of the way in which the university has handled the potential academic dishonesty. The implications both on and off the field could have far reaching consequences for the university and how it handles academic dishonesty in the future.
One such element of discussion is over whether the players should have been completely withheld from the sports program while the investigation was underway. “[The academic violation] hasn’t been proven yet,” stated longtime Notre Dame usher Manny Oliveira. “It’s like Napoleonic Law. You’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent.”
“I feel bad for them,” Kelly said in an interview. “They’re missing a significant amount of playing time. That’s hard to give up.”
Paul Browne, the Vice President of Public Affairs, released a statement on October 5 explaining that part of the reason for the significant length of the process was that the investigation was taking place for multiple students and departments simultaneously. Usually, issues are contained to a single student in a single department.
“The process is time-consuming because it is thorough,” Browne stated, “as it must be to ensure integrity and fairness. Having said that, we recognize it can be difficult for students, regardless of culpability, who are subject to such reviews.”
The length of the investigation also stems from a wish to avoid a potential NCAA investigation of ineligible players, which would create significant problems for the Fighting Irish football team. One reason for the length of the process was to ensure that the issue was handled completely by the internal investigation. If the issue re-emerged or if Notre Dame did not remove the players in the first place, the potential NCAA sanctions that could be imposed would be extremely damaging for the team, the athletic department, and the university.
The absence of the five players has presented a certain risk for the Irish as they take the field every game. Presently, the Irish stand strong with a 5-0 record and a #6 ranking in the AP Poll, but missing these key players is a concern to the coaching staff.
Russell is widely considered to be one of the best cornerbacks in the country and was named Freshman All-American in 2012. It was expected that this season he would earn a full All-American commendation. Daniels pulled in 46 receptions for 720 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2013 and is widely considered the most explosive offensive player on the roster.
Williams played outside linebacker and was expected to move forward as a starting defensive end this season and Moore has played in every game since 2011, accumulating 37 tackles and an interception during that time. Hardy notched 26 tackles as safety in 2013, and was expected to return and provide depth to the Notre Dame defensive package.
If the players were to be reinstated, it would be a challenge for them to assimilate back into the system due to the emergence of secondary players. Cole Luke has distinguished himself as a force in the Irish secondary while filling in for Russell. He became the first Notre DAme player since Manti Teo in the memorable 2012 Michigan night game to pull in two interceptions in the game against Stanford.
Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith have also emerged as leaders in the Irish linebacking core and have helped solidify a defense that seems to be hitting its stride. Meanwhile, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, and Chris Brown have combined to demonstrate the big play ability of the offense without Daniels.
As the issue moves closer to resolution this week, there will continue to be questions regarding the future of the Notre Dame football team and how it handles academic issues in the future.
Kyle Mulholland is a senior studying computer science and economics. He could not be more excited for weather that calls for a scarf. Contact him at email@example.com.