Notre Dame to appeal after NCAA orders Irish to vacate football victories

In the midst of Brian Kelly's worst season as head coach at Notre Dame, the school learned Tuesday that his best season could be erased from the record books because of academic misconduct.

The NCAA announced Tuesday its recommendation from the Division I Committee on Infractions that the Irish vacate all 21 of their victories from 2012 — when they went 12-1 and reached the BCS national championship game — and 2013 because an unnamed former student athletic trainer completed substantial academic work for two players and helped six others impermissibly.

The school also was placed on probation for a year and fined $5,000.

The school said it will appeal the decision.

Kelly blasted the ruling and said he is confident he will return next season as head coach of the Irish, even though his team is 4-7 heading into its final game Saturday at USC. He noted a bowl ban and reduction in scholarships weren't part of the proposed punishment.

"It's never happened before in the history of the NCAA; a penalty has never been issued in this fashion before," Kelly said. "This was a discretionary action by the committee. That's No. 1.

"No. 2, it was student-on-student cheating. There was nobody implicated. The NCAA agreed across the board with that finding. (The punishment) was clearly excessive."

Neither the NCAA nor Notre Dame named the players involved in the school's investigation that began in 2014. Receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams were suspended for that season. Safety Eilar Hardy also was suspended but returned midseason. Only Russell returned to play for the Irish the following year.

Quarterback Everett Golson, who led the Irish to the title game in 2012, said he was expelled in 2013 for cheating on a test but later returned to the school before transferring to Florida State upon graduating in 2015.

The NCAA said in a statement that the former student trainer "partially or wholly completed numerous academic assignments for football student-athletes in numerous courses." Grades for players involved were lowered retroactively.

Kelly, who before the Fiesta Bowl in January called himself the "CEO" of the program, said he feels no culpability for the indiscretions.

"Zero. None," he said. "Absolutely none.

"When you hear about vacating wins, you think of lack of institutional control. You hear of clearly the abuse within the university relative to extra benefits, things of that nature. These don't even come close to that."

Kelly said the school goes to extreme measures to ensure its student-athletes receive proper guidance and "resources necessary to succeed."

"But let's not kid ourselves," he said. "Eighty percent of colleges go through cheating. That doesn't condone it, but we know what the culture is."

Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, said the school acted "honorably" throughout its own investigation and added that the NCAA agreed on the violations.

"We believe the penalty they have imposed is not justified," Jenkins said in a statement.

"Should this precedent stand, it could create a perverse incentive that will discourage institutions from investigating so aggressively and imposing the penalties for academic dishonesty that their honesty committees might judge appropriate."

This year has been trying for Kelly and the Irish.

Six players were arrested in separate incidents before the season. One was kicked off the team and another has been suspended since.

On Sept. 25, a day after the Irish's upset loss to Duke, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was fired.

On the field, all seven of the Irish's losses have been by eight points or fewer.

Kelly called the season a "nightmare" after Saturday's loss to Virginia Tech.

But he was steadfast Tuesday that Notre Dame acted appropriately, no matter what the NCAA decides.

"If doing the right thing means you have to put an asterisk next to these games, that's fine with me," Kelly said. "We still beat Oklahoma. We still beat Wake Forest. We still beat all those teams. So you can put an asterisk next to it. If that makes you feel better, that's fine with me."

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