SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame barred four football players from practice and games Friday, announcing an investigation into "suspected academic dishonesty" after allegations surfaced that someone had done course work for them.
The group includes KeiVarae Russell, the team's best cornerback, leading returning receiver DaVaris Daniels, and defensive end Ishaq Williams, expected to be a key contributor on the line.
Backup linebacker Kendall Moore is also being held out of practice during the investigation.
The Fighting Irish are now facing the possibility that a second straight season could be effected by academic misconduct issues.
Last year, quarterback Everett Golson missed the season after being suspended from school for what he called he called poor academic judgment. The Irish finished 9-4 behind Tommy Rees, but coming off an appearance in the BCS title game in 2012 it was a step back.
Golson is back, but now coach Brian Kelly could be scrambling to fill holes before opening his fifth season in South Bend at home against Rice on Aug. 30.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Kelly was "devastated" by the news.
The Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, and Swarbrick expressed support for Kelly.
"We have great confidence in Brian and his staff," Jenkins said. "They have been nothing but supportive."
Jenkins said Notre Dame has notified the NCAA about the inquiry. Because of potential violations, the four players can't compete until the conclusion of the investigation and the university honor code process.
Jenkins said during a news conference that no student has been judged responsible for "academic dishonesty."
"Nobody has been dismissed," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said there is no timetable about how long the investigation will take.
"We will take as long as it takes to have a thorough and fair investigation and proceed through our academic honor code process."
He said such investigations at Notre Dame aren't common "but it happens."
The university also is investigating if other students also are involved. Jenkins said it was too early to say if the four players acted together.
Jenkins said if it is found they violated the school's honor code the penalties could range from an F on an assignment, to an F in the course to dismissal from school. The penalty would be decided by an honor committee.
Swarbrick said the players have not been suspended. He said they remain grant-in-aid students and have access to athletic facilities and resources.
Jenkins said evidence students had submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others was initially detected at the end of the summer session. The case was then referred to the compliance office on July 29.
Jenkins said he didn't want to speculate on possible NCAA punishment, while Swarbrick said the NCAA usually defers to a university when it comes to academic integrity.
"There are a few narrow instances where that triggers an NCAA concern, but I must stress we have no evidence of most of those here. No involvement by a member of the coaching staff, no transcript impropriety, those sorts of things," he said. "If it has NCAA consequences, we'll let them know."
Jenkins said the school would vacate victories if it is determined players have been ineligible during past competition. All four were members of the 2012 team that played for the BCS national championship.
The investigation is the latest in a series for the Irish in the past 15 months involving academics, starting with Golson.
Jerian Grant, the leading scorer on the basketball team at the time, was suspended in December for the spring semester for an academic violation. Daniels was suspended two weeks later for the spring semester and was recently reinstated.
Swarbrick said the previous cases were different.
"Let's not confuse academic probation where you don't make grades in a semester with academic dishonesty. They are very different things," he said.
Jenkins said he believes it shows Notre Dame's honor system is doing its job.
''At any university you're dealing with young people. The vast majority of them make good decisions. But young people sometimes make bad decisions," he said. "Our job is to hold them accountable and to use those incidents as ways to educate them. That's what we're doing."