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OFD Op/Ed: The Cheating “Scandal”

The academic investigation involving four Notre Dame football players has dominated the headlines for the last week. I understand why, but don't necessarily agree.

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To be perfectly honest, I thought quite a bit about even putting this piece together.  There has been plenty published on the academic "scandal" that broke last Friday at Notre Dame, but not a lot of facts.  We have had quite the discussion at OFD, both in the comments and behind the scenes.

First, I think it is important to point out that this is far from a scandal. But as our own JoeSchu points out, I guess running stories on an "academic scandal" at Notre Dame drives more volume than "Notre Dame withholds four student athletes from football practices and games pending an academic honor code investigation."

The thing is, there still isn't a whole lot that we know as fact--and we had better get used to that.  I don't expect to hear anything official until a ruling has been made.  In fact, we may have never have heard any of this unless there was a leak somewhere along the way.

The fact that the investigation has been ongoing since the end of July without resolution tells us one thing-the action of the student-athletes in question falls somewhere in the gray space.  Some won't be comfortable with that stance, but the fact of the matter is that life is nothing but shades of gray.  Did any (or all) of the players in question cross the line from editorial assistance to cheating?

I haven't formed a hard opinion on the matter simply because there aren't a lot of facts to go on.  That hasn't stopped others--whether they are Notre Dame fans, opposing fans, or the media.

The Media Reports

Frankly, I found the early media reports (that never appeared to be retracted, but simply deleted from Twitter) a bit over the top.  This is especially true when viewed Friday evening following the press conference.  We live in a day and age where there is a premium placed on being first--not necessarily right, but first.  By being first, you get to be the source material.  You are the expert.  You get instant credibility.  Perhaps most importantly--you control the narrative.

One of the most egregious early reports came from the one and only South Bend Tribune.  Eric Hansen originally wrote something to this effect:

Of course, that original post has since been modified with updated information.  Has anyone seen a retraction?  I don't recall seeing one, but I could be wrong.  Additionally, Mr. Hansen said that the four in question had been removed from the roster (they hadn't).  How did the South Bend Tribune handle this?  They used the same link for the updated story that actually had some factual basis.  Good job, good effort SBT.

*Author's Edit: Eric Hansen published an apology in during his weekly Notre Dame football chat calling the comparison a "rookie mistake".  The transcript can be found HERE and can also be found in today's South Bend Tribune.  Additionally, I could not find any tweet from Mr. Hansen's account connecting the ND investigation to the reported academic fraud at UNC.  I modified the post to remove references to tweets (and them being deleted) by Mr. Hansen.  I apologize to the readers and Mr. Hansen for this oversight.

A couple of the "finest" national college football sportswriters came with the following ammunition:

Way to check your facts and trust your "sources" there, Bruce.

Good job trolling for clicks there, Stu.  I guess this is what is taught in journalism school-it's better to rush to judgment rather than be factually correct.

One writer that should be applauded for keeping a level head in all this is Andy Staples from Sports Illustrated.  He penned a nice piece the other day that restated what is publicly known (little) while comparing the aforementioned UNC scandal to the ND investigation.  He also talks a bit about how Notre Dame expects its football players to actually you know--"play school."

The fact that this academic investigation has dominated the headlines when within the last few weeks there have been incidents involving a Michigan wide receiver sucker-punching a guy and breaking his jaw, an Oklahoma running back suspended for the season due to assault charges, and a Michigan State receiver getting suspended for a DUI.  I understand that piling up clicks helps to pay the bills, but the fact that these other stories were essentially non-stories really speaks volumes.

Fan Reaction

I am always a bit amazed when news like this comes out and some fans (not OFD readers you know, but more of that lunatic fringe, Windows 95 loving group) demand transparency, details, facts and information--privacy be damned.  I said this earlier and will say this again-we (the public) won't know anything more until an official announcement comes from the university.  We don't need to know any more than this is being investigated as if it were any student at the university and not a group of football players.  This is how it should be.

There has been a lively debate on OFD about what the punishment should be for the four named football players.  I won't weigh in on this for two reasons: (1) I don't know any of the facts, and (2) I was never a student at Notre Dame.  I can read the honor code, but not being on campus and personally understanding the expectations in the classroom render any opinion I do have null and void.

Keith Arnold had a good take on what this investigation should mean to ND football fans:

The only opinion that I will publicly state is this--the punishment should fit the crime (within the structure of the university).  If the action of the players crossed into an area of impropriety with respect to misrepresenting their work, they should suffer the consequences.  If not, the university should publicly apologize for publicly naming them in what should have otherwise been a private investigation.

I will follow that up with this quote from Brian Kelly, which is another great point that fans should hang their hat on:

As fans (and in many cases alums), we follow the Irish for a myriad of reasons.  We also like to remind rivals that Notre Dame is different.  The expectations are higher for student athletes.  They do try to do things "the right way".  But also remember that if someone stumbles along the path, we should be there to help them back up and on the path towards their goals.

On my drive home today from work, there was a semi that had "There are no shortcuts on the path to success" painted on the trailer--how appropriate in light of these recent events.