By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Over the past few years – and months – Notre Dame has taken its share of big hits. But what the university hasn't taken is big responsibility.
Until this weekend, that is.
On Saturday night, news broke that Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson, who led the Irish to the BCS championship game in January, would not be playing for the team this year. Following an offseason during which the Irish had already dealt with the fallout from their blowout loss to Alabama, coach Brian Kelly's flirtations with the NFL, and the bizarre Manti Te'o fake girlfriend saga, word that Golson would now be gone for the upcoming season was nothing short of stunning.
It was also quite shocking. After all, over the past three years, Notre Dame has been accused of mishandling two accusations of sexual assault involving football players, dodging responsibility for a tower collapse that killed student videographer Declan Sullivan during a windstorm, and failing to suspend star receiver Michael Floyd for any games in 2011 following a DUI arrest that was his third alcohol-related brush with the law.
So, considering how eager the school has seemingly been to protect its football players and team reputation, what could have possibly driven Notre Dame to actually suspend its starting QB for the entire season?
A day later, Golson answered that question when he revealed that "poor academic judgment" – which sounds like a fancy way to say "cheating" – was the reason why he was out of school for the fall semester.
"At this point, I understand how my integrity could be in question," Golson said in a statement, "but I want to reassure my supporters that through this experience I will return a better student-athlete as well as a better individual.
"I want to thank the University of Notre Dame for the opportunity already granted and also the opportunity going forth to regain my eligibility in the winter of 2014."
Golson says he'll be back. But whether he does return to the Irish lineup or does not isn't really the true story to me. The issue is bigger than that. Because while Golson's loss is indeed another blow to Notre Dame the football team, more importantly his suspension seemingly marks a step in the right direction for Notre Dame the school.
Last December, a month before the Irish's appearance in the BCS championship game, Notre Dame alumnae Melinda Henneberger wrote a piece for the Washington Post in which she harshly criticized the school's leadership.
"Well, since you asked – and many of my friends have, some more than once – no, I will not be cheering for my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, to win big-time college football's championship," Henneberger wrote. "What's really surprising me are those who believe as I do that two players on the team have committed serious criminal acts – sexual assault in one case, and rape in another — but assumed that I'd support the team anyway, just as they are."
After detailing the assault allegations following which 19-year-old St. Mary's College student Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide and a similar situation after which an unnamed Notre Dame student reportedly decided to keep quiet and not press charges, Henneberger added, "It's not only what I believe went on at that off-campus party, or in the room of the player Lizzy accused, that makes it impossible for me to support the team, though that would be enough.
"The problem goes deeper than that, and higher, because the man Lizzy accused had a history of behavior that should have kept him from being recruited in the first place. And as bad in my book as the actions of those young men was the determination of the considerably older men who run N.D. to keep those players on the team in an effort to win some football games."
This past weekend, by suspending Golson for academic improprieties, the "older men who run N.D." made a decision to not keep a player on the team who clearly would have been key in helping the Irish win some football games. That's a sharp contrast to recent events – and a refreshing one.
In his statement, Golson said, " I take full responsibility for my poor choices and will do all that is asked of me to regain the trust of my family, friends, teammates, coaches and the entire Notre Dame community. I chose to attend Notre Dame because of its mission to develop me both on and off the football field."
But the real news is that Notre Dame took full responsibility. And if the school is also ready to again take seriously that high-minded mission that Golson spoke of, then the QB's suspension was a positive start.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago's North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.
for more features.