Wonder, Think and Know: Football Four Edition

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.


34 thoughts on “Wonder, Think and Know: Football Four Edition

  1. Mike, this is a very an unemotional & logical post; it shows why you could never be a talking head at ESPN, Fox or SI.

  2. Mike, well written, my friend. While I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, with the amount of animosity in the public and in the media, I fear that (A) this beast will never really starve, instead it will continue to feed on speculation, insinuation, and conspiracy theory, and (B) regardless of whatever the investigation concludes, short of a self-imposed SMU-type death penalty the tarnish will stick for far too many. I know, the price of being Notre Dame. For the record, as an alum I am disappointed this happened, and am proud of how the university is handling it.

  3. I agree with what was said. I think this incident just highlights the problems of the NCAA and big time football. It is too bad that our society seems to have developed a new “Golden Rule”. He who has the gold rules. I hope Notre Dame is different. I would rather see ND go 7-5 and play by the rules, but I still hope for 13-0. Go Irish!

  4. good post,
    I just hope 2012 doesn’t have to be sacrificed for this madness. But, the university wil get to the botom of this and the truth. The haters will hate. I’m trying to get excited again for the season, this took all the wind from my sails.

  5. My guess is that a student advisor-tutor is involved. One critical qusestion will be whether that student’s role is defined as being part of the football staff. Also, was this a one time thing or pervasive?

    • Except Jack Swarbrick on the radio this morning said the student adviser is the one who caught whatever the problem is in the first place.

  6. Mike, a very well written review of the current situation. It is ironic that two other major universities have players that are potentially academically ineligible, Auburn and FSU, yet ND makes the evening national news networks. I have had my differences with Father Jenkins but am very proud that he said in the press conference that Notre Dame stands for integrity. That is why we love Notre Dame.
    If anyone gives up on the team now, they were never a true fan.

    • Robert Ehinger says:

      To add to what Jack Swarbrick said this morning – he was crystal clear that no tutors, faculty advisers or faculty members were involved except for the fact that it was a member of the faculty who caught the “anomaly” in a paper that was turned in that that is what started the investigation wheels in motion. He saisd this was an issue with student-athletes and non-athlete students who had social interaction. Mike Golic asked point blank if it involved a student-tutor and Swarbrick could not have said NO any more clearly. Golic and Greenberg asked the right questions and did not dwell on rumors and innuendo.

  7. Matthew Skinner says:

    Mike, another great article and well stated.
    The recent SI article (that you linked on NDN today) at least tries to shed light on ND doing the right thing:
    “We do know Notre Dame tries harder than a lot of schools to make the experiences of its football players more similar to the experiences of the general student body. Notre Dame lacks the Basket Weaving majors many of its fellow schools use to help keep athletes eligible to play. It seems to take academic dishonesty quite seriously — as Golson can attest. The honor code is no joke. If it seems as if there are more academic honesty issues in the football program at Notre Dame, consider the possibility that Notre Dame is enforcing those issues more strictly. To put it another way, it’s easy to have a low crime rate if no one ever calls the police. ”
    I certainly think the sports media discredits ND often or is quick to jump on a bad situation and make it worse, but this reminded me that this is not 100% true all of the time. It is just harder than I’d like to find.

    As much as all this hurts especially losing 4 players such as these (and even more if by some chance ND decides to vacate wins), I am left with the hope that we can still win despite this. Look at some of the pre-2012 problems that left us wondering how our team (especially defense) would do going into what was supposed to be the toughest schedule at that time. And the more we do win this season the more it shows that a program and a university CAN do things the right way and still succeed. The question is, has the sport changed too much for anyone to notice or care.

  8. There are two important aspects to this story: the Timeline, and the Reaction by the football team:

    Timeline: So far as we know, a student violated the honor code >> an individual in position to whistle blow alerted the appropriate escalation channel of the incident >> school authorities investigated the claim >> after initial investigation took place, the athletic department was made aware of the situation.
    1. Note the complete detachment of the athletic department involvement until the very end of this progression. A “lack of institutional control” case would require some prior involvement, which does not exist based on details released so far.

