In addition to a two-year probation, the NCAA stripped the team of two football scholarships. Notre Dame, however, will remain eligible for postseason bowls and its multimillion-dollar TV contract with NBC is not affected. It will still have 84 football scholarships.
"This is not a good day for Notre Dame," said the Rev. Edward Malloy, the university president. "We are embarrassed by these incidents, troubled that they occurred. And we have taken action to deal with the issues involved."
In its ruling, the NCAA Committee on Infractions called the violations major and "neither isolated nor inadvertent." The NCAA cited the length of time during which the violations occurred, the extravagant nature of the gifts and the competitive advantage gained by Notre Dame.
"The penalty has to fit the crime, and although you find that a violation is major, there are different levels, obviously," said Jack Friedenthal, chair of the infractions committee. "These are not unusual penalties for this level of major violation."
The NCAA announcement ended an almost two-year investigation into the relationship between up to a dozen players and former booster Kimberly Dunbar. She has admitted spending some of the more than $1.2 million she embezzled from her former employer on players.
The university had argued the gifts were not infractions because Dunbar was romantically involved with several of the players, including former player Jarvis Edison with whom she has a child.
But the NCAA ruled Dunbar became a representative of the university in June 1995 by joining the now-defunct Quarterback Club, which charged members $25 for a series of weekly luncheons.
The committee also said Notre Dame could have avoided the infractions had it been monitored the players more closely.
The report said former coach Lou Holtz learned in 1994 that Dunbar had taken a player on a weekend trip to Las Vegas, later identified in court documents as former Irish receiver Derrick Mayes.
The university dropped the matter after finding out he was dating Dunbar, but the committee said a "more complete investigation at that time might have precluded what later became a significant problem."
The committee said an assistant coach had a similar opportunity to uncover the violations in 1997 after discovering that Dunbar had paid for a Las Vegas trip for herself, two players and a player's girlfriend.
Still, it did not penalize the program for lack of monitoring because some effort had been made to investigate the incidents.
The NCAA also included violations the university reported in September in its findings. Among them were reports that a player paid a part-time tutor to write a paper, and that a player provided his girlfriend _ a university employee _ and her friend free passes to three games to repay a loan. In addition, several players got extra benefits, including meals, lodging and gifts, the report said.
The university's probation began today; one scholarship will be lost in each of the next two academic years.
Notre Dame also must implement an educational program on NCAA legislation during its probation and file annual compliance reports.
Dunbar pleaded guilty last year to embezzling more than $1.2 million from her former employer while working as a bookkeeper. She was released from prison in October after serving a little more than a year of her four-year sentence.