Okay…when exactly did Notre Dame become Blue Mountain State? If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already heard the news, but if not, let me get you up to speed on what’s going on in the world of Notre Dame football. Right when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Irish get slapped with a year of academic probation by the NCAA and are being forced to vacate all wins from the undefeated 2012 season and the 2013 season. This is due to a student trainer providing benefits to players who were already suspended for academic reasons. To my understanding, it was discovered that the trainer was doing schoolwork for said players. This just adds to the recent list of ND football players being disciplined for various reasons, be it academics or off-field antics. I mean let’s take a look at the short list that I can come up with off the top of my head. Tommy Rees: arrested for kneeing a cop. Everett Golson: disciplined for cheating on an accounting final (although I will admit, those tests are pretty hard). Ishaq Williams, DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and others disciplined for academic reasons. Devin Butler arrested for an incident outside the Linebacker bar.
I have NEVER seen this many disciplinary actions taken against the Irish. In all fairness, Notre Dame IS a football school, and football schools are known to have this kind of thing happen from time to time. But that’s the thing. Not Notre Dame. One of Notre Dame’s biggest claims to fame is being able to maintain the reputation of a strong football school AND one of the nation’s top academic institutions. Never before this current era have I seen so many players disciplined for off-the-field incidents, academic cheating, or breaking NCAA rules in general. I mean just think about this for a second. THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME…is under academic probation. I don’t think that this has ever happened, if it has, please correct me, but it has not to my knowledge. Right when you thought I couldn’t complain about Brian Kelly anymore, this pops up, so get ready people…here it comes.
I majored in accounting at Notre Dame and I’m now continuing my accounting education. This being the case, I’ve taken a few audit classes. One of the main aspects of an organization that an auditor inspects is what is called the “tone at the top.” This is the pervasive energy that management sends throughout the rest of the company. “Matt, we’re talking about Notre Dame football here, why the hell are you talking about audits and accounting?” Well, I’m glad you asked, imaginary person I invented to ask me that question so I could continue on to make a point. Notre Dame, like any other business, has a hierarchy within the organization. In terms of the football team, Brian Kelly is the CEO, if you will. Notre Dame has a severe tone at the top problem. The negative energy emanating from Kelly is permeating the rest of the team. Now, I’m not saying that the players are not to blame, as a lot of these incidents are incredibly stupid and were very easily avoidable. (Everybody has had their homework done by someone else before…at least don’t get caught…come on, guys). I’m sure that there have been isolated instances like this with head coaches past, but with Kelly, it KEEPS HAPPENING. When it happens once, it is the coach’s job to stamp it out immediately and ensure that it never happens again. But during the Kelly era, it just keeps getting worse and worse. Of course, though, Kelly shifted ALL blame off of himself and implied that he had nothing to do with any of this. Maybe not directly, Brian, but the tone you set for this team is obviously not a good one if you continuously allow this type of behavior to exist. Just add this to the list of coaching deficiencies I’ve stated over the past few weeks. The wheels fall off, Kelly loses his cool multiple times, never accepts responsibility, and now this.
I want to address this on a personal level as well. I’ve been a Notre Dame fan my entire life. I’m a third-generation graduate of the university. Some of my biggest heroes as a kid were the players I grew up watching like Julius Jones, Darius Walker, Brady Quinn, Tom Zbikowski, and many others. I never had to wake up as a kid and see that they were in trouble for something like this. I mean, I’m sure things happened, they were in college, stupid things happen in college, but it was never on the news for the rest of us to see. My innocent, idealized view of these players was never tarnished. I feel bad for young Notre Dame fans these days who have to see these kinds of things happening to the team. I do not want to see Notre Dame football go down as just another football program with NCAA violations every other minute. The absence of that is part of what has made Notre Dame so special. Plus, it’s not even like we’re awesome now or anything, so we’ve got these ridiculous violations showing up for a team that’s 4-7. The university is appealing the decision, so we’ll see what happens there but still. The fact that it came up at all is ridiculous.
Anyway, this has been a little bit of a rant, but I hope that the athletic department and the university as a whole will see this negative trajectory and decide to act. When this many instances happen under one coach, you need to seriously consider the possibility of a tone at the top problem. Notre Dame football needs a drastic overhaul right now, on and off the field. All we can hope is that the university will take the necessary actions. Is the school what it used to be in terms of football dominance? Right now…absolutely not. Will it ever regain its status as a football powerhouse? I have no idea. But the one thing that is absolutely in the school’s control is its reputation in terms of conduct. So if we can’t fix anything else…at least fix that.