    Response: I believe there was a period of a few days or weeks when a combination of either Swarbrick and/or Kelly was made aware of the situation, after which the four players were virtually disassociated with the football team insofar as Swarbrick/Kelly were able to do so.
    1. I believe any lapse between receiving information and taking action was taken to collect all of the facts and allow Swarbrick/Kelly to make a well informed decision. I’ve applauded Swarbrick throughout his time at ND in his willingness and ability to do this – doesn’t seem any different here (though some people may attribute this delay to foul play)
    2. A “lack of institutional control” claim would involve some effort to hide, cover up, or delay the net result (no more football for those accused). ND seems to have taken the opposite approach, not even entertaining a ‘play while we wait’ strategy that could potentially benefit the football team.

    I’ve gotten used to reports that are either mis-informed, intentionally withhold easily available facts, or draw illogical conclusions for the sake of selling eyeballs as Mike mentions. For now, I’m taking confidence in ND’s handling of the situation based on the points outlined above, and I’ll save any other arguments until the info comes out. Haters gonna hate.


  9. I don’t understand why the media is placing so much, really any, blame on BK in this situation. Yes, a rather unfortunate string of events have occured since he’s taken over the helm at ND. But Kelly does one job for the university; He recruits football players to play football, he makes them better, and he moves on with the next recruiting class after they graduate. He doesn’t go to the classroom with his players to make sure they’re taking notes. He doesn’t leave his family at home on Friday night to go to the local South Bend house parties to make sure that Tommy Rees and his body guard Carlo Calabrese don’t try to run away from the cops when one can’t even run the read-option. My point is: Brian Kelly recruits these players based on how their skillset fits in with the program he’s running. It’s up to admissions to say “they have a shot at passing, let’s accept.” If they happen to be a gentleman and a scholar, on top of a skilled football player, then Kelly gets a bonus. Clearly this isn’t always the case. Lay off the BK blame. He’s done a helluva job at getting us good recruits, and he’s getting plenty of other good ones to replace his bad eggs who have these types of issues.

  10. My only concern is the speed at which the investigation is completed. Whenever you get academia involved in anything it becomes a theoretical nightmare that lasts forever, most often punishing the innocent for not allowing them to play.
    If there are guilty parties, weed them out of the university and move on. Quickly. I liked Kelly saying attending ND is not a right.
    On the other hand, it illustrates how incongruent it is to have these college kids be in a union by themselves having to pay for their own tutors, and defense.

    Whitecoat ’62

  11. Why is it that when these embarrassing situations occur, dating back to Ross Browner, Luther Bradley etc. episode of the early 70s and continuing to the current mess, the players involved are almost always key members of the team? A player cheats and gets booted from the b-ball team. Who does it happen to be but the leading scorer. Another player cheats and who is it but the starting quarterback on the football team. Now the alleged cheats are three of the best on the football team. Is there something to the notion that the better you are the more disregard you have for the standards others must meet. It seems like the guys on the bench never cheat, smoke dope or attempt to evade the police. Think about it, when news broke about four football players weren’t you absolutely certain they would be key contributors?

  12. Daniels’ father was interviewed on NBC-Chicago and he alleged this was all about the girlfriend of a CB who edited papers– but did not write them. Who knows? Just passing along information from the NBC-Chicago website.

  13. Well written article and all insightful comments from the peanut gallery. Nice that we all have good things to say about the University. The issue is integrity, institutional and personal. While we have no issue with our institution’s integrity, it is reassuring to know that ND is invested in the personal integrity of it’s student athlete. At 55 very few of these guys will be playing football, but if they can learn that the easiest path in life is often the straightest at an earlier age, then this lesson may take them farther than a 13-0 season.

  14. Damn, another season lost before it begins. Too big of a distraction. 7-5. Sadly, looks like these last minute suspensions will be the norm. BK needs to get more reps to back ups in these lost years (ie Zaire), and try to anticipate a loss of at least 1 starter a year.

