Yesterday, in something that won’t come as news to most, the University of Notre Dame publicly announced that it is investigating allegations of academic misconduct. Per the Official Release from the University, these allegations first came to light several weeks ago at the end of July. The University communicated the morning of August 15, 2014 with officials from the NCAA regarding this development, and the investigation is in its early stages. As was stated by Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, the NCAA will defer to the university for the time being with respect to the investigation.
First, what do we know? The answer is: not all that much. Swarbrick and University President Father John Jenkins were both necessarily vague in the details released to the public. This is so for several reasons. First off, the investigation is only two weeks old. While all parties involved hope that the matter moves swiftly and decisively, nothing appears to be set in stone or proven to a fact at this point. Secondly, federal student privacy laws (as well as a common sense of decency) both mean the University will be guarded throughout the process, both to protect the innocent and to avoid publicly shaming young individuals who may very well have made a regrettable mistake.
Unfortunately for fans of the program, fortunately for haters of the program, and in a bit of a sledgehammer to pre-season optimism, the team did go ahead and announce that four current players are being held out of football related activities while the investigation continues. The four players, DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell, and Ishaq Williams have not….let’s say that again in giant capital letters…HAVE NOT been suspended, expelled, dismissed, or any other words you might insert suggesting absolute guilt at the current time. That’s not to say they will or won’t be but should still point to the fluidity of the situation at hand.
We also know that the alleged misconduct involves non-athletes as well. In what capacity and to what extent is still unknown, but both Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick reiterated on numerous occasions during a 6 PM press conference (available in its entirety at the above included link) that this is an academic issue and is not, at the current time, being viewed as a problem within the football program on whole.
For what we know, that’s about it. No more, no less. Message boards, alleged “professional sportswriters,” and foaming opposing fan bases have and will continue to expand on what’s really going on without knowing more. My recommendation, since you asked so kindly for it, is to ignore as much of the speculation and innuendo as possible. Unless of course taking a hot poker to your eyes and brain is your thing. In which case, have at it.
The allegations are troubling and certainly cringe worthy. While adversity is an expected part of any season, a team and program generally hopes that the adversity is contained to what happens on the field and not what occurs when the players are away from the team activities. It’s understandable for many onlookers to view what appears to be a mounting number of academic related problems involving Notre Dame’s scholarship sports programs and cast aspersions on the school given the emphasis the University places upon academic integrity. For those looking for a reason to hate the University, each public instance is a new, sharp arrow to put in the quiver for target practice. Fair enough. At the current time, the University has to deal with the target practice. If it’s serious about its underlying purpose and mission (which I wholeheartedly believe it is), then the arrows will miss the mark in the long run.
I’ve also seen many ND fans get a little proactive on their “defense” of the program. One oft heard phrase is “this happens everywhere.” I choose, and encourage everyone else, to avoid using such axioms. It’s conjecture at its worst. Perhaps it’s true, but there’s not a person on earth who possesses the knowledge to say it’s occurring. If three days ago I’d placed on the Twitter the statement “There’s some serious academic fraud going on at Notre Dame. There has to be because it’s endemic to all institutions,” I’d have received a good degree of hatred from the many folks I interact with. Turns out I’d have been (possibly) correct, but it’s unfair and destructive to use that as a crutch. Notre Dame’s dealing with an unpleasant, uncomfortable situation right now. The focus should be on improving things from the inside, not on tearing down those on the outside. There’s only one way to salvation, and it’s not by trying to rip down everyone else.
For those worried about the 2014 season, don’t be. No, I’m not going to suggest that potentially losing talented players is an alright thing. I am going to suggest though that holding people accountable for doing the wrong thing is a long term good. I will also suggest that being a fan of Notre Dame, no matter why you are one, must mean more than winning on the field at any cost. The reasons for becoming a fan of Notre Dame are numerous: Some by family tradition, some by attending the school, some by watching them growing up, some by being Catholic, some because they like the mascot, some for regional reasons, and all of these are great, commendable reasons to root for Our Lady. However, if you do love the program, it should be for something more than winning on the field. I find it hard to believe that any longstanding fan of Notre Dame doesn’t at some point also take pride in what the university stands for. It’s a form of nostalgia in aspiring to do things the right way that unites many of us. Those aspirations are not dead.
To get back on track about doing the right thing though, this investigation may be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and perhaps even retroactively disappointing. That’s the mission this administration now has. I do not doubt for a second they will take that responsibility seriously. Something I said yesterday that bears repeating: I welcome an opportunity to punish or hold responsible anyone who tarnishes the University of Notre Dame. In true spirit, this does not necessarily imply amputation. I’m not saying anything ground breaking when I point out that the greatest storyline of the 2014 season before yesterday’s news was one such redemption story. Personal, programmatic, and institutional responsibility is a laudable goal. Notre Dame can be a place for anyone to succeed who wants to. It can also be a place for those seeking redemption for mistakes.
Yesterday’s news may not be your favorite, but don’t fall into the role of self-righteous vigilante. Despite what some so-called writers have within 24 hours of this news breaking decided to write, the Notre Dame spirit is not dead. It does need to be healed but not with blame or deflection but rather with self-reflection and investigation. While the University investigates this matter, self-reflect yourself about what the University means to you and focus on that rather than the 2014 season. By its very definition, the future has yet to be written. Enjoy the games as they come and try not to be too quick to judge the remainder.