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The Value of Demonstrating Institutional Cooperation in the NCAA Enforcement Process The Value of Demonstrating Institutional Cooperation in the NCAA Enforcement Process

The Value of Demonstrating Institutional Cooperation in the NCAA Enforcement Process

Two recent NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions decisions demonstrate the importance of proactive conduct and institutional cooperation in the NCAA enforcement process. On Feb. 24, the Committee released a report discussing NCAA violations committed primarily by Radford University's former men's basketball coaches. Although violations occurred, the Committee chose to not impose "more severe sanctions" on the university because "the cooperation exhibited by the institution went above its obligation under Bylaws and 32.1.4 (emphasis added)." Similarly, on April 27, the Committee released a report discussing NCAA violations at the University of South Carolina. As in the Radford report, the Committee explained that it "decided not to impose more stringent sanctions in this case, including a postseason ban" because, in part, "the cooperation exhibited by the institution went beyond its obligation (emphasis added)."
As in the Radford and South Carolina reports, the Committee has previously identified an institution's high level of investigative effort and cooperation with the enforcement staff during an investigation of possible NCAA violations as a mitigating factor regarding sanctions. On the other hand, an institution's perceived or demonstrated failure to vigilantly investigate or cooperate has resulted in findings of institutional failure to cooperate and failure to meet the obligations of NCAA membership. Under the revised NCAA enforcement model currently under consideration by the NCAA membership, presumptive institutional (as well as individual) sanctions for many violations are anticipated to significantly increase. It is also expected that institutional cooperation will be carefully evaluated as a meaningful mitigating factor in penalty analysis. Therefore, it is worthwhile for institutional leaders to understand the steps that Radford and South Carolina took in order to exceed their cooperative obligations and avoid additional sanctions.
Although not specified as the basis for the Committee's conclusion that Radford exceeded its cooperative obligation, the Radford report alludes to multiple factors that showed the university's commitment to discover, investigate, and respond to potential NCAA violations:
  1. The university's sports information director, who regularly dealt with the men's basketball program, was educated about specific eligibility and participation restrictions, recognized a potential violation, and promptly reported it to the athletics director.
  2. There was evidence that the athletics department's emphasis on reporting potential violations was heeded by its staff, as demonstrated by the reporting of potential misconduct by the sports information director and the strength coach.
  3. The athletics director timely informed the president about the potential NCAA violations.
  4. The president instructed the athletics director to immediately conduct a thorough investigation, despite the fact that the university was on holiday break and that the investigation would disrupt holiday plans. The university's internal interview process began on Dec. 24 and included interviews on Christmas.
  5. The university promptly notified its conference about the potential violations and its investigation plan, and kept the conference apprised of investigative developments.
  6. The university's faculty athletics representative participated in the internal investigation from its beginning, and at the start of every internal interview, the university's reviewed Bylaw 10.1's requirements of cooperation and truthfulness.
  7. The university timely notified the enforcement staff about the potential violations and its investigation plan. Prior to the submission of its self-report, the university kept the enforcement staff notified about investigative developments.
  8. As soon as violations were confirmed, the university self-imposed meaningful penalties, including suspending coaches and declaring student-athletes ineligible.
  9. The university timely drafted and submitted to the conference and the enforcement staff a detailed self-report.
  10. The university promptly reported to the enforcement staff relevant new information discovered outside of the formal investigative process.
Contrary to the positive recognition the Committee gave Radford, the Committee noted that the former head coach received a harsher penalty (a five-year "show cause" restriction) than would have resulted from the underlying violations because he tried to conceal misconduct from the university and the enforcement staff. The Committee also noted other recent cases, such as the Tennessee and Ohio State cases, in which "concealment resulted in more serious violations and penalties than the original case might have warranted.” The Committee's language and the severe nature of the penalty imposed upon Radford's former head coach should clearly reinforce to coaches and administrators the importance of cooperation during the infractions investigation process.
In the South Carolina report, the Committee specified four reasons why "more stringent sanctions" were not imposed:
  1. The university displayed a high level of cooperation in the investigation.
  2. The violations were limited in scope.
  3. The university self-imposed "significant penalties."
  4. There was no unethical conduct in the case.
The Committee provided two specific examples of how South Carolina exceeded its cooperative obligation. First, the university identified additional individuals to be interviewed in order to help develop a more complete understanding of the violations. Second, even before the enforcement staff executed a document request, the university provided the enforcement staff with email records that constituted "the most damaging information" about a particular violation.
Every inquiry into potential NCAA violations should be treated with appropriate seriousness by the involved institution and individuals. Ice Miller possesses the knowledge and experience necessary to effectively counsel involved parties throughout the infractions enforcement process. To further discuss NCAA compliance or other collegiate athletics matters, please contact a member of Ice Miller's Collegiate Sports Practice team
This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader must consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.



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