Notre Dame Football: Are Recent Legal Troubles a Cause for Concern?

Matt Smith@MattSmithCFBCorrespondent IIIMay 29, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10:  Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes the field prior to playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s rare when a Notre Dame quarterback is not in the spotlight, but when the Blue-Gold Game on Apr. 21 came to a close, it was thought that little movement in the battle for the starting job would take
place between then and the start of fall camp in early August.

That period of inaction lasted all of 11 days, coming to a crashing end on the night of May 2, when junior quarterback Tommy Rees, along with senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese were arrested outside of a house party in South Bend.

The reactions from fans and media to the incident were often tongue-in-cheek, calling his decision making that night comparable to that of his decision making on the field. Some Irish fans even claimed to be happy to see it happen, with the thinking that sophomore Everett Golson or junior Andrew Hendrix saw their chances improve immensely to win the starting role.

For those who takes pride in Notre Dame and its significance in both college football and in higher education overall, it should have been troubling, regardless of how they feel about Rees’ on-field performance.

By all accounts, the incident is not indicative of Rees’ character. The arrest occurred on the night of the last day of classes of the spring semester. Finals don’t begin until five days later. As a former student at Notre Dame, it’s a night to celebrate. I, as well as most of my fellow students, did just that at the end of each semester of our college career.

While the decision to physically harm the arresting police officer was regrettable, Rees’ slightly impaired thought process is understandable. His future as Notre Dame’s quarterback likely flashed before his eyes, knowing that any bad decision, even a simple minor in possession arrest, could cost him his starting spot. In reality, it probably wouldn’t have.

Now, he finds himself facing a possible suspension. The overwhelming sentiment is that if Rees loses the job, he’ll never get it back.

For the second straight year, a notable Irish football player faced legal trouble, with Rees’ arrest occurring a little over a year after wide receiver Michael Floyd was arrested for driving under the influence. Head coach Brian Kelly’s decision to not suspend Floyd for any games was controversial, with many claiming Notre Dame was sacrificing its higher standards simply to win football games.

Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was also recently cited for underage drinking near his home in Illinois.

The question is, then, how concerned should Notre Dame fans be about the state of the program after the recent arrests? Have the players become just as undisciplined off of the field as they were for much of the turnover-filled 2011 football season?

To say Kelly has lost his grip on the team or that the players’ commitment to the program has weakened is utterly ridiculous. There aren't more players out drinking and partying now than there were in the past.

Sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what happened to Rees and Calabrese, hence we are where we are today.

Were the one-game suspensions of LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon for reportedly failing a drug test, a sign of trouble within Les Miles’ program? They weren’t at the time, and they certainly weren’t after the Tigers went on to win their first 13 games.

Does Rees need to be suspended for his actions? Absolutely, but to say this reflects in any way on Kelly or the program as a whole is short-sighted.

There are over 80 scholarship athletes on the roster. It’s impossible to control the actions of 80 college students. You can ask them to make good decisions, but most college kids don’t consider having a few beers (whether they’re 21 or not) on the last night of classes to be a bad decision.

The on-field effects, both positive and negative, that could come with Rees missing games have been discussed. There’s no need to rehash what Golson and Hendrix can do that Rees can’t (and, to be fair, what Rees can do that Golson and Hendrix can’t). 

The Notre Dame football program hasn’t been on ground this solid since Lou Holtz was leading the Irish. Why? Because Kelly knows how to run a program. Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis did not. Does that mean more wins in 2012? Not necessarily, but that’s not because the football players are all of a sudden emulating Bluto Blutarsky in Animal House.


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