Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NCAA Board enacts tougher sanctions and new enforcement process

To policy wonks, this is a step in the right direction. To NCAA skeptics, no amount of change will ever be accepted as improvement in a broken system.

The Division I Board of Directors today adopted an overhauled enforcement structure that creates additional levels of infractions, hastens the investigation process and ratchets up penalties for the most egregious violations.

The Board’s action culminates a year-long effort from a 13-member group of presidents, athletics directors, commissioners and others assigned after participants at a presidential retreat in August 2011 called for a more stringent and efficient enforcement structure to uphold the integrity of the collegiate model of athletics.

“We have sought all along to remove the ‘risk-reward’ analysis that has tempted people – often because of the financial pressures to win at all costs – to break the rules in the hopes that either they won’t be caught or that the consequences won’t be very harsh if they do get caught,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “The new system the Board adopted today is the result of a lot of hard work and membership input devoted to protecting the collegiate model.”

A few of the highlights:

A speedier enforcement process. This has been tried before and resulted in nothing more than a rearranging of milestones along an interminable and most times, indeterminate schedule. Investigations took too long before the first overhaul and took too long afterwards. There are reasons why they take so long, but dragging out probes for more than a year is harmful to everyone involved.

A penalty structure that is intended to be more consistent and, as the NCAA puts it, “that aligns more predictably with the severity of the violations.” This is as close as they’ve ever come to the “mandatory minimums” policy that I have long advocated.

More risk for coaches who break the rules. This is a positive step, but if you’re still punishing schools, student-athletes and fans for the actions of coaches who are fired and/or are long gone by the time the violations are discovered, you’re still doing it wrong. The fines and other punishments should fall on the violators, not the bystanders.

“Emphasizes a culture among head coaches, the compliance community, institutional leadership and conferences to assume a shared responsibility for upholding the values of intercollegiate athletics.” I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean. Such bureaucratic gobbledy-gook sounds good to those who write it, but most people recognize BS when they see it.

Overall, the NCAA probably did step forward with this. Does it represent a paradigm shift in how the league enforces its rules? Probably not. Will it reduce the number of major violations cases going forward? Time will tell, but the new structure also creates more tiers of violations (it also calls them “breaches of conduct” now). Instead of major and minor infractions, there are incidental, minor, significant and severe. Cases once considered major will likely fall into the minor tier, most of the really bad cases will be deemed significant and every now and then, we’ll have a $180,000 case that’s ruled “severe.”

We will still have coaches and bad actors weigh the risks vs the rewards of cheating. Maybe fewer see the RRR no longer beneficial and take the foot off the gas. Maybe not. We’ll see.

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