By Bo Kerin
With the increased expectations put on college coaches to win and win now, they are becoming more creative and aggressive in the way they conduct business. Even the most ethical coaches feel the pressure to push the envelope in order to achieve any possible edge over the competition. Much of the burden to maintain institutional control falls to the institution’s compliance staff, which is charged with the front-line monitoring of recruiting activities, student-athlete eligibility and participation, and for an overwhelming amount of record keeping and paperwork. In the area of recruiting, coaches are now “tweeting,” blogging, creating dynamic (and expensive) personal Websites, maintaining accounts on social networking sites, in addition to engaging in the “old” way of communicating via email and telephone calls. NCAA eligibility requirements and financial aid restrictions require an extremely accurate and up-to-date roster management system in order to ensure proper compliance, as the penalties for ineligible participation and over-awarding financial aid are quite harsh. In order to maintain top physical condition, student-athletes are training year-round and coaches will go to great lengths to utilize every minute of permissible practice and conditioning hourly limitations. Prior to participation, student-athletes are required to complete dozens of pages of forms and the information entered must be reviewed and evaluated for any possible eligibility issues. All of these activities must be monitored and evaluated in order to reduce an institution’s risk and maintain institutional control. There is no room for error, and based on my experience, the ACS Athletics Web-based software program is the best product on the market to assist institutions in managing compliance risk.
As we have seen recently, failure to do so can land the institution in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, subjecting it to numerous penalties including loss of athletics scholarships, recruiting restrictions, post season bans and even vacating wins and championships. As a result, two titanic forces collide: the expectation to win, and the expectation to play by the rules. As it relates to the former, even the “win at all costs” approach is considered to be reckless in the current climate. Rather, I think the more accurate phrase that defines today’s attitudes is, “win or else.” For the NCAA compliance professional on a college campus, this requires a very delicate balancing act and a unique set of challenges. Coaches must be given as much latitude as possible in order to achieve success, but this must be tempered with the ability to control and monitor their actions to prevent NCAA rules violations. Every program commits rules violations and for the most part, the violations are isolated and inadvertent. The key is to have compliance policies and programs in place and functioning to detect potential violations. When a violation does occur, the individuals involved can correct the mistake and implement corrective action to ensure it does not occur in the future. Essentially, this is Risk Management 101 for an institution, and the ability to control and manage these risks are vital to the long-term success and value of the program.
As with any business, failure to control and manage risk has significant consequences. Programs recently cited by the NCAA Committee on Infractions for failing to properly manage risk (i.e., lack of institutional control and/or failure to monitor) are numerous. Here are some examples from recently released NCAA public infractions reports:
- Eastern Washington University (2009) – During a four-year period, several football student-athletes were permitted to participate in practice activities even though they were academically ineligible for various reasons. The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions asserted that the athletics department did not have a system in place for monitoring housing and meals provided to student-athletes during the preseason. The compliance office did not review the names of student-athletes who were receiving these benefits, instead leaving it the football coaching staff to determine who was eligible to receive them.
- University of Oklahoma (2007) – Cited the institution for failing to properly monitor the employment of several football student-athletes, including failure to properly administer required employment paperwork.
- University of Southern Maine (2007) – An NCAA Division III institution, USM was cited for lack of institutional control and failure to monitor, in part, due to failure to monitor student-athlete employment in the institution’s work-study program. The NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions noted that the institution did not have proper procedures in place to ensure such employment was within NCAA rules.
- Kentucky Wesleyan University (2006) – An NCAA Division II institution, KWU was cited for lack of institution control and failure to monitor, in part, due to coaches in several sports failing to adhere to NCAA regulations regarding the recording of daily and weekly hour limitations on athletically related activities, as well as the proper logging of actual competition and competition day associated activities. Several coaches failed to maintain complete and accurate records of practice and game-day activities and countable practice hours.
- University of Memphis (2005) – Cited for failure to adequately monitor its student-athletes’ participation in practice and conditioning activities, for permitting an ineligible student-athlete to participate and the provision of financial aid to an ineligible student-athlete.
