Sharpley: A close-up view shows the system does work at Notre Dame

Evan Sharpley
ND Insider Correspondent

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Signing a letter-of-intent to be a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame comes with a huge amount of pressure and scrutiny, perhaps more than any other university in the country. Therein lies the reason for many top-ranked recruits to step foot onto the campus of Our Lady.

This type of notoriety is a double-edged sword as it provides a wonderful platform to do much good, but it also can provide the necessary backdrop for a Shakespearean tragedy able to shake the foundation of an Irish football season.

Does the outlook appear promising for five Irish players held out of this week’s contest against the Rice Owls while an academic fraud investigation plays out? Who is to say? Instead of casting the first stone, let’s take a step back, and, perhaps come down off our high horses.

Before we go any further, let me be clear: These actions, if true, are extremely upsetting and cannot be condoned. As a former student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame, I can relate to and understand the pressure to compete at a high level in athletics, maintain a rigorous class schedule, attempt to have a social life, and incorporate faith and spirituality.

In light of the recent academic issues surrounding the Irish program, my thoughts go directly to those involved. How could this have been avoided? What circumstances, unknown to us, could have caused this to happen?

I think back to my years under the Dome, how impressionable I was. I remember that these athletes we hold to such a high regard and put on such a pedestal are still maturing and growing.

Because Notre Dame publicly adheres to its academic prowess, as it should, students and athletes have to understand where they are. Not every school is able to make statements about academics and athletics like Notre Dame, which is why this has become an even bigger issue.

Do academic issue happen at every school? Do they happen at every level of play? With a great level of certainty, I can say, yes. This is not an excuse and it shouldn’t be. Irish fans hold Notre Dame to a higher standard, but shouldn’t point to the flaws of other programs.

Bottom line, the mistakes, if made, may have let down teammates; let down the program; and let down themselves. Is this something that was thought about when the actions occur? Most likely not. The opportunity, especially as a high profile player, is there for dishonesty. Some people take advantage of it, while others do not.

This type of behavior is not limited to just athletes. Non-athletes commit these errors as well. Most likely it is not as public because being a Notre Dame football player places you in the spotlight. It is a difficult burden to bear at times.

My suggestion? Be upset. But be understanding and forgiving. You’ve made mistakes too. Maybe they haven’t let as many people down or maybe they haven’t been broadcast everywhere, but they are mistakes nonetheless.

Notre Dame is a demanding academic school, but not unrealistic. I played two sports. Managing my time was a full time job. It took me several years to find a balance that worked for me. Some student-athletes search their entire career attempting to find this. Finding it is usually done with much difficulty. We have to remember that we are talking about young kids on the brink of adulthood.

A tough question to consider is where the coach fits into this equation. I can say with certainty that Brian Kelly is not to blame. However, he is the face of the program. That is why he has publicly expressed how upset and concerned he is. The head coach stays very connected within the academic realm of the program.

But he isn’t the one going to study hall, meeting with a tutor, or taking a test. Kelly and the academic support staff trust that the system in place works.

When one takes a closer look, the system does work. How often do we hear about success stories? Those stories give us warm feelings, but don’t provide water cooler talk or create drama. The cases of dishonesty make the headlines.

Teammates are very loyal and stick by each other. That being said, it is still a huge distraction. It was the players’ choice to go down the road they did, and as it appears, they got caught.

It would be an interesting dynamic in the locker room, interacting with the players under investigation.

Obviously, the program is under unwanted scrutiny. This type of situation is not the type of publicity Notre Dame wants. However, over the last several years, these are the norm.

Why? Because they make news. They create drama. You and I talk about this issue. If Cam McDaniel gets at “A” on a paper, that doesn’t make headline news. If Corey Robinson nails a presentation and maintains a high GPA, why isn’t that blasted across every media outlet? Mistakes make money.

My advice in this dire and gloomy situation is to look to the countless number of Notre Dame athletes with clean slates, with amazing academic resumes. They are in the majority!

Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT in the Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. Sharpley owns and operates Sharpley Training in Mishawaka.

Notre Dame players run drills during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, inside Notre Dame Stadium at Notre Dame South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP