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The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football team was sanctioned by the NCAA last week after an investigation revealed academic fraud dating back to 2011. The sanctions have resulted in the organization vacating 21 wins from the team’s 2012 and 2013 seasons.
According to the NCAA report released November 22, two members of the Notre Dame football team had coursework completed by an athletic trainer working for the university. The investigation’s report also found that six other athletes were given aid by the trainer, and up to 18 academic courses were affected. Such actions violated the University’s academic honor policy, and should therefore have made the athletes ineligible. Consequently, the NCAA vacated all wins in which these players took part, striking the games from the team’s record, as well as from the record of head coach Brian Kelly.
The investigation began in 2014, when a student athletic trainer was found to have aided two football players with work in four courses. Since the student athletic trainer was an employee of the university, the NCAA considered her actions unethical. The NCAA specifically cited in their report the trainer’s failure to investigate whether the actions were in violation of school and league policy before helping the student athletes.
The most notable of the vacated wins come from the 2012-2013 season, when Notre Dame went undefeated in the regular season before falling to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game. In their report, the NCAA cited previous similar cases of academic fraud, including those against the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and the University of North Carolina football teams, in their decision to vacate Notre Dame’s wins.
Notre Dame officials told the NCAA that they believed vacating wins would not be an effective punishment. The university claimed that such an action would discourage schools from investigating similar actions in the future, fearing the same punishment. This opinion was noted in the official NCAA report, but the NCAA dismissed the concern, stating that schools should not factor potential punishments into their decisions to investigate misconduct.
The sanctions imposed by the NCAA also include a year of probation on Notre Dame’s athletics, ending in November 2017, and a $5,000 fine. The university was also forced to dissociate itself with the trainer for two years, and the trainer would have to undergo a hearing should she seek employment at another university. The NCAA also officially censured Notre Dame as part of their sanctions. This is Notre Dame’s first serious infraction in nearly two decades, which the NCAA factored into their sanctioning decision, thus preventing the school from facing more severe punishment.
Notre Dame finished their 2016 football season last week with a loss to USC. The team went 4-8 for the season, their worst record since 2007.