Yesterday, Notre Dame confirmed a report by Irish Illustrated that Greg Bryant will miss the entire 2015 season after being ruled academically ineligible. Brian Kelly issued a statement through football SID Michael Bertsch stating:
There are certain expectations within our program that must be met on a daily basis. Quite simply, Greg did not meet those expectations.
Whether it provides solace or not, Pete Sampson spoke with Bryant’s father who made it clear this was strictly a failure to make grades:
Father said Bryant needed a B+ in a summer school course to stay eligible. Received a B- “It was that close,” Bryant Sr. said.
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) August 4, 2015
Sampson’s piece, linked above, contains some other interesting remarks from Bryant’s father. It seems clear that his father expects, at least for the time being, that Bryant will report for classes at the end of August with the rest of the student body and continue to attend the school. It’s also apparent that Tony Alford’s absence weighed upon Bryant quite heavily noting that the lag between Alford’s departure and Autry Denson’s hire may have played a part in Bryant’s troubles. I certainly have to question some of this as Alford was hired by Ohio State in early February and Denson was in place and announced as the new running backs coach for Notre Dame by March 2nd. Given the statement above, I’m not quite sure what that lag has to do with summer school grades, but Alford’s relationship with many of his recruits and particularly Bryant is well documented.
While Alford’s loss was immediately identified by many as a detriment to recruiting efforts, perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the position coaches’ roles as mentors and confidants to these young men. After all, it was just earlier this summer that Brian Kelly spoke candidly about how all of his players were at risk academically and the university’s continued need to consider new ways to better serve these players in their academic affairs.
Aside from these two points: replacing a popular and important position coach, and the university continuing to find better ways to help the players with their academic affairs, I don’t think there’s much to be learned here. Oh yes, this will bring out the battle cries from certain voices about Notre Dame’s failures, inability to compete, etc., but there are plenty of students aside from Greg Bryant who struggle at the university. It’s just highlighted more when the context is that of a prominent student-athlete. It’s unfortunate for Bryant that his struggles have to be so public, but they are not unique to him or the school. Nor is this an instance with a whiff of academic fraud such as the circumstances surrounding Everett Golson or last Fall’s suspensions. This is, quite simply, a student who didn’t quite make the grades to continue to play collegiate sports at the same time. Bryant hasn’t lost his scholarship. He hasn’t been further suspended by the team. He’s not being displaced from the University. Greg Bryant is a struggling college student. The HORRORS.
I hope Bryant stays, redeems himself by making grades and having his eligibility reinstated. It’s clear that’s his father’s preference as well. Greg’s preference will only be revealed over time.
As for the on the field impact, I can’t say that it doesn’t matter. While Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise may have created a bit of distance during spring practice, Bryant was still expected to play an important part in Notre Dame’s backfield puzzle this year. While he’d yet to be the 5-star recruit everyone hoped to see several years ago, all of the physical gifts were/are still there. Furthermore, injuries have a way of creeping up where you least want them. Ask Notre Dame’s linebacking corp from a year ago about that. Better yet, ask a University of Georgia fan what they expected Nick Chubb’s role to be going into last season and then where it ended up. I don’t like to see depth harmed. Ever.
That said, Bryant’s loss shouldn’t move the needle of overall expectations for the team too much. Depth is a virtue, but no need to overstate the loss of the third string running back either. No need to play Doomsday prognosticator at every opportunity. That last sentence might have cost me my Notre Dame fan card…
Part II: Fellow HLS author, andrewwinn provides some broader thoughts on the Bryant suspension as well:
Greg Bryant has been suspended for an entire football season because he can’t maintain a minimum grade point average. I’m disappointed in Bryant, because he’s talented and he’s squandered a decent opportunity to live up to the 5-star rating he received coming out of high school.
Bryant was already going to miss the four games for a matter unrelated to academic performance. Irish fans have become sadly accustomed to this sort of unfortunate development during the offseason.
