Little impact expected on Notre Dame football recruiting

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Twenty-four hours had passed and Josh Barajas still hadn’t bothered to make a phone call.

A day after Notre Dame released details of an academic dishonesty investigation of four football players, the 2015 Irish verbal commitment expressed zero concern. Rumors and discussions with his friends filled part of his Friday before the of-ficial announcement was made, but the 6-foot-3, 212-pound linebacker at Andrean (Ind.) High School had a scrimmage against Crown Point later that night on his mind.

The news offered little more than a brief distraction. He planned to reach out to Notre Dame for more information, but didn’t need any immediate explanation.

“I don’t feel too bothered by it,” Barajas said. “I like that just because they’re football players that they’re not getting any special treatment. If you do something wrong, then you deserve to suffer the consequences. I like that Notre Dame’s not just blowing it off because they’re football players.”

As it stands, the investigation is focused on four players — cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore — who are being withheld from football activities until a decision of guilt or innocence is declared.

The recruiting impact will be based on the outcome of the investigation. As long as the probe proves an isolated incident, Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts shouldn’t take a hit, said Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much of an impact, honestly,”

Farrell said. “I think because it’s Notre Dame it’s a sensational story. I don’t know all the details, of course. I don’t think anybody truly knows all the details. The higher academic programs like Notre Dame seem to get spotlighted more when there’s an academic issue. It comes down to individual decisions. I don’t think this a widespread Notre Dame athletics problem. I think it’s just some poor choices.”

That doesn’t mean that the list of academic issues, which has reached a steady rate with quarterback Everett Golson’s exile last fall, Daniels’ suspension in the spring and the new allegations, won’t be mentioned by opposing coaches competing for Notre Dame with recruits.

“This is definitely going to be used against them,” Farrell said. “The issue is what schools can use this against them. What schools have higher academic standards than Notre Dame? You could argue Stanford. You could argue Duke and schools like Northwestern, Boston College, and Vanderbilt. If other schools that don’t have the academic reputation of Notre Dame start throwing around stuff like, ‘You can’t go to Notre Dame. What kind of education are you going to get there?’ it could blow up in their face.”

Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 17 verbally committed prospects bought into what the football program and school offered when each gave their pledge to head coach Brian Kelly. Unless the investigation were to result in future NCAA sanctions or a coaching change, the ramifications that could affect those recruits remains limited.

Any thought that Notre Dame’s academic standards could be too challenging for any of those commits would likely be dismissed by a confident recruit.

“Notre Dame recruits are a different animal,” Farrell said. “Same with Stanford kids. It’s a different family you’re dealing with. It’s a different level of kid you’re dealing with. They can easily see through stuff and it can backfire on you. I think it’s going to be used, I just don’t know if it’s going to be a success.”

Barajas had yet to hear from opposing coaches as of Saturday afternoon. The former Penn State commitment is no stranger to changing his mind. But when asked if anything that could come from Notre Dame’s pending investigation would affect his commitment, Barajas dismissed the idea immediately.

“No way,” he said. “Not at all.”

Kelly insisted Saturday that the recent mishaps weren’t a product of a poor evaluation in the recruiting process.

“I think we’ve brought in the right young men,” Kelly said. “I think we have to continue to do a better job educating them. We have to do a better job providing them the resources.”

As long as Notre Dame continues to commit itself to providing academic and athletic opportunities at the highest level to its students, the foundation of the football program should withstand the stress.

“Kids want to go to Notre Dame for football, yes, but for other reasons as well,” Farrell said. “Kids are still going to want to go to Notre Dame for football and other reasons despite this.” | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Linebacker Josh Barajas remains steadfast in his commitment to Notre Dame (Photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana).