Over the past few weeks, football fans have gotten a legal crash course from the unlikeliest of places: football.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has lectured us on constitutional law. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been baffled by evidence-gathering protocols. And Ravens president Dick Cass denied the organization's involvement beyond sending a letter in Ray Rice's quick acceptance into an Atlantic County pretrial intervention program.
The whole month has required either a year inside a Tier 1 law school or a box set of Law & Order episodes.
But meanwhile, in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame football players DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams remain withheld from football activities, nearly two months after the university's compliance office was alerted to "suspected academic dishonesty" surrounding submitted papers or homework that may or may not have been written by somebody else.
At an academic institution like Notre Dame, these charges are serious. They may feel akin to close-talking with coffee breath after getting your fill of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald these past few weeks, but Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins adequately described the grave nature of these charges in the school's mid-August press release:
"Integrity is at the heart of our mission and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame," Jenkins said in the statement.
That message has been sent, with Brian Kelly ruling out the five players for Saturday's game against Syracuse, the fourth they'll miss as the wheels of justice slowly churn under the Golden Dome.
But at this point, the university's grasp of the moral high ground is quickly eroding—especially considering the student-athletes are essentially stuck in justice's waiting room as the university meanders through its Honor Code process.
The school's official investigation has been complete since late August. That means it's taken four weeks to form a committee. Even the South Bend DMV thinks this is taking too long.
Notre Dame officials will not comment on the Honor Code process, nor the timeline that this particular case has moved along. But by declining comment, they've forced Kelly, a relatively innocent bystander in these proceedings with this decision far outside the football coach's purview, to be the one to deal with the mess.
The university has a variety of good reasons not to do so. FERPA, the federal law that protects students' privacy, being the main one. But as Rev. Jenkins mentioned in his comments to the school's faculty, the university made the curious decision to name the five suspended players under investigation.
"In order to deter unfounded speculation about individuals not involved, we made an exception to our policy of not releasing the names of students involved in such a process and confirmed the identities of implicated students who had already been named in the public forum," Jenkins explained, per The Observer.
That move may have protected the rest of the Irish football team, but it also hung a "presumed guilty" tag on the five student-athletes who Notre Dame has taken great pains to avoid calling suspended. And while the football players remain on scholarship and attend classes, they've been held out of team activities until the process is complete.
The idea of any exemption for student-athletes likely makes the Notre Dame brass bristle. This is a school that doesn't believe in athlete dorms or majors designated for "jocks." But the common-sense exemption that Jenkins made for the greater good—and to combat the multiple erroneous reports that had the athletes already dismissed—certainly should be used again as the Frozen Five hang in limbo.
At this point, it's a worthy endeavor to do our own bit of legal educating. This isn't a situation that's governed by law. It's also complicated by potential NCAA rules violations.
Just as important, this isn't an "innocent until proven guilty" situation. This never-ending circus is occurring because something happened that's not in accordance with Notre Dame's Honor Code, a document that the university posts openly on its website.
But therein lies the rub.
The document is posted online. So are the guidelines, violation reports and sanction process. But what's the point of all that efficiency if the university won't get out of its own way and utilize it?
At an institution like Notre Dame, academic integrity might be the only thing that trumps football. This investigation has proved it. So there's a real chance that if the Honor Committee finds a violation grave enough, all five of these student-athletes will have played their final snap for Notre Dame.
But there's also the chance that all five will be back on the field as soon as this process is complete, especially if the committee finds these violations only minor.
Let's just get it over with already.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.