Let me preface my take on the freshly-revealed Notre Dame Football cheating scandal that follows by telling you that I am Notre Dame fan, gold and blue through and through. I have the requisite Irish gear: hats, keychain, coozie, pullovers, and I would have a dignified pair of Irish underwear had my wife paid closer attention to my Christmas wish list.
When the news broke on Friday that at least four Notre Dame football players had been suspected of “academic dishonesty,” it made it a little awkward to flash the ND paraphernalia. I cringed at the thought of the possible headlines: “The Cheatin’ Irish” and the like. Personally, it was a little harder because I did not come by the news via the ESPN mobile app or by the Facebook newsfeed. The first sign of trouble for my beloved team arrived in the form of smack-talking texts from two brothers-in-law. Sure, I’m guilty of doling out my fair share of trash talking with those two guys. When you have three exceedingly close sisters who are married to three guys who are fanatic about Notre Dame, Michigan, and Duke, there’s a lot there to work with when it comes to disparaging one’s team at the other’s expense.
I quickly went into panic mode, checking Facebook and Twitter in order to get a feel for the magnitude of the situation. Once that was complete, I huddled with my Irish Twitter family for solace, while searching for cogent, reasonable explanations I could provide the in-laws, whom my wife and I would be meeting for dinner in a few hours. I came to the table, literally, with nothing more than a jesting remark about how “a guy’s got to graduate, somehow.” Thankfully, the ribbing was short-lived. Once that front was secured, then it was on to the who, what, where, and why of the situation.
While the depth and scope of what KeVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, and Kendall Moore (three of four were Irish starters) were involved in remains to be seen as Notre Dame’s investigative material is handed over to the NCAA, what is clear is that the university and the football program has a potential nightmare on their hands at the dawn of an optimistic season in which Notre Dame is ranked in the top 20 in both the AP and Coach’s preseason polls. Diminished optimism appears to be the least of an Irish fan’s worry when you have the president of the university presiding over a news conference in which he states that the school is willing to vacate every win since the 2012 season. That can’t be a good omen. For me and many others, the knife-turning part of vacating wins is that Notre Dame’s 2012 undefeated regular season could be potentially wiped clean, expunged from the record as if their Cinderella season had not even happened.
After letting the news gestate for a few days, we now know who was allegedly involved, what they allegedly did, and where they allegedly did it. Now, it’s on to the “why?.” Reading very deeply into that one, fingers could be pointed in several directions. What kind of pressure was being placed on these young men that they may or may not have felt that they had to resort to dishonesty in order to keep their college football careers afloat? Why didn’t recruiters catch a whiff of this right out of the gate? Why did a university, who boasts the highest graduation rate among Division I schools, not catch this sooner?
Though this potential scandal is bad enough, I would be remiss in my commentary if I didn’t bring up at least a couple of other instances in which dishonesty at Notre Dame has made headlines. Last season, starting quarterback Everett Golson was suddenly nowhere to be found before the 2013 season had even started. After some digging, it was found that Golson had been suspended from Notre Dame for the fall semester for his own kind of academic impropriety, which has yet to be explained. Before that, there was another case which, not having any impact on Notre Dame’s football team directly, tarnished a bit of the mythical program when Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was charged with securities fraud by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Southeastern Conference) for trying to make money on penny stocks in a “pump and dump” scam. Ruettiger was required to pay $382,866, but not forced to admit any guilt.
While the latest scandal appears to still be in its infancy, I wouldn’t come close to saying that this or other past lapses in judgment belie that fact that the University of Notre Dame is having problems with the pointing of it’s moral compass. However, I hope that the school can recalculate it’s path by maintaining an atmosphere that places just as much expectation on academics as it does athletics and has equal measures in place to catch wrongdoers before there is an opportunity for haters to make a mockery out of something cherished. Irish fans have enough to deal with when folks find it hard to believe they are supporters. We don’t need to feel cheated, too.
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