Zemek on Notre Dame: Who Should Pay?

Posted Apr 19, 2011

Matt Zemek's reaction to Notre Dame's findings in the Declan Sullivan tragedy.

CFN Analysis   

Zemek on Notre Dame

By Matt Zemek

- Fiutak on the Ruling: Notre Dame, What Are You Doing?
- Cirminiello on the Ruling: A Hollow Report   
- Mitchell on the Ruling: Good Will Come

The family of Declan Sullivan has yet to give a full reaction to Notre Dame's report, and it's true that Sullivan's uncle made a statement on Monday afternoon in which he welcomed the amount of information the university included in its report.

No one else appears to be as calm over the findings.

It's easy to indiscriminately bash a university whose football program will always be something of a target. If Notre Dame says that no one person was responsible enough for Declan Sullivan's death to warrant a major punishment, I can go along with most of that statement in this sense: The underlings and lower-tier employees within the program, plus the football-only people at the school – such as coach Brian Kelly – should not have been expected to know all the finer points of hydraulic lifts, the engineering behind them, and the weather dynamics attached to their safety.

Fine – no student worker or position coach – or even Kelly himself – should have been punished just for the sake of punishment. It's not right or fair to punish "somebody" just to create the appearance of action or satisfy the larger public-relations outcry which followed Sullivan's death. That doesn't do anyone any good, and it doesn't reflect an ability to learn from mistakes in this or any similar instance. Notre Dame's report does not reflect a rash statement, and it does not manifest a severe overreaction to the situation. Fair enough.

Here's where the school and president John Jenkins fall short, however: If no underlings or football-only people should have been expected to know exactly what to do with the hydraulic lifts, there's one person who damn well needed to be on top of the case, but wasn't: Jack Swarbrick.

It's an athletic director's job description to direct, to oversee, to supervise, the operations of an athletic program. It's Swarbrick who was supposed to know the ins and outs of hydraulic lifts and implement policies for the safe use of such machines. It's Swarbrick who should have had guidelines at the ready. It's Swarbrick who should have created clear lines of communication and prevented Kelly from having anything to do with such a decision. Swarbrick failed on all counts, and counter to Father Jenkins' noble-sounding and partially-true words in the Notre Dame report, there WAS one person who bears responsibility for Sullivan's death: the director of the athletic department and, by extension, the football program, which is – of course – the biggest athletic endeavor Notre Dame will ever undertake.

The fact that Swarbrick is not unemployed today is just one more manifestation of the disease ravaging America, to this nation's great detriment: As on Wall Street (as Notre Dame plays according to that free market gospel), bad behavior and performance do not get punished. It's ironic that during Holy Week, Notre Dame – while reasonably and justifiably retaining underlings and football-only people – wouldn't figure out how to punish itself, thereby placing political expediency over the right thing to do.

- Fiutak on the Ruling: Notre Dame, What Are You Doing?
- Cirminiello on the Ruling: A Hollow Report  
- Mitchell on the Ruling: Good Will Come