A cloud looms over Notre Dame’s lofty academic reputation as the university investigates potential academic fraud by four members of its storied football team.
Two of the Irish’s top players – wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and cornerback KeiVarae Russell – are in the crosshairs, along with defensive end Ishaq Williams and backup linebacker Kendall Moore.
While remaining enrolled at the school, they are barred from all team activities until the ongoing internal probe is concluded.
Notre Dame said its compliance office received evidence on July 29 that students, including some non-athletes, had submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others.
In a news conference Friday evening, Notre Dame president the Rev. John Jenkins and athletic director Jack Swarbrick backed coach Brian Kelly, saying there was no evidence Kelly had any prior knowledge of misconduct.
Like all of us, he was devastated, Swarbrick said. He was also quick to understand the process.
Notre Dame made the NCAA aware of the situation Friday morning.
Two days earlier, the team named Everett Golson its starting quarterback. Golson missed all of last season because of an academic suspension, which he indicated was for cheating on an exam.
Daniels, meanwhile, was suspended during the spring semester for academic reasons but had also been reinstated.
Jenkins put a positive spin on the recurring friction between the athletic department and the school’s academic side.
I consider this the system doing its job, Jenkins said.
If the latest inquiry turns up evidence that players were ineligible in the past, Notre Dame pledged to voluntarily vacate victories.
We haven’t reached any conclusion that it occurred yet, Swarbrick said.
Jenkins said it was too early in the process to say whether there was evidence of coordination between the four players or whether instances of misconduct occurred independent of one another.
He also would not speculate on whether former players could be involved.
How many, I’m just not prepared to say if it does go back that far, Jenkins said. You can infer what you want to infer.
Even if players did not violate NCAA guidelines, they might still have run afoul of the school’s rigorous honor code, which is upheld by a committee of students and faculty members.
We have gotten nothing but cooperation from everybody in the athletic department, Jenkins said. It signals close cooperation.
There is no timetable for the end of the investigation, run by the university’s legal office.
Swarbrick is not a participant in the process.
Jenkins acknowledged the dismissal of players was a possible end result.
Young people sometimes make bad decisions, Jenkins said. We’ll go as quickly as we can, but our emphasis will be on thoroughness. It will take as long as it takes.
The Irish begin their season on Aug. 30 against Rice.
Daniels and Russell, both juniors, started on the 2012 team that reached the BCS national title game. They were expected to be even more critical pieces this year.
Jenkins said he remains confident in Notre Dame’s admissions office to uphold its standards and principles.
This is about students, he said. Our concern is with enforcing ideals of honesty.