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SOUTH BEND – If you wanted to compile a list of college football programs that haven't dealt with player suspensions this season (and we're only in Week 2), it would be easier than writing a list of those that have.
Just in Indiana alone, all four FBS programs have had – or still have – players suspended. In this week's Purdue at Notre Dame game, the Boilermakers (1-0) get a couple of players returning to the lineup, while the Fighting Irish (1-0) also get a couple of players back but still have two more out.
“I think what we are seeing is that we have a game and it's out there in the public eye,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “It's on TV 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Kelly gets reserve players linebacker Carlo Calabrese and quarterback Tommy Rees back this week, while Purdue coach Danny Hope will be able to use a significant portion of his offense that he didn't have in last week's win over Eastern Kentucky.
Hope announced Monday that quarterback Caleb TerBush will not only return from suspension, but will start against the Irish.
Kelly has been involved in coaching since 1983, and he believes the scrutiny of the players has been magnified to the point that virtually every act of inappropriate behavior has a good chance of being discovered. Even Fighting Irish analyst Allen Pinkett has been suspended this season for three games.
“Information is readily available to everybody,” Kelly said. “And the standards are higher and the stakes are higher.”
Notre Dame still will be without starting running back Cierre Wood and reserve linebacker Justin Utupo, who were forced to sit out the season-opening game with Navy last weekend.
At Indiana, Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson had suspended three players – Bishop Luers High School graduate Lawrence Barnett, wide receiver Kofi Hughes and safety Forisse Hardin – for last week's game with Indiana State. Each will return to the field Saturday against Massachusetts.
Ball State will have a difficult enough time trying to survive traveling to “Death Valley” to play Clemson, and the Cardinals will have to do so without defensive end Jonathan Newsome, who will return the following week against Indiana.
Kelly believes a lot of the trouble in dealing with behavioral issues can be remedied during the recruiting process. He and his staff place a high priority on finding student-athletes who are the right fit for the university's expectations, not necessarily just the most talented player.
“I think that it is incumbent on recruiting the guys that have the character traits necessary,” Kelly explained. “And if they don't, make sure that you provide them the opportunity to grow as individuals.”
College football coaches have limited time that they can work with their student-athletes during the offseason from an athletic standpoint. However, Kelly doesn't believe that plays a role in many of these early season suspensions.
“I don't know if that is an easy answer (to the problem),” Kelly said. “If the NCAA gave us more time with our guys, I don't think that I'd be sleeping in their rooms. It's important that all programs make certain that their players represent their programs and universities in the highest degree.”