The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program has been blindsided by the threat of losing four players just weeks before their 2014 season opener.
Four Fighting Irish players – cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore are being held out of practice while the school investigates what it has deemed as “suspected academic dishonesty.”
The investigation centers around evidence that the student-athletes had submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others. The improprieties were detected at the end of the summer, and were referred to the athletic program’s compliance offices on July 29.
The Fighting Irish will begin their 2014 campaign in South Bend against the Rice Owls.
Notre Dame finished last season 9-4. The school is currently ranked at no. 17 in the preseason USA Today/Coaches poll.
The students will remain enrolled in the university until the completion of an extensive internal investigation.
The school released a statement shortly after 4 p.m. on Friday.
“Integrity is at the heart of our mission and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the University’s president. “If the suspected improprieties are proven, we will use the experience to reinforce among our students the importance of honesty in all that they do. We are also examining ways of better conveying to students that they can avail themselves of legitimate academic assistance without resorting to cheating.”
The school is also investigating whether other players are involved.
“The University is committed to thorough resolution of this matter, consistent with its commitment to academic integrity and adherence to NCAA rules,” Jenkins said.
Last season, star quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the entire season because of an academic violation. He was readmitted to the university at the beginning of the spring 2014 semester and will begin the 2014 season as starting quarterback.
A BIG HEADACHE FOR COACH KELLY
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been rocked by the investigation. He spoke with the Chicago Tribune following Saturday’s open practice.
Coach Kelly told the paper that he was “shocked” when Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick informed him of the investigation.
“We hold our players to a very high standard here at Notre Dame; I believe Notre Dame to be vigilant on that end,” Kelly told the Tribune. “We don’t say one thing and do the other. I’m proud of Notre Dame and the way that they act. We don’t look the other way.”
This is the last thing that Coach Kelly needed to hear ahead of the 2014 season. Potentially losing at least four players for the entire 2014 season seriously dents the Irish’s chances maintaining their Top 25 status.
Daniels, Moore, Russell and Williams were all members of the 2012 Fighting Irish team that lost 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
Russell, a junior, has been hailed one of the finest cornerbacks in the nation. He made 51 tackles and broke up eight passes last season. Russell intercepted one pass in 13 games in 2013.
Daniels caught 49 balls for 745 yards, scoring seven touchdowns in 13 games last season. The senior receiver is the most vital member of Notre Dame’s receiving corps and is a key target for the returning Golson.
Williams was expected to be a starting defensive end for the Irish this season. He suited up 11 times last season, making 17 tackles. Moore is a fifth-year senior and a backup linebacker. He made 17 tackles in 13 games last season.
Kelly will be scrambling to reorder his depth chart. The Irish have been particularly weakened at receiver due to tight end Troy Niklas and wide receiver T.J. Jones being drafted into the NFL.
Should Daniels face a lengthy suspension, junior Chris Brown would be the Irish’s most experienced receiver. Brown caught 15 receptions for 209 yards and scored one touchdown in 13 games last season.
COULD NOTRE DAME VACATE WINS?
In Friday’s statement, the university admitted that the school would “voluntarily vacate” any victories from any season where ineligible players have participated.
One section of the statement read:
“That investigation is ongoing. If it determines that the student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily vacate any victories in which they participated.”
Their 12-1 National Championship runner-up season could be wiped from the record books.
Overall, the investigation begs questions over the direction of Notre Dame athletics. Notre Dame is caught in a grappling struggle between holding itself to the highest academic standards and lowering their standards to remain in line with the rest of college football’s superpowers.
These days, it seems like the golden dome appears to be shining a little less bright.