by Mike Coffey
I don’t think Mike Royko ever commented on Notre Dame’s academic integrity. He certainly never said “Some things you wonder, some things you think, and some things you just know”, particularly outside of any sports seasons. But the current situation with Notre Dame’s investigation of academic misconduct by students, including four football players, demands I dust off the meme a little early.
Right now, the only thing we know about the academic investigation is there’s an academic investigation. That’s it. Anything beyond that is speculation of the most speculative nature. But there are three things I think very strongly, and am confident enough to say I know them.
First, Notre Dame is not going to let the tail wag the dog in this investigation. Whatever comes out of it, I’m confident those findings will be the unglossed-over truth. If the report says there were no violations, I’m sure there were no violations, because I know if there were violations, the report will say so. Notre Dame’s track record in situations like this speaks for itself. They don’t stonewall or obfuscate or otherwise impede progress in the hopes stories will just go away or some statute of limitations will be reached, as is the habit of some other programs in the Power Five.
If anything, the way the last couple weeks have progressed screams “institutional control” rather than the lack of it. The academic side of the house noticed something was wrong, started to investigate, brought in the athletic side when appropriate, and things proceed from there. That’s exactly how it should be: No undue pressure from one side on the other, both sides cooperating fully. It’s disappointing more isn’t being said about that in the media feeding frenzy, but then again, that doesn’t sell papers or draw eyeballs as much as nonsensical comparisons to the situation at the University of North Carolina.
Second, if anything comes of this investigation, it’s going to turn out to be student-operated. No information released thus far indicates anyone associated with the coaching staff was even remotely involved in this. I’m certainly no fan of Brian Kelly, but the idea he or his subordinates would put something like this together just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. Based on the balance of power described above, there’s no way they could get away with it.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I’m very happy with the way Brian Kelly has handled this situation. His presser was calm and professional, he said all the right things, and he gave me confidence he’s behind the investigation all the way. This is a textbook example of how you have to operate at an elite program, and I applaud him for it.
Third, if folks are upset about some kind of “rush to judgement” on Notre Dame’s part suspending the four players and then having a presser to talk about it, well, we (meaning the electronic community and its participants) have only ourselves to blame. The Information Age has data flying thick and fast, making it all the more important for institutions to stay on top of the narrative, lest it be wrenched in a way no one wants.
Think I’m crazy? How often have you pounced on the news a player didn’t take reps with the first team and what it means or how it will affect the game? When’s the last time you read a tweet about a player not being present at practice without immediately speculating on possible issues, even if it’s just in your head? Before we consigned it to (highly deserved) oblivion, the thread regarding possible player issues on Rock’s House had spiraled into some pretty prurient accusations based on very little actual evidence.
While it sucks for the four players to have to sit in limbo while things get worked out, unless you want practices completely closed and no information at all, that’s the kind of thing that will have to happen, because the Instant Gratification generation is only getting greedier and the Fourth Estate is ready and willing to provide, quality be damned. It’s telling that the first two questions asked to Fr. Jenkins in his presser Friday night concerned rumors that had been spreading on message boards that had absolutely nothing to do with anything in the press release, while truly relevant questions like “how did the investigation come about”, “who will be conducting the investigation”, and “what will be the plan once the report is released” remain unasked even now. I’ve said it many times before — if you don’t feed the beast, he’ll starve and become less of a problem.
Other than that, all this is what George Carlin would call “guesswork in a white coat”, so I’m going to wait and see what happens. Given my confidence in the process, it won’t be a harrowing wait.