The road to discovery, recovery

Not much has gone right for the Notre Dame football program of late, but the university's approach to its most recent sports scandal is spot-on.

When is a suspension not a suspension?

The on field fall-out from a bizarre saga that unfolded between mid-morning Friday on Notre Dame message boards and concluded inside the university's Morris Inn with a somber news conference is as follows:

Four Irish players are barred from practice and game competition until further notice -- cornerback Keivarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams, and 5th-year senior Kendall Moore.

Each remains on scholarship and remain enrolled as students, and each has access to training as grant-in-aid athletes. None of the quartet has been dismissed nor found responsible for academic dishonesty, but all are suspected of such and were thus interviewed as part of an ongoing investigation.

"We will take as long as it takes to have a thorough and fair investigation and proceed through our academic honor code process," said Rev. John Jenkins, the university president.

The quartet has been tried and hung in the not-irrelevant court of public opinion, a reality that has effected a "Notre Dame is like everyone else" conclusion from those prone to opinions prior to facts.

If you didn't know that students and athletes at every university and college in this nation have and will continue to cheat, you should likely stop reading now. It will preserve your enviable albeit dangerous naiveté.

They cheat at Harvard, they cheat at Army, they cheat at North Carolina, they cheat at Tennessee, and they cheat at Notre Dame.

How said cheaters are handled is paramount.

If Notre Dame "were like most" (as an aside, is that oft-uttered phrase the most self-righteous, nauseating espousal on planet earth?), the four suspected might not miss a minute of game action. Amid Friday's day-long circus, the university ultimately set forth on a process of great importance -- discovering the truth behind an academic scandal to ensure football doesn't supersede Notre Dame's core values.

"Integrity is at the heart of our mission as a university," said Jenkins. "Academic dishonesty strikes at that heart. Academic misconduct has no place at a university."

Notre Dame's football program hasn't gotten much right of late, but it did yesterday. It seems if the Irish didn't have bad luck, they wouldn't have any luck at all.

It bungled the media frenzy surrounding the potential departure of its head coach and program legend Manti Te'o (within a remarkable two-week span). It's been hit with the defection or transfer of *six five-star enrollees prior to their respective graduations next May -- three of whom never saw the field in South Bend.

(*Not included in that six-player total is another five-star, Williams, two four-stars, Russell and Daniels, and two more four stars, Davonte Neal and Troy Niklas, a would-be junior and senior in 2014, respectively. That's 11 four- and five-star athletes that "should have" suited up for Kelly against Rice on August 30.)

It's lost a defensive starter and key reserve to medical retirement in successive seasons, and it lost three true juniors to the NFL following a 2013 season in which said "stars" found a way to lose four games before jumping ship.

And its best team was publicly flogged when it finally made an appearance on college football's main stage. It lost its starting quarterback to "poor academic decisions" thereafter.

At least four more poor academic decisions -- dishonesty, if you're scoring at home -- seem to have occurred. Work was submitted on behalf of athletes (and perhaps for non-athletes at the university) that was not their own.

Resolution is pending, and it could be painful: Graduation rates could tumble, wins could be vacated, a place atop the college football world, both real and imagined, lost.

And a promising coaching regime, one that righted the ship on the field, could logically be in jeopardy pending future findings despite otherwise stated Friday.

"We have great confidence in Brian (Kelly) and his staff," Jenkins said. "They have been nothing but supportive."

They have to be. This is bigger than a football coach getting a toehold strong enough to bring better food into the Gug, or pushing for a playing surface commensurate with the times.

It's bigger than an inevitable Jumbotron or ambitious stadium expansion -- excuse me, bigger than a brand-new $400 million student center that will coincidentally house the university's most iconic and lasting symbol.

It involves the last remaining vestige of college athletics that programs such as Notre Dame espouse:

Education before entertainment. Student before athlete. A degree held sacred by alumni for which they can be proud, and hold in common with those that preceded and follow.

In earnest, Notre Dame Friday took its initial steps toward getting its most important issue right. Top Stories