The 12 wins from Notre Dame's run to the national title game in 2012 are officially off the NCAA's record books.
The NCAA on Tuesday denied the university's appeal of a 2016 decision that vacated 21 victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of academic misconduct by a student athletic trainer.
Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins harshly criticized the decision in a letter to the school's alumni that was posted on its website. In the letter, Jenkins said Notre Dame is “deeply disappointed” by the NCAA's denial.
“Our concerns go beyond the particulars of our case and the record of two football seasons to the academic autonomy of our institutions, the integrity of college athletics and the ability of the NCAA to achieve its fundamental purpose,” he wrote.
The NCAA's original decision to vacate victories, among other penalties, came after it found that a student athletic trainer had given “impermissible academic extra benefits” to eight different players from 2011 to 2013, including completing coursework for two of the players during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
In its original 2016 report, the NCAA found that the trainer kept helping the players “for a full year after she graduated from (Notre Dame) and was in her first year of law school.”
After the misconduct came to light, Notre Dame re-calculated the grades of the players who had received impermissible help. Three of them were deemed ineligible retroactively.
In response to the findings, the NCAA fined the university $5,000 and placed it on a year's probation, in addition to vacating the victories. The vacation of victories was the only part of the penalty that was up to the NCAA's discretion – the rest of the penalties were mandatory, per the organization's rules – and it was the only part of the ruling Notre Dame appealed.
In his letter, Jenkins laid out the university's reasons for disagreeing with the decision. He argued that “student-to-student cheating is not normally within the NCAA's jurisdiction.” The governing organization ruled that the student trainer was not simply a student but rather a “representative of the institution,” according to its 2016 report.
“In every other case in the record (where wins are vacated) – meticulously detailed in the University's arguments – the institutional representative of the university was employed as an administrator, coach, or person who served an academic role. The committee failed to provide any rationale for why it viewed the (student trainer) as an institutional representative in our case,” Jenkins wrote.
The NCAA's announcement of the denial of the appeal said only that, “The appeals committee confirmed that at the time of the violations, the athletic training student was considered a university employee under NCAA rules.”
The president's letter also pointed out that it was Notre Dame's application of its own honor code that led to the students being declared retroactively ineligible. That ineligibility was then used as the reasoning for vacating victories. In Jenkins' view, Notre Dame is being penalized for strictly adhering to its honor code.
He argued that if Notre Dame had simply expelled the players, or not penalized them at all, they would not have been ineligible and the NCAA would have had no standing to take away the wins.
“At worst, (this decision) creates an incentive for colleges and universities to change their honor codes to avoid sanctions like that imposed here,” Jenkins wrote.
Before the decision, Notre Dame ranked No. 2 all time in wins, behind only Michigan. Losing 21 victories will drop it to No. 8 (No. 7 among FBS programs).