Inside Compliance: New Enforcement Process

On the second Wednesday of every month (or a day late this month), a member of the Compliance staff will give a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on around its area and the department. Over the course of every month, each department will be featured at least once. Coming Monday: Communications

Prior to 2013, the NCAA incurred an increasing amount of criticism that served to weaken the credibility of the organization’s enforcement practices.  Detractors claimed the system failed to incentivize institutions and their personnel, particularly coaches, to encourage compliance with NCAA regulations.  They argued that the inconsistent results of infractions and the lack of predictability regarding penalties undermined the entire process.  Partly in response to these concerns, in August 2013, the Association instituted sweeping changes to the process by which alleged infractions are processed.  This legislative reform sought to enhance fairness, and allow institutions more input and control regarding the enforcement process.

Before detailing the modifications to the enforcement process, it is necessary to examine the framework of the previous system.  Prior to August 2013, the NCAA’s enforcement mechanism classified violations as either “major” or “secondary.”  Secondary violations were infractions that “intended to provide only a minimal recruiting or competitive advantage.”  Secondary violations were subdivided into Level I and Level II depending on their seriousness.  Examples of Level I violations under the old system include engaging in impermissible contact with a prospective student-athlete (PSA), and providing impermissible transportation during a PSA’s on-campus visit.  Level II violations were considered minor infractions and, therefore, processed at the conference level rather than through the national office.  An example of a Level II violation would be an institution failing to adhere to size restrictions of printed recruiting materials.  Under the previous enforcement structure, a major violation was classified as any infraction that was not isolated or inadvertent.

The post-August 2013 enforcement structure made significant changes to the violation component of the NCAA’s enforcement process.  The classification of violations as secondary or minor was abandoned in favor of classifications identified by Levels I through IV.  Under the new violation structure, Level I violations involve a “serious breach of conduct” and are intended to encompass the most severe rule violations – examples include academic fraud, failure to cooperate with an NCAA investigation, unethical conduct, failure by a head coach to monitor the activities of assistant coaches, and cash inducements to student-athletes.

Level II violations encompass infractions that result in a moderate recruiting or competitive advantage.  Examples include providing impermissible benefits that are more than minimal but less than substantial, an institutional failure to monitor (unless egregious) and systemic violations that fall short of a lack of institutional control.  Level III violations involve behaviors that are isolated or limited and provide only a minimal recruiting or competitive advantage, or impermissible benefit.  Examples include off-campus contact with a PSA during a dead period, and using impermissible recruiting aids such as game-day simulations.  Level IV violations, or “incidental infractions” are violations of a technical nature that do not affect a student-athlete’s eligibility to participate in competition.  Similar to secondary violations under the old enforcement structure, Level IV violations are adjudicated at the conference level.  An example is inadvertently failing to sign a squad list.

In addition to redefining the tiers of alleged violations, the NCAA also developed a new penalty structure aimed at producing more consistent results.  The Association’s new enforcement structure consists of six core penalties: postseason competition bans; financial penalties, including postseason revenue; reducing athletic scholarships; limiting recruiting activities; issuing show-cause orders, which direct member institutions to take action against a particular staff member, coach or booster; and probation.

The new structure includes a framework that allows for the prescribed penalties to be adjusted depending on aggravating or mitigating circumstances.  Examples of aggravating factors include a history of major (Level I and/or Level II) violations by the institution, a lack of institutional control, and unethical conduct.  Conversely, examples of mitigating circumstances include timely self-disclosure of the violation, undertaking corrective action, and fully cooperating with the NCAA investigation.

One major consequence of the revised enforcement structure is the increased scrutiny of head coaches.  A new provision creates a presumption that the head coach is responsible for the actions of his or her subordinates.  Therefore, not only can head coaches be suspended for committing violations, but they are also subject to suspensions for violations committed by their assistant coaches and other support personnel.  Although this policy has proved controversial, the NCAA’s intent was to hold head coaches accountable for maintaining control over their athletics program.  It should be noted that suspensions are not automatic; rather, all instances are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Another major takeaway of the new enforcement structure is the emphasis on the shared responsibility of all representatives of NCAA member institutions.  Institutions are charged with undertaking whatever actions are necessary to appropriately monitor the conduct of its constituents to ensure compliance.  The new enforcement structure imposes an affirmative obligation on institutions to assume responsibility for compliance, take corrective action and cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff.  It is clear that the bar has been raised in terms of the extent to which an institution must now engage in these efforts to meet and properly fulfill its compliance responsibilities.

To date, Georgia State has never committed a major violation.  The responsibility to continue this unblemished record falls not only on the compliance staff but also on each and every GSU student-athlete, coach, institutional staff member, booster and representative.  Collectively, every individual associated with Panther athletics must make every reasonable effort to ensure compliance with NCAA rules, and, in doing so, continue to uphold the integrity of the University.

–Compliance

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