Notre Dame’s launching of an academic dishonesty investigation came like a blindside hit to the quarterback in August 2014.
In football vernacular, more than a year-and-a-half later, the case remains under further review.
In an interview Monday with Irish Illustrated, Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Vice President and Director of Athletics, revealed few specifics about the process, other than Notre Dame has conducted a thorough review and that a steady flow of dialogue between the University and the NCAA continues.
“(Notre Dame) and the NCAA have been engaged in the normal process for reviewing these matters,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “That process has moved both expeditiously and professionally.
“Trying to predict the ultimate end is not easily done. I cannot provide a timetable (for resolution).”
Later in the interview, when asked if he anticipated resolution in 2016, Swarbrick responded: “Yes, I would think so.”
News of the investigation broke on Aug. 15, 2014 – 15 days prior to the start of the football season -- when Swarbrick and University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. jointly announced that Notre Dame had launched an administrative investigation into suspicions of academic dishonesty by four Irish football players – KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore.
Shortly thereafter, a fifth football player, Eilar Hardy, was included in the internal investigation and suspended from participation with the 2014 team.
“Integrity is at the heart of our mission as a university,” said Jenkins in his introductory statement in 2014. “Academic dishonesty strikes at that heart. Academic misconduct has no place at a university.”
Jenkins said there was evidence that the four football players submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others, which was initially detected at the end of the summer session and referred to the compliance office in athletics on July 29, which precipitated an immediate investigation by the Office of General Counsel.
At the time, Swarbrick said the football players would remain on grant-in-aid, but would be prevented from participating in the upcoming season until clarity was provided through the probe.
“We’ll go as quickly as we can, but our emphasis will be on thoroughness,” Jenkins said. “We’ll take as long as it takes to have a thorough and fair investigation through our honor code process.”
As the investigation continued, only Hardy returned to the field before the end of the ’14 season. He later transferred to Bowling Green, where he played in 2015. Russell, after clearing NCAA approval, returned for the Irish in ’15. Daniels, Williams and Moore never played for Notre Dame again.
Swarbrick said Monday that he has been pleased with the open dialogue at the University and with the NCAA, even if the timetable for resolution hasn’t met others’ expectations.
“From the very beginning, I’ve been pleased with every element of the process,” Swarbrick said. “I know relative to the individuals, there was the perception that the internal process took too much time, but that wasn’t my view at all. As complicated as it was, it moved with really significant expediency.
“I know from the outside it looks like a lot of time, but from the inside, there hasn’t been any point where I thought, ‘Gee, why isn’t somebody doing something more?’ I think it’s moved well. I’ve been very pleased with the professional nature of the exchanges at every level.”
Swarbrick cited “the complexities of the case” as the reason behind the lengthy process. Two months after the announcement of an internal investigation, Paul J. Browne, vice president of the University’s public affairs and communications, also cited “the complexity of cases involving multiple disciplines.” He added that the “Comprehensive Honesty Committees were impaneled to review memoranda and extensive exhibits compiled in connection with the General Counsel’s initial inquiry.”
Sources have told Irish Illustrated that athletes in multiple sports and academic fields of study were involved in the probe, including members of the 2012 Notre Dame football team, which won 12 regular-season games and went on to play for the national championship.
Jenkins, at the time of the announced probe, indicated that the University would vacate victories if the investigation revealed academic improprieties that warranted such action.
“Relative to the press conference comment (by Jenkins), the fair reading of what we were saying was we’re prepared for any sanction that’s determined to be appropriate,” Swarbrick said Monday.
“That was the shorthand example that made that most easily understood. But it was really about, ‘Look, if it’s appropriate, we’re open to it. If the facts and circumstances warrant it, we’ll step up to whatever the appropriate sanction is.’”
Swarbrick would not comment further on the possibility of vacating victories. Sources have told Irish Illustrated that the possibility of vacating victories has been on the table all along and remains a potential outcome.
“Just as I can’t comment on the timetable, it would be foolish in the context of an ongoing case to speculate on what the prospective sanctions, if there are any, may be,” Swarbrick said.
Asked if the avoidance of vacating victories is a priority for the University, Swarbrick said: “I just don’t think of it in those terms. It’s about the facts, what they indicate, and what, under the NCAA rules, are the typical sanctions that are appropriate in these circumstances.
“Maybe from 28 years of practicing law, I can’t come at it from the other way. (I can’t) start with the sanctions and think about it (that way). It’s all about the process, the facts and what’s warranted.”
Asked to describe a best-case scenario, Swarbrick responded: “I’m not going to speculate on that. We’re in the middle of the process.”
Recognizing the anxiety the Notre Dame community at-large might have over the length of the process, Swarbrick asked for additional understanding, patience and trust in the University.
“I hope everyone will have faith in the process,” Swarbrick said. “It’s been, from our perspective, a very professional one, a well-administered one where we are participating fully.
“Rather than worry about possible outcomes, just know that the process is working and we will reach steps along the way where we’ll have a better sense of what may be in our future.”