March 21, 2011 – Michael Floyd suspended for spring practice (arrest)
May 2012 – Tommy Rees & Carlo Calabrese suspended one game (police)
Aug. 26, 2012 – Cierre Wood & Justin Utopo suspended two games (violating team rules)
May 26, 2013 – Everett Golson suspended for the season (academic)
Dec. 22, 2013 – Jerian Grant suspended for the remainder of season (academic)
Dec. 28, 2013 – George Atkinson III suspended one game (violation of team rules)
Jan. 9, 2014 – DaVaris Daniels suspended for the spring semester (academic)
June 24, 2014 – Will Mahone suspended indefinitely (arrest)
Aug. 16, 2014 – KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore suspended for the season (academic – cheating)
Aug. 28, 2014 – Eliar Hardy suspended for eight games (academic)
June 29, 2015 – Greg Bryant suspended four games (violation of team rules)
Aug. 4, 2015 – Greg Bryant suspended for season (academic)
We here at Her Loyal Sons have made many jokes at the expense of college coaches – in consort with local police departments – who have declined to discipline players after their brushes with the law or their failures in the classroom.
The university’s decision to suspend Bryant – like the Frozen Four and Everett Golson before him – demonstrates it simply will not tolerate academic missteps, whether through cheating or poor performance. It is also a public acknowledgment that the student-athlete’s support staff failed in its endeavor to keep the individual eligible to participate in athletics.
Notre Dame’s main recruiting pitch is how a four-year commitment to the university will lay the foundation for a 40-year career after college. I see it as a positive sign that students are held accountable for their classroom performance.
That’s why it shocked me to hear comments from Mike Frank on his Power Hour podcast after Bryant’s first suspension was announced.
When you look at the big picture of it, if you’re an outsider looking at it, they don’t really look for reasons why. They just look at, ‘Oh, here’s another guy suspended.’ It doesn’t lodge in their brain like it does for us who follow it very, very closely. To the casual Notre Dame fan or recruiting prospect, all they look at is whatever rolls across the ticker on ESPN or through social media – ‘Another Irish player suspended.’ And that’s what really resonates through. Again, I don’t want to sit and harp on it. It’s just – sooner or later, something’s got to be fixed with this. Hopefully they will get things squared away with this, because I do think it’s going to be affecting the program moving forward if you continue to have these problems – not unlike the University of Florida and Florida State when they had all these issues going on with arrests and things like that. Sooner or later that stuff starts to affect you. The same thing is going to happen to Notre Dame if they continue this way.
Frank’s supposition – I believe – was that other coaches would use these suspensions as a negative recruiting tool, by suggesting any misstep will lead to automatic loss of significant game-time. If that were true, why didn’t Michael Floyd miss a game after being cited for driving under the influence in 2011? Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese probably missed a fun trip to Dublin, but their talents were hardly needed in that 50-10 shellacking of Navy.
I’m sure Frank is right that other coaches say terrible things about Notre Dame when they’re trying to sway a teenager to their college. They may even suggest to prospective student-athletes that it’s hard to make grades at Notre Dame.
But I’m not sure how Notre Dame could sell a recruit on its “4-for-40” plan, only to have that undone by a competing coach. It’s fair to assume that a high school student commits to Notre Dame, in part, because he’s serious about his education. What serious student would be worried about a scenario in which, at most, 6 percent of scholarship athletes on the football team miss games because of academic reasons?
Greg Bryant made his own mistakes. He wasn’t dragged down by an unwritten university policy that makes classes tougher for student-athletes, by a cabal of conniving professors or by zealous police officers looking to beef up numbers. He did something stupid (and perhaps not for the first time) to warrant the four-game suspension and then didn’t put the same effort into his classes that his teammates did. So he’s paying the consequence.
Not to pick on Frank – because I think he speaks for a significant subset of Notre Dame fans – but I’m befuddled as to what is his alternative to suspensions. No one wants to hear about suspensions, but surely that doesn’t mean the university should sweep any academic misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs under the proverbial rug. Right?
I also don’t care for the idea of coaches as nannies. These are teenage boys who, like the rest of us, will do dumb things from time to time. I’d hate to see the university or football program institute some sort of monitoring system. If a football player wants to abuse alcohol or drugs – or cheat on a test – he’s going to find a way to do it, no matter how many times the coach, his parents and his peers have chirped in his ears that it’s wrong.
Instead, I think it’s important that the university – and by extension the coaches – clearly define the support system that is available to the player for all facets of his life and periodically check in with that player to make sure he’s balancing his responsibilities on and off the field.
I wish Greg Bryant all the best of luck as he continues to pursue his college degree and, hopefully, his football career at Notre Dame.
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