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Ben Smith

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Where’s Kelly’s integrity?


This result does not change my opinion concerning the importance of protecting the integrity of the (National Letter of Intent) program ...

– Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, four days ago

There are quotes you can hang around a guy’s neck and play hacky-sack with, and this is one of them. The hamstringing of five-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes – who changed his mind after signing with Notre Dame and decided to play at UCLA, prompting Kelly to refuse to release him from his national letter of intent – was all about “integrity,” the way it got spun in South Bend. Kid made a commitment. Just wasn’t right not to honor it.

This from a man who, before the sweat had dried from the BCS championship game, was batting his eyes at the Philadelphia Eagles, despite the contract he’d pledged to honor with Notre Dame.

This from a man who, not 72 hours after blathering about the “integrity” of the NLI program, was extending an offer to Carroll recruit Drue Tranquill a week after Tranquill pledged his troth to Purdue – simply because Tranquill can’t officially sign until February.

Where’s the integrity in that, Brian Kelly?

No doubt Domer Nation will parse this by saying Tranquill hadn’t signed his letter yet, which technically means Notre Dame wasn’t violating the “integrity” of the process by trying to poach him. After all, everybody does it, right?

But this is weak sauce, and even they have to know it. Poaching other schools’ recruits may be the new thing in a college football universe that has become as ruthlessly professional as the pro leagues for which it develops talent, but it hardly puts the shine of legitimacy on it. And it certainly has nil and squadoosh to do with “integrity.”

So, kick away, folks. Knock that hacky-sack around till it bursts.

And while you’re at it, consider letting the recruits involved up easy. In no way should anyone blame Tranquill for reconsidering his commitment; he’s a teenager, after all, and his head’s got to be spinning right now.

Nor should anyone have blamed Vanderdoes for deciding he wanted to play closer to home to be near his ailing grandmother.

The NLI steering committee eventually released him from his commitment to Notre Dame, enabling him to play this season instead of sitting it out. And prompting Kelly’s four-day-old quote, which now reeks like four-week-old limburger.

Not that holding the kid hostage didn’t stink to high heaven already. You’ve got to think that’s partly why the steering committee did what it did.

Apparently the mercenary nature and rank double standard of high-dollar college athletics have become so glaring, even some of the principals involved are forced to acknowledge it occasionally.

That would be some of the principals, mind you. Plenty of others still have the blinders on. And at least a few of them reside in South Bend these days.

“(Vanderdoes) broke the contract and he’s going to another school,” Kelly said in June. “But there has to be a level of accountability there.”

Poaching another school’s recruit, of course, doesn’t break any contracts. Or rules, for that matter. It’s just, at the very least, bad form – especially when, as Kelly did, you put yourself on an allegedly higher moral plane with your stance on the NLI.

And where’s the accountability for that?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.