Notre Dame says it strongly disagrees with the NCAA’s decision to vacate wins from the school’s football team in 2012 and 2013.
The NCAA said in November 2016 that the school had to vacate wins from the two seasons because a student trainer did coursework for two football players. Notre Dame appealed the decision, and the NCAA announced Tuesday that the school’s appeal had been denied.
Notre Dame went to the BCS Championship Game following the 2012 season and went 9-4 in 2013.
In its decision, the appeals committee highlighted that as a member of the NCAA, the university is subject to the Association’s rules, including those related to academic misconduct and the ability to impose penalties for academic misconduct violations. In this case, the university acknowledged the academic misconduct impacted the eligibility of student-athletes and resulted in student-athletes competing while ineligible. The appeals committee found the panel has the authority under NCAA rules to prescribe penalties for academic misconduct violations.
The university also argued that the penalty is excessive since there was no university involvement or knowledge of the academic conduct. The appeals committee confirmed that at the time of the violations, the athletic training student was considered a university employee under NCAA rules.
Notre Dame said it admitted that academic misconduct had taken place and that it took the necessary punishment steps at a school level regarding the cheating. It appealed the decision because it believed the NCAA “has never before vacated the records of an institution that had no involvement in the underlying academic misconduct.”
In a letter posted to the school’s website after the NCAA’s decision, Notre Dame expressed its displeasure with the decision. Hell hath no fury as a school forced to vacate wins.
Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins argued there was no precedent for the NCAA’s decision because the student trainer was not an employee of the school and noted the NCAA made that student/employee distinction in 2016. You’ll note that the NCAA’s statement above includes the phrase “at the time of the violations.”
There is no precedent in previous NCAA cases for the decision to add a discretionary penalty of vacation of team records in a case of student-to-student cheating involving a part-time student worker who had no role in academic advising. In every other case in the record—meticulously detailed in the University’s arguments—the institutional representative of the university was employed as an administrator, coach, or person who served in an academic role. The Committee simply failed to provide any rationale why it viewed the student-worker as an institutional representative in our case. This is more disturbing given that, in 2016, the member institutions of the NCAA amended the academic misconduct rules to make clear that students who serve in roles identical to that of the student in our case would not be considered institutional representatives. If the Committee members chose to depart both from precedent and the position adopted by the NCAA membership, it was incumbent on them to offer an explanation. They did not.
Jenkins even referenced the NCAA’s decision regarding the North Carolina academic misconduct case in Notre Dame’s case against the NCAA. The sanctioning body said it couldn’t conclude that North Carolina violated NCAA rules with its sham classes.
Notre Dame’s case stands in striking contrast with another recent high-profile academic misconduct case in which the NCAA Committee on Infractions chair explained that even though certain classes “more likely than not” were used to keep athletes eligible with fraudulent credits, the legitimacy of those classes was beyond the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s enforcement process precisely because that question must be left to the determination of the university in the exercise of its academic autonomy. The notion that a university’s exercise of academic autonomy can under NCAA rules lead to exoneration—or to a severe penalty—without regard to the way in which it is used defies logic and any notion of fundamental fairness.
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