CFN Analysis - The Notre Dame Internal Ruling
Posted Apr 19, 2011

Reaction to Notre Dame's findings in its internal investigation on the Declan Sullivan tragedy.

CFN Analysis   

Notre Dame's Sullivan Ruling

By Pete Fiutak

- Cirminiello on the Ruling: A Hollow Report  
- Zemek on the Ruling: Who's To Blame?
- Mitchell on the Ruling: Good Will Come

From Cam Newton to Stanley McClover; Josh Luchs to North Carolina; Jim Tressel to the Sports Illustrated article about the criminal element in several recent recruiting classes; it's been a rough time for college football. The sport might seem sleazy and there might be a thick layer of hypocritical ooze that turns off many rational-thinking sports fans, but for the most part the problems stem from a slew of antiquated, self-serving NCAA rules that allow everyone to get paid except for the players who actually generate the revenue and interest.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if some 18-year-old gets a bag of cash from some dopey booster, and it really doesn't matter if a player sells his jersey, attends a party with agents, or even shops around his talents to the highest bidder. It's not like anyone is getting killed.

And that's why Notre Dame's handling of the Declan Sullivan tragedy, and it's reaction to the internal investigation, is so much worse.

More than anything else, what Notre Dame continues to spin with its public relations machine is really, really sad. That nothing happened after the unforgivably unconscionable handling of the Elizabeth Seeberg situation was bad enough, and now the school, a supposed paragon of virtue, has taken another turn into the abyss.

Remember, this is a university that didn't hire George O'Leary because he fudged a little on a résumé. Many who thought Notre Dame was being too snooty and harsh conceded a level of respect for the O'Leary decision, but now, after two students are dead, the same university is lawyering up and trying to do whatever it can to – forgive the poor choice of references – weather the storm.

For the love of God, literally, Notre Dame, what are you doing?

No one - NO ONE - is getting fired? No one - NO ONE - is getting punished or suspended? No one - NO ONE - is accepting any real responsibility or acknowledging that the football program is such a monster that it's able to steamroll over two tragedies as if Seeberg and Sullivan were merely losses to Navy and Tulsa?!

No, don't you dare suggest that Notre Dame president, Reverend John Jenkins, is taking any real responsibility for Sullivan's death simply by suggesting he is. To cut through the spin control, what he's doing is dispersing the blame by saying that "many individuals and departments" were to blame for the tragedy.

Fine, so then why is Jenkins and everyone who admits to wrongdoing still employed by the University of Notre Dame? If there isn't just "one shoulder to blame," as an independent reviewer wrote in his report, then why isn't there any punishment for all the shoulders?

The Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration found that "Notre Dame did not establish and maintain conditions of work that were reasonably safe for its employees that were free from recognized hazards that caused or were likely to cause death or serious injury." Translated by Jenkins, "it's a collective responsibility." Translated by head coach Brian Kelly, everyone at Notre Dame is "collectively focused on making sure something like this never happens again."


According to the IOSHA report, the National Weather Service had issued a wind advisory for the day as "the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that the university made a decision to utilize its scissor lifts in known adverse weather conditions." The conditions weren't "unremarkable," as athletic director Jack Swarbrick unfortunately quipped, and yet Notre Dame is trying to weasel its way out of applying any real blame by suggesting it was a university-wide breakdown. No, someone checked the weather at 1:54 instead of at 3:45, when practice started and winds were gusting at close to 40 miles per hour, and no one checked it at 4:53, or asked for it to be checked, just a minute before Sullivan's accident.

And no, simply feeling bad about what happened isn't enough. How dare you, Notre Dame? How dare you say how sorry and upset you are in one breath, with Jenkins quipping that you were going to "take the actions necessary to protect the ongoing safety of (your) students and staff," and then a month later have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to appeal the record-setting $77,500 in fines levied on you for your negligence?

And where's the outrage from more of the Notre Dame alumni and fans?

Why aren't you as seething about the deaths of two students as you were about Ty Willingham's inability to recruit top-shelf talent? Why aren't you as embarrassed and ashamed of how the school is trying to avoid any real blame for Sullivan's death as you were when Charlie Weis was losing to USC year after year? And how, again, for the love of God, are you possibly able to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame with Kelly still on the sidelines? Really, are you that blinded by the promise and potential of having a good football program that you're not going to have any squeamish pangs about what the school has come to represent?

I've asked several current and former head coaches over the last several months what would happen if the Sullivan tragedy had happened on their watch, and they all had the exact same answer. To a man they all said there is no way they could survive it, both personally and professionally, but apparently that's not the way things work at Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly will run out of the tunnel with his team on a beautiful, remarkable September 3rd day to kick off the season against South Florida; Jack Swarbrick will still be the athletic director; John Jenkins will still be the university president; and Sullivan and Seeberg will turn out to be sad, unfortunate footnotes buried in Kelly's Wikipedia page, while wins over USC will be highlighted up top.

Nothing will bring Sullivan back and nothing can possibly console his family adequately, but for Notre Dame it's apparently not enough to be found responsible by IOSHA for the death in a "preventable workplace fatality." Now, with what came out Monday, the school is managing to dishonor his memory, too, but appearing to try to do nothing more than turn the page.

Notre Dame, you're a private religious university that's supposed to be held to a higher standard. Start acting like it.

- Cirminiello on the Ruling: A Hollow Report  
- Zemek on the Ruling: Who's To Blame?
- Mitchell on the Ruling: Good Will Come