The NCAA ordered Notre Dame to vacate all of its football wins from 2012 and 2013 in light of an academic misconduct case, among other disciplinary items prescribed by the committee on infractions. The Irish will appeal the decision, which stems from a case that was more than two years in the making.
Here is a timeline of what led up to Tuesday’s news in South Bend, Indiana:
Aug. 15, 2014: Notre Dame announces it is investigating suspected academic dishonesty among several students, including four football players, who will be held out of football activities as the university continues its probe. Evidence that students had submitted schoolwork that had been written for them by others had been detected at the end of the summer session and referred to the compliance office in athletics on July 29. The Office of General Counsel initiated an immediate investigation. The NCAA is notified the day of the news release, which includes the line: “If [the investigation] determines that the student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily vacate any victories in which they participated.” President Rev. John Jenkins and athletic director Jack Swarbrick hold an afternoon news conference that includes the name of the four football players involved: DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.
Aug. 28, 2014: Notre Dame announces that, as its internal probe relating to possible NCAA violations reaches its conclusion, a fifth football player will be withheld from practice and competition. The matter is subject to the school’s honor code process. A school official says the fifth player is Eilar Hardy. Following that day’s practice, coach Brian Kelly says he has been informed that the investigation has concluded and that he expects hearings and verdicts on the five players to come quickly.
Sept. 23, 2014: Kelly says he’s been told a committee has been formed to determine the innocence or guilt of the five suspended players, and that their hearings could come by the end of next week. Kelly says he’s been talking with Swarbrick about ways to improve this kind of process. He adds that he has no knowledge of the school potentially vacating wins and that he thinks he’d be informed if that were the case. Asked if he has an opinion on the process, Kelly smiles before saying: “I don’t have an opinion and I really wouldn’t want to share it publicly.”
Sept. 26, 2014: Daniels, one of the higher-profile players among the suspended five, tells ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler that that the probe’s length and the school’s lack of communication has been unfair, adding that he feels like an outcast in South Bend. Daniels acknowledges that Notre Dame is examining emails among players and a student trainer -- a mutual friend -- pertaining to her potential influence over written papers.
Oct. 2, 2014: Russell, another high-profile suspended player, voices his heightened frustration with Notre Dame in an Instagram post that he later deletes, writing: "I killed my meeting; I was so prepared and ready and was able to refute damn near every suspicion they had. Described details of assignments thoroughly so they couldn't say I didn't do it," the post said. "AND THEY STILL SAID MY DECISION WONT COME UNTIL ALL 5 OF US (and some other minor hearings) ARE DONE. Decision MIGHT come next week, not even 100% it's tough to understand these people."
Oct. 5, 2014: On the heels of a Board of Trustees gathering, Notre Dame releases a statement saying that hearings for the football players were completed on Oct. 3 and that decisions will be communicated to them individually. The school says it will not disclose the findings, although affected students may if they wish. The school acknowledges the potential difficult nature of its honor code process on students in a situation like this and that it is working to resolve such situations. The school reiterates the potential for vacating wins, saying: “If it is determined that student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily impose appropriate sanctions, report our findings to the NCAA and await its independent review.”
Oct. 10, 2014: Russell posts on Instagram that he will not play this season but plans to return to the team for the 2015 campaign. Sources tell ESPN.com that Russell revealed his plans to his teammates Thursday in a pre-practice speech. Russell, who entered 2014 with two years of playing eligibility remaining, writes: "Though disappointed in the decision the school has just recently made after 2 long months of waiting for a decision to come. I accept it and will make sure I spend my time away efficiently."
Oct. 14, 2014: Daniels posts on Twitter that his Notre Dame career is over. Shortly afterward, Kelly says that Russell and Williams told him that they will be leaving school this semester but that they plan to return to the team for the 2015 campaign. That evening, Moore, who had graduated in May but had one year of playing eligibility remaining, posts a message on Instagram saying that he is done at Notre Dame as well. Hardy’s fate is the only one that remains unknown.
Nov. 7, 2014: Notre Dame announces that Hardy has been cleared by the NCAA to participate in competition.
Jan. 19, 2015: Daniels declares for the NFL draft.
Feb. 2, 2015: After tallying nine tackles over the Irish’s final nine games, Hardy, a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, native, tweets that he will play his fifth and final year at Bowling Green.
June 1, 2015: Williams is readmitted to Notre Dame, the first day of the team’s summer workouts. But it remains unclear if he will be eligible for the 2015 season.
Aug. 18, 2015: Kelly says Russell has been cleared by the NCAA to play in the 2015 season.
Aug. 27, 2015: Kelly says the NCAA has denied Williams a waiver to play in the 2015 season, but that Williams will stay on scholarship and not count toward the program’s 85-man scholarship limit.
Jan. 4, 2016: Russell declares for the draft after a 60-tackle season for the 10-3 Irish. It was unclear whether the NCAA would have granted him a fifth year of eligibility.
Nov. 22, 2016: Notre Dame announces it will appeal an NCAA order to vacate wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Additionally, the committee on infractions prescribed a public reprimand and censure of the school, one year of probation, a two-year show-cause order for the former trainer, a two-year disassociation of the former trainer and a $5,000 fine. Speaking at a news conference minutes after the news drops, Kelly says: “It’s never happened before in the history of the NCAA, the penalty has never been issued in this fashion before. I think that qualifies for being, first of all, it was discretionary, this is a discretionary action by the committee. That’s No. 1. No. 2, student-on-student cheating, nobody implicated. The NCAA agreed across the board with that finding, and it was clearly excessive, so we’re gonna appeal this, and one of the options or clear reasons for appeal is that the penalty is excessive in its discretion and we believe we have obvious grounds there.”