By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It’s not even a scandal. A scandal should be something especially unusual, something we are no longer immune to. College athletes not living up to the standards of NCAA academic sanctity? Nah, I’m good.
Go ahead and refer to it as “academic fraud” that multiple Notre Dame football players are being investigated for, which is to cheating what “pre-owned” is to the used car. It registers with me in regards to (non-)student-athletes and scholastic reputation no more than the average college sports fan. That is to say, some head-shaking and name-calling of the accused is quickly turned to “How does this affect wins and losses?” and then “Whatever, give me football.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine, a Notre Dame grad, wrote Sunday:
Notre Dame should only admit players who can handle the academic workload and professors who aren’t willing to let athletes cut corners. Otherwise, they may be more tempted to cheat, to submit that paper someone else wrote for them or to look over at their classmate’s paper during an exam. The university shouldn’t admit athletes with questionable academic backgrounds in the hope the academic support staff can somehow get them through to graduation without incident. That’s a prayer Notre Dame shouldn’t be making.
Then Hine is asking that football coach Brian Kelly be jettisoned. Kelly gives zero prayers about academic integrity other than those answered by Our Lady of Perpetual Eligibility. You’ll get his feigned shock and disappointment for a few weeks before it’s again all about the screaming purple face and the re-emergence of quarterback Everett Golson who (shhh) was guilty of classroom cheating, too, which nobody who cares about football cares about anymore.
There are two storybook Notre Dames: 1) the football team for really smart kids and 2) the team that competes for a national title. The two stories don’t make for a split narrative, and Kelly can only co-author one of them. You would be wise to make the one that doesn’t rely on athletes who aren’t there to actually be students the more religious of your texts.
What Hine or anyone else could be really angry about instead is another example of the hypocrisy of Kelly and his bosses.
At Notre Dame, athletes writing their own papers is more important than the head coach arguably being responsible for the death of a student in the team’s video department.
At Notre Dame, the team captain involved in an elaborate lie about a girlfriend is more important than investigating an athlete being accused of sexual assault by a woman who ended up killing herself.
At Notre Dame, dings to its golden-armored mythic reputation are matters of football and PR life and death while actual life and death are much less so.
I’ve swallowed, digested and passed that. I’m not going to be willfully ignorant, though, and harrumphing about a school that some pretend is the end-all be-all of what college sports narratives should be having players who cheated in class puts inappropriate weight on an issue in a program with a recent history of more serious issues not treated by school brass and fans alike as seriously.
The nation’s most storied program — of which I consider myself a rational fan, as oxymoronic as that can be — shakes down the thunder not on athletes who aren’t totally on the up-and-up with their pseudo-studies but just the ones dumb enough to get caught. It dares not wake up the echoes cheering the names like Lizzie Seeberg and Declan Sullivan.
The program says that should it find academic fraud occurring in years prior to this that it will voluntarily vacate wins as though that affects anything. Remember that season you watched the Irish reach the national championship? Yeah, if cheaters were on that team, that season never happened now according to record books, so you need to do that Men in Black mind wipe thing. Remember when nothing happened to Prince Shembo and the school told him to shut up about his role in what led to Seeberg’s suicide and everyone gasped and then went back to lamenting an end to the Michigan Wolverines annual rivalry? Ditto.
I’m willing to concede that much of this is Notre Dame being much a microcosm of the current clown college that is the NCAA. Today in major college sports, there’s a culture of hand-slapping stuff that hardly affects on-field results — washing your car with a campus hose or eating too much delicious Dust Bowl area pasta — while turning a blind eye to actual criminal stuff that local law enforcement that is in no way swayed by any relationship to the sports programs can responsibly take care of instead.
If you want to be bothered by this serious academic shadow being cast over the golden dome from which I’m sure it will take days if not weeks to recover from reputation-wise, OK, person who still thinks Rudy is accurately biographical. That kind of thing just doesn’t bother me anymore, other than a college football team I root for will probably lose more games this season than originally expected.
But to act like this is an affront to what Notre Dame football stands for? Don’t insult my intelligence.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.