Five Notre Dame football players under investigation by the NCAA for accepting gifts from a booster have been cleared of any wrongdoing and will be eligible for the 1998 season, athletic director Michael Wadsworth said Monday.
The players, whom Wadsworth refused to identify, could have been suspended by the NCAA for taking a trip to a Chicago Bulls game with Kimberly Dunbar, who embezzled more than $1 million from her employer and then allegedly spent some of the money on gifts for players.
The news was the first good break for the Irish in a series of off-the-field troubles that have put the program under scrutiny.
"Certainly I'm happy that there's definite word now our football team will be intact for the Michigan game (Sept. 5), but it hasn't impacted us a whole lot because we've prepared every day like they would be here," coach Bob Davie said.
"When I told them (the players) to be honest, there wasn't much of a reaction. But I'm sure the players involved are relieved that that's behind them."
The school still faces possible sanctions for the trip as well as another incident involving two former players and Dunbar uncovered during an internal investigation by the school. Notre Dame forwarded its findings to the NCAA after beginning the probe in February.
Since then, the NCAA has ruled that Dunbar was acting as a school representative while a member of the now-disbanded Quarterback Club, something the school contests. But Wadsworth declined to comment about the school's position regarding possible sanctions.
"The position that we have on this is spelled out in our report to the NCAA, and that's where it's going to remain," Wadsworth said. P>He also downplayed the significance of Dunbar's actions, saying they were the undertakings of just one person.
"We're not in a situation where the program has fallen apart," Wadsworth said.
During its internal investigation, Notre Dame found that Dunbar, who has a child with former Irish player Jarvis Edison, gave 12 former or current players jewelry, clothing and trips, including the outing to the Bulls game. She pleaded guilty two weeks ago to embezzling more than $1 million from her former employer and faces up to 16 years in prison and a $20,000 fine when she is sentenced next month.
Her lawyer has promised that Dunbar may reveal details of her exploits with Notre Dame players that could influence the NCAA's decision in its investigation, but Wadsworth said he's "getting used to lawyers in private cases saying a lot of things that will serve their private interests."
In another matter, Notre Dame lawyers have until Sept. 11 to respond to a motion filed by attorneys for Joe Moore requesting his reinstatement as an assistant coach. Moore, who was dismissed in December 1996 in one of Davie's first coaching moves, was awarded about $86,000 in damages in an age discrimination suit he filed against the university. A federal jury also awarded him attorney's fees.
Moore's attorney, Richard Lieberman, said Monday he filed the reinstatement motion Aug. 14 along with a request for attorney's fees of slightly more than $600,000. Lieberman also filed a request for front pay of close to $375,000 if the reinstatement motion is denied.
Lieberman said a ruling isn't expected until October.
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