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NCAA’s latest Notre Dame probation neither noteworthy nor the one to be upset about

Todd Lyght Notre Dame

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 16: Notre Dame defensive backs coach Todd Lyght before a game between the Boston College Eagles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 16, 2017, at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NCAA’s latest press release with both “Notre Dame” and “violated” in the headline does not warrant much more than a shoulder shrug. That much might be more energy than it deserves. For once, it seems the serial offender may have been the recruit or the high school coach, but even discounting that, the primary Irish mistake was so trivial it should be regarded as just that, trivia.

A decade from now, when the world returns to bars and social gatherings, as one Notre Dame fan puffs out his chest with, “Who is the winningest starting quarterback in Irish history?” and another fan raises the stakes by asking, “Who caught Notre Dame’s two touchdowns against Alabama in the Rose Bowl?” you can show them up with the ace, “What Irish assistant saw a high school junior in 2019 only for the NCAA to announce a penalty for such two years later, more than a year after that assistant had already left Notre Dame?”

No one will remember Todd Lyght for this. If anything, this penalty will stick to Washington linebacker Sav’ell Smalls more than anyone else. With this the third school (Texas A&M, Florida) lightly rapped on the knuckles for bumping into Smalls in January of 2019, he has implicated almost as many schools as he has taken down ball carriers in his collegiate career (5 solo tackles).

Either Smalls wanted the ego boost of meeting these coaches, his high school coach did not understand recruiting rules, or someone wanted to try to besmirch other programs by publicizing a meeting that probably occurs more often than not. Whatever the root, nothing came of Lyght meeting Smalls.

Receiving one year of probation for the illicit introduction will not matter unless a more serious infraction arises in the coming year, and there is no reason to expect one to. The rest of the penalties are as trivial as this entire exercise. Even amidst the financial restrictions of a pandemic, Notre Dame will find a way to afford the $5,000 fine.

“Any violation of the NCAA rules is unacceptable and Notre Dame Athletics takes full responsibility for its actions in this regard,” Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “While we made clear to the NCAA our view that the agreed-upon penalties exceeded the nature of the infractions, we accept the final outcome of the case.”

Ah, yes, infractions, as in plural, because the NCAA also wanted to remind Irish head coach Brian Kelly not to take photos with recruits in high school cafeterias, a Level III violation (essentially the lowest). No, that is not a joke. From the NCAA report:

“The head football coach was being escorted through the high school’s cafeteria when the football prospective student-athlete recognized the head football coach and requested a photo with him. The head football coach initially declined, but ultimately allowed the photo.”

The audacity, the blatant disregard for both the spirit and intent of the rules, the humanity.

Here, another piece of trivia: The NCAA report names the high school of that photo as being in Pickerington, Ohio, so forever assume the football prospective student-athlete was consensus four-star receiver Lorenzo Styles. Given no penalty accompanied the Level III violation, consider the selfie a worthwhile investment in landing Styles’ commitment.

The unnecessary feeling behind chasing down these violations was enough reason alone for Swarbrick’s protest of the penalties exceeding the infractions, but his protest also was a callback to the last skirmish between Notre Dame and the NCAA, the one peppered with more notable violations, the one that the University began by agreeing to any and all coming NCAA penalties.

When the NCAA then ordered Notre Dame to vacate the 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, that was met with an uproar, but vacating wins was not, is not and never will be a reason to be upset. Those games happened, the Irish went 12-1 in 2012, even Notre Dame’s media guide each season goes to great lengths to include those results while acknowledging the NCAA’s decree.

What the University should have given itself a chance to push back on was the one-year probation tied with that academic misconduct investigation. If Lyght’s introduction to Smalls in 2019 had instead come a couple years earlier and overlapped with the one-year probation stemming from the Frozen Five, then the trivial nature of this probation could instead be a true headache for Notre Dame.

The University cost itself that opportunity then, but the one-year probation passed without issue, so no greater harm was done. Circle back in a year to confirm the same has resulted from this laugh of an overreach.

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