Enforcement exercise condescending in tone

The criticisms have snowballed.

Over the past year, since the words “lack of institutional control” and “failure to monitor” became ingrained into the mind of the average college sports fan, the NCAA has been under intense scrutiny. That’s no surprise.

From USC’s two-year bowl ban to Ohio State’s “Tattoo Five” and, most recently, Boise State’s notice of infractions, decisions made by the NCAA have been placed under a microscope, blasted on blogs, message boards and sports talk radio shows.

No matter the outcome, no matter the extent to which the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions went to explain the rationale behind its rendered decision, the number of criticisms has remained inordinate.

The commonly shared belief: Just change something.

Subsequently, in an effort to combat a public relations problem on par with last year’s BP oil spill, the NCAA held an educational enforcement experience last week — a mock investigation with 25 media members in attendance, assuming the roles of investigators and members of the COI in a fictitious case. The event was similar to the annual mock selection show held each February to shed light on how 68 college teams are selected in basketball’s March Madness.

The genesis for the newest project came as a result of a need for transparency, as well as “to educate critics,” according to a press release run on NCAA.org after years in which the enforcement process had become increasingly scrutinized by the public.

“To the extent that we can provide you and your colleagues with better information, we want to do it,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told the ensemble of reporters in attendance.

But underlying its efforts to promote transparency and “enlighten” the public, namely the two dozen sportswriters in attendance, was a tone that appeared all too condescending.

In hosting an event aimed at educating and fostering a better understanding of the enforcement process, Emmert and other NCAA officials appeared to seemingly belittle the criticisms raised over the past year.

In a sense, the premise behind the event suggests that those criticizing the NCAA, compliance and enforcement are uneducated about a process far too complicated for basic understanding.

No doubt, it’s a confusing ordeal, nuanced in several respects from understanding the makeup of the process from the initial investigation to the COI’s eventual decision.

But the complexity does not invalidate the criticisms.

In spite of the intricacies, the procedure is still understandable in layman’s terms, from the fielding of tips, to the fact findings, to the witness interviews, to the meetings with the COI. It’s not a criminal trial, as the NCAA is always quick to point out, but the steps carried out are similar in some respects.

The NCAA has an enforcement staff, composed of 38 employees, charged with the responsibility of conducting the investigation, much like a detective team. If enough information is gathered, schools, as well as coaches, players and others, can be served with a notice of infractions, where they will then be asked to meet with the COI, acting in effect as a jury that eventually determines the fate of the charged school.

Understanding the process is not an impossible task despite the insinuation from Emmert and the NCAA.

In short, the complex nature should not be used as an avenue by the NCAA to shield its self from well deserved criticism. Nobody disputes its nuances.

As outlined before, the real problem lies in the discrepancy in the COI’s decisions, not in a complex process incapable for the average fan and beat writer to grasp.

And that was not explained at the mock session.

No matter how transparent the NCAA hopes enforcement can become, it has still yet to answer how certain decisions are eventually rendered.

“When it came time to dole out the punishments, I found it strange and surprising we weren’t given any official sentencing guidelines or case precedents,” said SI.com writer Stewart Mandel, who was in attendance. “While we were given a list of available penalties (scholarships, postseason ban, etc.), we essentially had carte-blanche power to make up whatever numbers or length we deemed fit based on the severity of the crimes — which in itself is a subjective judgment.”

That has been the main criticism, not how information is gathered.

You can find receipts that prove players received extra benefits. You can uncover recordings or emails demonstrating a coach was fully aware of a certain improprieties.

But determining a fair way to punish schools and rule, violators need some sort of consistency, not just the whim of a COI member, because as we saw with the Reggie Bush, giving a Notre Dame athletic department official free reign to bring out the postseason ban hammer might not be the best idea.

There needs to be some uniformity in the decisions process, and no matter how complex the process is this still needs to change.


“The 19th Hole” runs every other Wednesday. To comment on this article email Joey at jrkaufma@usc.edu or visit dailytrojan.com.