Notre Dame may have to vacate all victories from the 2012 and 2013 football seasons due to previous NCAA violations, a Division I Committee on Infractions panel announced Tuesday.
A former Notre Dame student athletic trainer — who the NCAA did not identify, but did indicate to be a female — violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when she committed academic misconduct for two football players and provided six other football players with impermissible academic extra benefits. One additional Irish football player committed academic misconduct on his own. All the infractions were self-reported by the university.
Five former Notre Dame football players — Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore, Eilar Hardy, Davaris Daniels and KeiVarae Russell — were suspended prior to the 2014 season for academic misconduct. The other four players implicated in the NCAA report, who were no longer enrolled at Notre Dame when the violations were discovered, are unknown.
The panel ordered one year of probation, a two-year show-cause order and disassociation for the former trainer, and a $5,000 fine for the university. During that time, if a member school hires her in an athletically related position, she and the school must appear before a Committee on Infractions panel.
Additionally, the NCAA ordered "a vacation of all records in which student-athletes participated while ineligible during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 football seasons."
Head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday that the university will appeal the vacation of those 21 wins.
Click on the PDF to read the NCAA's full public infractions decision below.
The NCAA has never in its history vacated the records of an institution that had no involvement in the underlying academic misconduct, and according to a university statement by the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, "the NCAA investigation confirmed the conclusions of our own internal investigation: Notre Dame acted honorably throughout."
Notre Dame's accountability for some of the violations, as cited in the panel's 21-page decision, are reflected in NCAA Bylaw 10, which governs ethical conduct. The trainer, because she was defined by the panel as an institutional staff member, violated that conduct.
At the expedited hearing — which occurred in Indianapolis on Sept. 23, a day before the Irish lost to Duke and two days prior to defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's firing — Jenkins, Kelly, athletics director Jack Swarbrick and university vice president and general counsel Marianne Corr made four arguments against the vacation of wins.
The arguments included that the penalty intrudes on Notre Dame's autonomy over student academic misconduct, the penalty is discretionary and shouldn't be applied in this case, the penalty does not reflect the level of institutional misconduct and the penalty may "disincentivize" institutions from proactively and firmly addressing academic misconduct.
The panel disagreed with each argument and viewed the vacation of wins as appropriate.
Notre Dame and the panel could not agree on which precedent applied to Notre Dame's penalties. At the expedited hearing, the panel decision says, Notre Dame conceded that East Carolina's 2011 case was "probably the closest to our case." The East Carolina violations involved a women's tennis player and four baseball players. The women's tennis player, while working as an academic tutor for the university, wrote papers for the four baseball players as part of the academic fraud. East Carolina's penalties included a vacation of 17 baseball games and eight tennis matches.
Athletics director Jack Swarbrick was not in South Bend to comment publicly on the matter.
"It's never happened before in the history of the NCAA," Kelly said of the NCAA's decree in a Tuesday press conference. "A penalty has never been issued in this fashion before."
On Notre Dame potentially vacating wins, including all 12 from a perfect 12-0 regular season in 2012, Kelly said: "I was always hopeful that we wouldn't be at this day, but here's what I can tell you: We did the right thing. I'm proud of our support staff, our academic support staff. I'm proud of the people that represented us here at Notre Dame during this time.
"And if doing the right thing means that you've got to put an asterisk next to these games, that's fine with me. We still beat Oklahoma. We still beat Wake Forest. We still beat all those teams, so you can put an asterisk next to it. If that makes you feel better, then that's fine with me."
While Notre Dame and the NCAA agree on the violations themselves, Kelly clearly hoped for a more lenient decision.
"I knew (vacating wins) was a possibility," Kelly said, "but you're hoping that reasonable people would come to a reasonable decision, and obviously that didn't get to the point that we're at today."
The penalties levied by the NCAA do not include a bowl ban or scholarship reductions, according to Kelly. Notre Dame's embattled head coach added that he believes he deserves "zero" culpability for the violations in 2012 and 2013.
“As we said at the outset of this investigation, Notre Dame would willingly accept a vacation of records penalty if it were appropriate," Jenkins said in the university's official statement. "It is not in this case. Indeed, should this precedent stand, it could create a perverse incentive that will discourage institutions from investigating so aggressively and imposing the penalties for academic dishonesty that their honesty committees might judge appropriate.”
Click on the PDF to read Notre Dame's complete official statement below.
During two academic years, the former student trainer and two football players engaged in academic misconduct when she completed coursework for the student-athletes, according to the report by the NCAA. These unnamed players, in addition to a third player, also committed academic misconduct individually.
The university determined the three Notre Dame players violated its academic integrity policies. The misconduct resulted in the student-athletes playing while ineligible — one during the 2012-13 season and the other two during the 2013-14 season.
Kelly estimated that the appeals process should conclude within the next six to eight weeks. The seventh-year Notre Dame head coach was asked near the end of Tuesday's press conference whether he expects to be the program's head coach in 2017.
"I have no reason to believe that I'm not (going to be)," Kelly said.