NCAA penalties merely latest of Notre Dame football’s problems

SHARE NCAA penalties merely latest of Notre Dame football’s problems
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Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly had a brutal 2016 season, but he bounced back with a strong 2017 recruiting class. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

A friendly Notre Dame fan took yours truly to task Monday in an email.

“Whenever you mention the Irish in your column, you can almost feel your joy at their misfortunes,” he wrote. “I would be interested to know just exactly what causes you to feel the way you do. Was there some personal affront to you caused by Notre Dame that causes the bitterness?”

Well, which is it — joy or bitterness?

Actually, it’s neither. Fans of the Irish will just have to take my word for it. Or not.

Like it even matters.

On the list of Notre Dame’s football problems, let’s just say the “haters” don’t crack the top 25. Not at this point in a hideous 4-7 season, and sure as heck not after Tuesday’s knock on the door by the NCAA.

Speaking of not cracking the top 25, the Irish were ranked 10th in the nation heading into their season opener, tumbled out of the polls after three games and have only sunk deeper into the muck since. It has been quite a mess on the field.

Yet one has reason to wonder if it’s an even bigger mess off the field.

It wasn’t the greatest Tuesday for Notre Dame football, but then academic scandals never are much fun. The university’s leaders and coach Brian Kelly will tell you a rogue former student trainer did classwork, such as writing papers, for several Irish players, and that she acted without the consent of anyone above her.

Let’s hope that’s true. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that it is. Don’t Kelly and the school still — and deservedly — look bad?

Here’s how much responsibility Kelly believes lies with the head coach for this particular scandal. No need to get out your calculators.

“Zero. None. Absolutely none,” he said.

If that answer sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially the same one Kelly has given in regard to previous transgressions by his players.

“Let’s not kid ourselves — 80 percent of colleges go through cheating,” he said. “There’s cheating that goes on in college. Eighty percent of colleges. That doesn’t condone it, but we know what the culture is.”

On Tuesday, the culture at Notre Dame was one of victimhood. Kelly and the school cried foul about the NCAA’s decision to vacate 21 victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

But it’s easy to cry foul at the NCAA, whose interpretations of rules and assessments of penalties are absurdly inconsistent, wildly hypocritical and at times, it seems, even reckless. And that’s on a good day.

It’s a lot harder to own up to the cold, hard truth that Notre Dame football isn’t nearly what it should be.

Kelly and Notre Dame would prefer that we all focus on the unfairness of 21 wins being wiped from the record books. Twelve of them came in 2012, the only one of Kelly’s seven seasons that has gone exceptionally well or even better than expected. Unfortunately for the Irish, the NCAA will not vacate their blowout loss to Alabama in that season’s national title game.

(Sorry. “Hater” moment.)

This will be the fourth of Kelly’s seven seasons that the Irish finish outside of the AP Top 25. The negative energy burdening some of those teams has been palpable, and an obvious problem.

Academic misconduct was a real problem, too — whether or not we pretend 21 victories never happened.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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