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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sent the wrong message

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches his team field against FloridState during final moments Champs Sports Bowl NCAA college

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches his team on the field against Florida State during the final moments of the Champs Sports Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. Florida State won 18-14. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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Updated: July 1, 2012 11:49AM

When Brian Kelly used disciplinary authority rarely afforded any Notre Dame coach to clear the way for wide receiver Michael Floyd to return to the Irish football team without missing a game after Floyd’s DUI arrest last year, he neglected one aspect of an otherwise-deft coaching move: He had 84 other players on his team.

They do exactly what they’re coached to do: They watch. They listen. They learn.

Sure enough, the heretofore feel-good Floyd story seems to have an unintended — but not unexpected — negative consequence. Now other Notre Dame players seem to think they can cross the line and get away with it. What a surprise.

Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, the former Vernon Hills High School star, became the third Notre Dame football player involved in an alcohol-related incident in the last month when he was one of 29 people cited for underage drinking at a party in Vernon Hills this week.

On Thursday in a South Bend courtroom, quarterback Tommy Rees pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor and resisting law enforcement. And linebacker Carlo Calabrese faces charges of disorderly conduct and intimidation in connection with the same alcohol-fueled party in a South Bend home last month.

Kelly shouldn’t be surprised. He made an example of Floyd — who could’ve been kicked off campus after his third alcohol-related offense but instead played in every game — and his teammates are following it. Even leadership is a double-edged sword at Notre Dame.

Kelly deserves credit for resurrecting Floyd’s career — he caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns and is in line for a $10 million contract after the Arizona Cardinals made him the 13th pick in the NFL draft. But he also has to share the blame for unwittingly sending a message that alcohol-related offenses won’t cost you playing time.

And it’s not only Floyd. Before Kelly’s first season in 2010, eight players were arrested for alcohol-related charges stemming from an off-campus party. None of the players missed a game.

‘‘This was a teachable moment,’’ Kelly told reporters after the incident. ‘‘It was dealt with the appropriate attention, and our players clearly know that I’m not happy about reading about Notre Dame in the newspaper when it comes to things like this. They’ll have a very short leash. I met with our team. They clearly know how I feel about it.’’

My issue with the incident was that it occurred three months after incoming freshman Matt James died when he fell off a hotel balcony during spring break with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19. When I asked Kelly if he was disappointed that the offending players didn’t learn from that previous ‘‘teachable moment,’’ I was unimpressed with his defensive response.

‘‘I think if you’re saying that South Bend is the only place in the world where that occurs, then maybe that would be true,’’ he said. ‘‘But these are things we deal with in society all over the country. Yeah, bad choices. We’re going to hit them right over the head again with how to make good choices. We’re going to hope that the guys model and lead the right way.’’

But after two years, Kelly is still facing the same issues. And I don’t care how many other programs are facing similar problems. Notre Dame is all about being different, being better and setting its own standard of excellence. The university can’t pick and choose when it decides to abide by that guideline.

Regardless, Notre Dame’s football program doesn’t seem to be faring very well by any standard in recent years — maybe because Kelly hasn’t learned from his own teachable moments. You give a football player the choice of being ‘‘hit over the head’’ or missing football games as a punishment, and he’ll take being hit over the head every time.

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