Stony Brook University (2005) – Cited for lack of institutional control and failure to monitor as a result of permitting ineligible student-athletes to participate. The
- ineligibility was a result, in part, of incomplete paperwork and failure to put in place adequate systems for ensuring that all required eligibility forms had been administered and maintained, and that all eligibility certification calculations had been accurately performed.
- University of Colorado (2002) – Although this case involved a number of other recruiting violations for which the institution was cited for failure to monitor, one of the violations involved the provision of institutional apparel to prospective student-athletes during campus visits. The committee noted that the institution failed to have in place adequate issuance and retrieval procedures.
In addition, an institution that fails to properly manage this risk and finds itself in the NCAA cross-hairs is going to be subjected to significant financial obligations while navigating the process. Most institutions will employ the services of a law firm that specializes in such cases. One compliance coordinator in the Southeastern Conference indicated that an institution can expect to pay at least $200,000 in attorney fees for services related to a major infractions case. Of course, this is only a fraction of the cost the institution will incur. Some cases take years to process which amounts to thousands of hours of work for both the involved law firm and institutional staff members. When you add travel expenses (generally, an institution will have to appear before the Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis), the potential cost of buying out a coach’s contract, the cost of hiring a new coach, the cost of repairing the institution’s reputation through marketing efforts, the potential loss of post season revenues and the possibility of having to return previously received NCAA and/or conference revenue distributions, the total can reach the millions very easily. In November 2008, the Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana University paid nearly $500,000 in fees to Ice Miller, an Indianapolis law firm that specializes in these types of cases, to assist in resolving a major infractions case involving impermissible telephone calls to prospective student-athletes. In February of that year, Indiana paid accused head men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson $750,000 just to go away. As you can see, the cost is now over $1.2 million. That figure does not take into account the tarnished reputation and program sanctions which equate to significant barriers to the ability to win basketball games. These issues will most certainly factor into a prospective student-athlete’s decision-making process and if you can’t attract the talent, it’s going to be tough to win championships and maintain the institution’s value.
This is by far not the only example. Below are other cases that have occurred over the past fifteen years and the reported legal fees associated with each:
Oklahoma (2005): $330,000
University of Nevada-Las Vegas (2001): $218,000
University of Minnesota (2000): $1,000,0003
Michigan State University (1996): $650,0003
Institutional administrators such as Chancellors, Presidents and Athletics Directors are charged with maintaining proper institutional control (or, risk management) and the value in engaging proactively in this practice by implementing appropriate monitoring strategies on the front end would appear to be very obvious. However, to some, it is far from it. Many administrators believe that risk is successfully reduced by hiring the most talented and ethical staff members. This is a noble effort and one piece of the puzzle, but it won’t get you anywhere with the NCAA Committee on Infractions if you hire an ethical coach with a tendency to repeat mistakes. An administrator that completely relies on this method is at best naïve and at worst incompetent. This approach can kill a program, as it essentially assumes everyone on the staff is perfect, which we all know isn’t possible.
Even so, athletics directors and budget managers will often cringe when they evaluate different methods to address risk and subsequently identify the implementation cost, especially in today’s economic climate. An entry level compliance position or an effective software program might cost an institution $40,000 annually. Using the Indiana case for comparison, let’s assume the institution decided to hire an additional compliance staff member AND purchase the compliance monitoring software for an annual total of $80,000. At that cost, it would take an institution 15 years to reach the $1.2 million figure incurred by Indiana as a result of its recent infractions case, and remember, that figure was a conservative estimate. In doesn’t take a mathematician to conclude that the value (in this case $1.2M) far exceeds the cost ($80,000/annually) of making the investment and improving the overall compliance health of the athletics program. If one considers the value gained by implementing adequate monitoring strategies, the cost is infinitesimally minimal. The ACS Athletics program is a wise investment as a means to achieve greater institutional control and reduction of risk. In these times of high expectations, high risk and high reward, can one really afford not to make that investment?
 Staff (2008), IU Spends$500K in Sampson Case, Indianapolis Star.
 Drape, J. (2007), Facing N.C.A.A., the Best Defense Is a Legal Team, New York Times.
 Addy, S. (2001), UNLV: Legal fees well-spent money, Las Vegas Sun.