The NCAA placed Notre Dame, college football's most celebrated school, on probation for the first time yesterday, imposing light penalties that "fit the crime," said infraction committee chairman Jack Friedenthal.
The Irish received a two-year probation and will lose one scholarship for each of the next two football seasons. Notre Dame, the only major college football team with its own network television contract, remains eligible for postseason bowls and its multimillion-dollar deal with NBC is not affected.
The violations originated from a relationship between Irish players and a former athletic booster. She gave them gifts, meals, money and trips financed by some of the $1.2 million she embezzled from her employer in South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame is located.
The university said it would not appeal the NCAA ruling.
"This is not a good day for Notre Dame," said the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, the university president, in a statement. "We are embarrassed by these incidents, troubled that they occurred, and we have taken action to deal with the issues involved. Whether these incidents are characterized as secondary or major, they happened, and that is unacceptable and a matter of the highest concern to us."
The infractions committee 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.
Some of the allegations were uncovered by Notre Dame Coach Bob Davies last year, Malloy said. In addition to the allegations involving ex-booster Kimberly Dunbar, Notre Dame was found guilty of major violations concerning academic fraud, the sale of complimentary admissions by one player and a tutor providing meals, lodging and travel to four football players and three other Irish athletes.
The academic fraud case involved a football player who paid a university tutor $20 to $30 to write a paper for him, according to the report.
Dunbar, 30, who was released in October after serving more than a year in jail following her conviction for embezzlement, was dating Notre Dame players before she became a booster in June 1995 by joining the Quarterback Club. The violations occurred after that time.
The fact that Dunbar had a dating relationship with players factored into the determination of penalties, said Friedenthal, a law professor at George Washington University. The NCAA ruled that benefits bestowed on the players Dunbar was dating did not violate rules but those given to other players and their friends did.
A good portion of the committee's report addressed the issue of monitoring and accountability.
In 1994, before Dunbar became a booster, then-coach Lou Holtz was aware of Dunbar taking Irish wide receiver Derrick Mayes on a weekend trip to Las Vegas. The university dropped the matter after finding out Mayes was dating Dunbar. A "more complete investigation at that time might have precluded what later became a significant problem," the committee said.
Three years later, in the summer before Davies' first season as coach, Friedenthal said an assistant coach had a similar opportunity to uncover the violations after discovering that Dunbar had paid for a trip to Las Vegas for herself, two players and a player's girlfriend.
Without consulting athletic compliance officials, the former assistant coach concluded that there was no violation because Dunbar was dating one of the players.
"This was an error in judgment," the committee said. ". . . The failure on the part of the coaches suggested a lack of monitoring because of their failure to seek a more appropriate investigation."
But the committee did not punish Notre Dame for lack of monitoring "because at least some investigation was conducted by each coach, even if it was inadequate."
Although this marks the first time the Irish have been placed on probation, rules violations have surfaced at the school.
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 alumnus's off-campus apartment. The NCAA ruled that the infractions were secondary.