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Notre Dame's Academic Cheating Scandal Shouldn't Be a Shock

Just a year after Notre Dame star QB Everett Golson was suspended for the entire 2013 season due to a severe academic violation, an even bigger academic scandal surrounding the football team has come about in South Bend. Friday, Fox Sports reported four current Fighting Irish football players have been kicked off the team for violating the school’s honor code: wideout DeVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams and defensive back KeiVarae Russell. Yahoo Sports has reported that the scope of the scandal could in fact be much wider than just these four players, while the South Bend Tribune has said it could be compared to the academic cheating scandal that shook the University of North Carolina recently.

This is big news for a massive football program, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise, especially at schools like Notre Dame, UNC and yes, Michigan.

All three of these schools have two strong currents running through them: winning is a must (in football at ND and UM, basketball at UNC) and the desire to keep relatively high academic standards. While it’s true Notre Dame does have slightly higher academic standards for its student athletes, Michigan and North Carolina are still amongst a group of universities that are both athletic and academic powerhouses.

For most Americans, getting into these elite universities is very difficult. You better have really good grades and high test scores just to have a shot at admittance to these campuses. That is, unless you play sports. Both Michigan and Notre Dame give roughly 20 to 25 scholarships for football players for each freshman class. These are largely kids who wouldn’t be accepted based on their academic merit. An example of this is the fact that while 75% of accepted Michigan students had composite ACT scores of at least 28, the necessary reading score to be college-ready for student-athletes is just 16, according to CNN. That is significantly below the national average, and pitiful when compared to even the lowest scoring UM students.

But the problem isn’t the ACT scores, it’s what they say. Many student athletes cannot read, write or do math at a high enough level to get into schools like Michigan and Notre Dame. That means when they get to college, and theoretically have to do well enough in their classes to stay eligible, many student-athletes are not prepared.

This dilemma gives universities and their athletic departments two solutions:

1. Raise your academic standards for football and basketball players, like Northwestern. This lowers the number of top recruits who can come, thus lowering the talent level.

2. Keep the status quo and try to make things work.

Most schools choose the latter option and just try to do whatever it takes to keep players eligible. They surround the players with extra tutors and put them in easier classes without big time commitments that would conflict with football or basketball, with the hope they can stay eligible.

While these tactics may be ethically dubious, they are not against the rules. But with incentives so strong to do whatever it takes to stay eligible, cheating can become the most viable option. And that is exactly what happens at big time college sports programs. Large scale, systematic academic cheating was reported at North Carolina and now it is getting attention at Notre Dame. But these are just two examples that we know of. One would have to be horribly naive to think that these are isolated incidents in the cut-throat world of college football.

More details should come out in the coming days and weeks that will give us a better idea of the magnitude of the Notre Dame academic fraud scandal, and it’s ramifications for the football program. And while Michigan fans may take this opportunity to take shots at Notre Dame and their pretentious, holier-than-thou attitude, it would be wise to keep in mind that there’s not much reason to think similar infractions aren’t taking place at Michigan and at big football schools across the country.

You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdalecfb.

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