Notre Dame's storied football program got a light but embarrassing slap Friday when the NCAA put the school on probation for the first time in its history.
The Irish football team received a two-year probation from the governing body of college sports and will also lose two scholarships.
The NCAA, however, did not touch Notre Dame's postseason eligibility. And its TV contract with NBC, worth an estimated $8 million to $9 million annually, is not affected.
Notre Dame, now the fifth Division I-A football program on probation with the NCAA, said it will not appeal the ruling.
"It's a sad day," said the Rev. Edward Malloy, the university president. "I feel badly that this has happened, mostly because the behavior of some of our student-athletes is simply unacceptable according to Notre Dame's own standard, not because of what the NCAA says."
The penalties stem from the relationship between Irish players and former booster Kimberly Dunbar, 30, who embezzled more than $1.2 million from her employer and then lavished the players with gifts, trips and money.
The announcement ended an almost two-year investigation into the relationship, which has been a source of embarrassment for the Roman Catholic university as details of Dunbar's relationship with several players, in some cases sexual, came to light. Dunbar, 30, has a child with former player Jarvis Edison.
The NCAA Committee on Infractions called the violations major and "neither isolated nor inadvertent." The NCAA cited the length of time during which the violations occurred, the extravagant nature of the gifts, and the competitive advantage gained by Notre Dame.
"The penalty has to fit the crime, and although you find that a violation is major, there are different levels, obviously," said Jack Friedenthal, chair of the infractions committee. "These are not unusual penalties for this level of major violation."
Friedenthal said the university was not penalized for gifts Dunbar gave players with whom she was romantically involved, but her interaction with other players and their parents was a factor in the decision.
The committee also said Notre Dame could have avoided the infractions if it had been more vigilant in monitoring its players.
The report said Notre Dame's coaching staff had opportunities to look into Dunbar's relationship with players on two occasions but didn't ask enough questions. Former coach Lou Holtz dropped his inquiry into a trip Dunbar took with Derrick Mayes in 1994 after learning the two were dating, but the committee said a "more complete investigation at that time might have precluded what later became a significant problem."
The committee said an assistant coach had a similar opportunity to uncover the violations in 1997 after discovering that Dunbar had paifor a trip to Las Vegas for herself, two players and a player's girlfriend.
Still, it did not penalize the program for lack of monitoring, though it called efforts by Holtz and the assistant "inadequate."
"The things that happened were just unacceptable," Malloy said. "In that sense, we feel we failed as educators because we haven't communicated as well as we might the standards that we like to live by and the values that underline those standards."
The report did not implicate anyone from the current Notre Dame coaching staff, but the NCAA also based the penalties on violations the university reported in September. Among them were reports that a player paid a part-time tutor to write a paper for him; and that a player provided his girlfriend, who was a university employee, and her friend with complimentary passes to three football games to repay a loan.
Though those infractions occurred during Bob Davie's tenure as head coach, Malloy said the university had full confidence in Davie and athletic director Mike Wadsworth.
The school did not make either of them available for comment Friday.
The sanctions were Notre Dame's first major scrape with the NCAA over rules violations.
In 1993, the NCAA ordered Notre Dame to forfeit two scholarships after Demetrius DuBose improperly accepted gifts from a booster. The following year, the university reported itself to the NCAA after two former players, Bryant Young and Jeff Burris, were found living rent-free in an alumni's off-campus apartment. But the infractions were ruled secondary.
The university's probation began Friday, and the lost scholarships will be penalized one each during the 2000-01 and 2000-02 school years. The university will have 84 scholarships available each of those years.
As part of the sanctions, Notre Dame must implement an educational program on NCAA legislation during its probation and file annual compliance reports.
The university also must begin repairing its bruised image with alumni and fans.
Still, recruiting analysts say the penalties shouldn't hurt Notre Dame's recruiting efforts, especially with seven weeks to repair any damage before national signing day.
Recruiting analyst Allen Wallace of SuperPrep said sanctions limiting TV or bowl appearances would have hurt the program in recruits' eyes. But the loss of two scholarships should have less impact with recruits than Notre Dame's 5-7 record this season, its first seven-loss season since 1963.
"Notre Dame does have to cope with the fact now that it has been placed on probation for the first time," Wallace said. "It also shows inevitably every program in the United States is involved in some transgression that deserves some type of punishment."
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