Four Notre Dame football players will be held out of practice and games while university officials investigate whether they were involved in suspected academic fraud, the school announced Friday evening.
If improprieties were found to have occurred that kept players eligible, the school said it will "voluntarily" vacate any victories in which the players participated.
Vowing to protect the academic integrity of the school, president Rev. John Jenkins and athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference that receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore are at the center of the school's internal probe into allegations of cheating on tests and papers. The four were interviewed Friday, as Yahoo Sports previously reported, and are being withheld from team activities until the investigation is complete. School officials said non-athletes also are part of the probe, and stressed this is more an academic situation than an athletic one.
A Notre Dame statement said there was "evidence that students had submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others." They said information was brought to light at the end of the school's summer session, and it was forwarded to the athletic compliance office on July 29.
"We are in the beginning stages of the investigation," Jenkins said.
"We haven't reached a conclusion that it occurred yet," cautioned Swarbrick.
Swarbrick added that the investigation is open-ended, both in scope and timetable. It will likely look back throughout the players' careers at Notre Dame – all four are juniors or older, and both Daniels and Russell were key players as freshmen on the 2012 Fighting Irish team.
Daniels is Notre Dame's primary deep threat and leading returning receiver, with 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Russell had 51 tackles and broke up eight passes last year as a starting cornerback. Williams, a defensive end, is a senior who had 17 tackles last year but was battling to start this year. Linebacker Moore also had 17 tackles last season and is a projected backup in 2014.
Jenkins said there is no evidence coach Brian Kelly or any staff members knew about the alleged cheating. Swarbrick said Kelly was "devastated" when told of the investigation.
This is not the first alleged honor code issue at Notre Dame under Kelly. Starting quarterback Everett Golson missed last season because of an academic issue that was reportedly an honor code violation. Also, Jerian Grant, a guard and the leading scorer on Notre Dame's basketball team, was suspended in December because of an academic issue. Swarbrick said the current investigation is separate from the Golson and Grant suspensions, which were for academic probation, not a potential academic fraud issue.
However, Jenkins said he believes the football players Notre Dame is recruiting are not in over their heads at a school renowned for its academic rigor.
"We're confident the students we admit have the capacity to succeed here," he said.
Notre Dame administrators said the NCAA is aware of the situation, but the school initiated the investigation and has handled the inquiry itself to this point. The NCAA may only become involved if this becomes an eligibility issue.
The Irish open their season Aug. 30 at home against Rice.
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