NCAA Denies Notre Dame’s Appeal

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Breaking News: The NCAA is an enigma.

Well, that’s just one man’s opinion. The governing body of college athletics has been pretty inconsistent with the standards they use to determine necessary punishments for athletic programs. They also seem to be unaware of the messages they are sending with each ruling. Today marked the latest example.

The NCAA officially denied the University of Notre Dame’s appeal to a punishment that would vacate 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 football seasons. This punishment was the result of academic misconduct that involved nine Notre Dame football players receiving aid from a student-trainer in order to maintain academic eligibility.

This incident was uncovered during a four-month internal investigation launched by the University in 2014. When they reached the conclusion that misconduct took place, Notre Dame self-reported the infractions to the NCAA.

The President of Notre Dame, Rev. John Jenkins, released an official statement earlier today regarding the NCAA’s ruling.

Jenkins began by stating how the University reacted to the NCAA’s ruling on the appeal. He wrote, “We are deeply disappointed by and strongly disagree with the denial of the University’s appeal, announced today by the NCAA, of an earlier decision by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions to vacate Notre Dame’s 2012 and 2013 football victories due to academic misconduct by several student-athletes. Our concerns go beyond the particulars of our case and the record of two football seasons to the academic autonomy of our institutions, the integrity of college athletics, and the ability of the NCAA to achieve its fundamental purpose.”

In his statement, Rev. Jenkins was arguing two main points: the way the NCAA viewed the student-trainer that was involved in the misconduct, and the discretion the NCAA used when deciding to issue the punishment of vacating wins.

In regards to the student-trainer that was involved, Jenkins wrote, “Two of the students had received assistance from a full-time undergraduate student who had part-time employment as an assistant to our athletic trainers. Student-to-student cheating is not normally within the NCAA’s jurisdiction, but the NCAA concluded that the student’s role as a part-time assistant trainer made her a “representative of the institution” and justified a vacation of team records penalty in this case.”

He continued by saying, “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.”

Jenkins also cited a recent amendment made to the NCAA rules, “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.”

With regards to the NCAA’s discretion when deciding to vacate wins, Jenkins felt that Notre Dame was not shown any mercy for having a strict honor code in place, taking the initiative to launch an internal investigation, and enforcing that honor code after the conclusion of the investigation. He wrote, “After the cheating was discovered and the cases adjudicated by the University Honesty Committee in 2014, a framework was painstakingly created to recalculate grades so that students understood the consequences of their actions and did not benefit from them. In the curious logic of the NCAA, however, it is precisely the application of our Honor Code that is the source of the vacation of wins penalty, for the recalculation of the grades in 2014 led to the three student-athletes being deemed ineligible retroactively.”

Rev. Jenkins believes this is sending the wrong message to schools, and could incentivize them to implement more lenient honor systems moving forward. He continued by stating, “To impose a severe penalty for this retroactive ineligibility establishes a dangerous precedent and turns the seminal concept of academic autonomy on its head. At best, the NCAA’s decision in this case creates a randomness of outcome based solely on how an institution chooses to define its honor code; at worst, it creates an incentive for colleges and universities to change their honor codes to avoid sanctions like that imposed here.”

Finally, he referenced a recent NCAA investigation of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He wrote, “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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