    • The season be damned. There’s far more at stake here than winning football games. Like others have commented here, I love Notre Dame BECAUSE of its high ideals and focus on honesty and integrity, which is paramount to the mission of the University and all that it stands for. I would always rather go 0-12 on the football field and do it the Notre Dame Way than 12-0 doing it any other way.

      • Wouldn’t consider high honesty and integrity smearing these guys’ names through the mud. Hope they have adequate counsel. Seems like only one side is being told.

        • If the players are found innocent, Notre Dame will announce that and will welcome them back to the football team with open arms. If Notre Dame had not publically addressed the investigation when it did, the University would be accused of hiding what was going on to protect the talented football players, and that would give the appearance that Notre Dame is complicit with what’s going on, so that had to be avoided at all costs because it simply isn’t true. All students are well aware of the honor and integrity that Notre Dame demands of everyone associated with the University, and I have to believe that Fr. Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick and others involved with the decision to go public with this believe that there is enough evidence to strongly suggest that the accused could be guilty. That’s the way it is at Notre Dame, and I have not heard any criticism from the players about how this has been handled, and I have yet to see any of them leave school, which is certainly their option.

  15. My first reaction was….Gee whiz…another year and another issue for ND Football and Athletics! If the players (all athletes, not just football players) should face the music! If it is a(n) tutor, then there should be a stiff penalty!!! I commend ND on handling this situation, but it seems to be a yearly thing at ND and their Athletic Program. It is a privilege to play at ND…not a right! Lastly, when ND wins some games on the football filed this fall, this will be all forgotten!!!!

  16. westcoastirishfan says:

    No matter what you call out, ND’s handling of this situation before all facts are known is an embarassment and a black eye on university integrity. Calling a press conference under the heading of Academic Fraud is a bit premature. ND simply could have said that the 4 players were suspended for the first game for breaking team rules. I thought people were innocent until proven guilty. I guess universities didn’t learn anything from the Duke rape case.

    If ND takes the more reasonable path, a rush to judgement is then truly on the reader. The only entity rushing to judgement the way this has been handled is the University. If I’m a recruit, I certainly raise an eyebrow wondering if the university truly has my best interests in mind.

    • The trouble is if the investigation turns out to be more serious, ND looks like they weren’t taking it seriously and the NCAA comes down harder than they would otherwise.

  17. It’s a shame the University spends so much time and effort with its holier than though attitude trying to expose student-athletes as a bunch of cheaters. The University should do a better job making the student-athlete succeed.

    • Each student athlete is assigned a personal academic adviser, mandatory study hall for freshman year (and thereafter unless the student demonstrates a certain GPA), and has unlimited access to tutors for each subject. Additionally, student athletes get the first crack at enrolling in classes each semester, allowing them to pick their choice of professors, and courses/times that meet their schedule.

      I don’t know what else you would suggest to help beyond this, but that seems pretty adequate to me.

  18. I agree that ND should be applauded from the standpoint that is not pushing this incident under the rug,
    which might be the case at other schools. I , too, an confident that it will handle the investigation in a
    transparent way.

    Is it not concerning, however, that this is not the first instance of alleged academic dishonesty within
    the ND athletic program in recent months (see Everett Golson and Jerian Grant last year)?

    Is there a trend developing?

  19. So what are the chances that the dog wags the tail too hard? Now that self-serving media have established an assumption of academic fraud on campus, will Notre Dame sacrifice these players on the altar of public perception, regardless of the actual findings of the investigation? Any legitimate violations should be punished in accordance with the Honor Code, of course, but just as athletes should not receive special deference for wrong-doing, neither should their visibility subject them to excessive scrutiny or unrealistic standards.

    (And I’m not being entirely rhetorical, by the way. I really don’t consider this possibility to be below the university’s PR machine.)

  20. Given the number of off the field issues this program has had in Kelly’s short tenure you have to wonder what type of environment he’s created that these things continue to happen. Yes, some of it can be blamed on youth/players, but at some point the fault lies with the person in charge.