IndyStar Notre Dame Insider Laken Litman on the importance of the Irish’s Citrus Bowl win and momentum heading into 2018. Laken Litman / IndyStar
The NCAA on Tuesday denied Notre Dame’s appeal of a ruling to vacate 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of academic misconduct.
Notre Dame President John Jenkins, in a letter addressed to the “Notre Dame Family,” bluntly criticized the ruling and said it doesn’t make sense when other “high-profile” cases resulted in less punishment. He likely was referencing an academic scandal at North Carolina.
The school’s argument all along has centered on the fact that the student-athletes caught cheating were aided by another student, who happened to be a trainer on the football staff.
“The Committee simply failed to provide any rationale why it viewed the student-worker as an institutional representative in our case,” Jenkins wrote. “In every other case in the record — meticulously detailed in the University’s arguments — the institutional representative of the university was employed as an administrator, coach, or person who served in an academic role.”
A former student trainer completed coursework for two football players during those two years. The athletes, in addition to another football player, also committed academic misconduct independently. Notre Dame has determined that this was in violation of its academic integrity policies, which meant they were playing while ineligible.
Jenkins asserts in his letter that Notre Dame shouldn’t be punished for changing the student’s grades according to the school’s “Honor Code” — thereby retroactively making them ineligible to play football — when the cheating was realized.
“In the curious logic of the NCAA, however, it is precisely the application of our Honor Code that is the source of the vacation of wins penalty, for the recalculation of the grades in 2014 led to the three student-athletes being deemed ineligible retroactively,” Jenkins wrote. “To impose a severe penalty for this retroactive ineligibility establishes a dangerous precedent and turns the seminal concept of academic autonomy on its head.”
In 2016, head coach Brian Kelly said the punishment, which included vacating wins from the 2012 season when the Irish went undefeated, “was clearly excessive … and we believe we have ground (to appeal) there.”
The panel also disciplined Notre Dame with one year of probation, a two-year show-cause order and disassociation from the former student trainer, plus a $5,000 fine for the university. Notre Dame appealed the decision to vacate the victories.
Toward the end of his letter, Jenkins makes mention of a “high-profile academic misconduct case,” which likely refers to fake classes meant to boost the grades of student-athletes at North Carolina.
“Notre Dame’s case,” he wrote, “stands in striking contrast with another recent high-profile academic misconduct case in which the NCAA Committee on Infractions chair explained that even though certain classes “more likely than not” were used to keep athletes eligible with fraudulent credits, the legitimacy of those classes was beyond the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s enforcement process precisely because that question must be left to the determination of the university in the exercise of its academic autonomy.
“The notion that a university’s exercise of academic autonomy can under NCAA rules lead to exoneration—or to a severe penalty—without regard to the way in which it is used defies logic and any notion of fundamental fairness.”
Read more on Notre Dame football: