Opinion: NCAA Got it Wrong on Notre Dame Ruling

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South Bend Tribune (Indiana)


The NCAA got it wrong when it rejected Notre Dame's appeal of a 2016 ruling regarding an academic fraud case.

The initial ruling came out of incident that occurred several years ago when a former ND student athletic trainer violated NCAA ethical conduct rules by committing academic misconduct for two football players and providing six other football players with impermissible academic extra benefits. One more Irish football player committed academic misconduct on his own.

Notre Dame self-reported the incident to the NCAA when it was discovered, and administrators also took other steps to address the issue, including forming a task force to look at why the misconduct happened in the first place and ways to prevent such cheating from recurring.

Head coach Brian Kelly said the university added support staff and other resources to make sure players do the work they need to do academically.

The University Honor Committee completed a four-month investigation to determine what exactly occurred and how it might have impacted grades, class credits and GPAs.

The original penalty, handed down in November 2016, included vacating 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, one-year of probation (which was served during the appeal), a $5,000 fine and the severing of ties with the former student assistant trainer at the center of the case.

But what really is perplexing is the NCAA's decision to define a former student assistant trainer as an "institutional representative" of the university.

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins took specific exception to that part of the ruling in a letter to the NCAA, arguing that in virtually every other case, an institutional representative of the university is defined as an administrator, coach or a person who served in an academic role.

A student assistant trainer doesn't fit those any of those categories. In fact, Jenkins went on in his letter to say that member institutions of the NCAA amended the academic misconduct rules to make clear that students who serve in roles identical to the student in this Notre Dame case shouldn't be considered institutional representatives.

The NCAA contradicted its own rules in this case.

Academic cheating is a serious matter that should be addressed swiftly and appropriately, but by the university, not by an organization that regulates college athletics. A student writing a paper for another student shouldn't come under the jurisdiction of the NCAA. Let the colleges and universities handle such matters individually according to their own academic standards, especially when such matters don't involve someone clearly identified as overseeing student athletes.

Notre Dame identified the problem, took appropriate steps to address it and did so by adhering to its own academic code of honor.

In this case, the punishment did not fit the crime and, by taking away 21 football victories and altering the record books of college football, the NCAA went beyond its bounds in its decision.

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February 21, 2018


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