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THE INSTITUTION HAS LOST CONTROL
PETE THAMEL
June 17, 2013
THE NCAA MADE GRAND PLANS TO REFORM ITS MOST SCRUTINIZED DIVISION. BUT THE MISHANDLING OF A CASE THAT ORIGINATED WITH THE MOST NOTORIOUS BOOSTER IN HISTORY EXPOSED A FRACTURED DEPARTMENT SEEMINGLY POWERLESS TO DO ITS JOB
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June 17, 2013

The Institution Has Lost Control

THE NCAA MADE GRAND PLANS TO REFORM ITS MOST SCRUTINIZED DIVISION. BUT THE MISHANDLING OF A CASE THAT ORIGINATED WITH THE MOST NOTORIOUS BOOSTER IN HISTORY EXPOSED A FRACTURED DEPARTMENT SEEMINGLY POWERLESS TO DO ITS JOB

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Under Lach, the NCAA began launching more cases, but it didn't result in the cleaner disposition of a couple of the highest-profile investigations, UCLA and Miami. In the meantime Emmert had been unable to get members to approve his other proposals, including simplifying the NCAA rule book and an increased stipend for athletes. As the subject of the only reform measure to pass, the enforcement division—already the organization's most scrutinized department—felt pressure. "There was definitely a clear message," says Grantstein. "This is not going to fail."

"There was a mandate for change by our membership," says Williams. "The degree to which some people don't like that change and are not happy is probably higher than it's been over the last several years."

FOR YEARS the NCAA had judged investigators on whether they presented enough evidence to support an allegation once a case was brought, often after news of violations broke in the press. Under the new enforcement protocol, management evaluates reps on their adherence to deadlines and their ability to proactively develop information that leads to cases. "I remember being told [by superiors], Find a way to prove it," Grantstein says. "If you hit a brick wall, now the attitude was, Find a way to get through that wall. You can't come back with, I can't prove it." Lach disagrees, saying, "Staff were charged with being thorough and fair. If we hit a dead end, and it was clear the lead was bad or the evidence wasn't there, we shut it down."

Johanningmeier says the team approach was intended in part to speed the process, but he believes it introduced inefficiencies, including instances when multiple enforcement reps would travel to sit in on a single interview. "We had more teamwork under the old system than the one that looks good on PowerPoint with all the boxes and arrows," he says. "I've seen the old system work. I've seen people exonerated and seen people held accountable who should be held accountable."

In the Miami case, Shapiro's parents, girlfriend and some former business associates cooperated because he asked them to. Current Hurricanes spoke too because the NCAA and the school had the power to rule them ineligible if they didn't. But beyond campus—in the clubs of Miami Beach, for instance—no one is likely to welcome a Nosey Parker from the NCAA: That's what can make enforcement maddening work. "We're going into a gunfight with a water gun," a former investigator says. "Sometimes you can't go through the front door, back door or side door. But you still have to figure out a way to get in."

When Grantstein went out on a case, she would tell schools that, as NCAA members, they could recommend changes if they didn't like what she was doing. She senses exactly that happening. "People are questioning the need and effectiveness of an enforcement staff in general," she says, "to the point that I wonder if the membership will say we don't want it."

Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, an ex--NCAA investigator who now runs a risk-management consultancy to help schools minimize misconduct, would like to see enforcement broken off from the rest of the NCAA and turned into a quasi-independent agency like the Securities and Exchange Commission. That way, if an administrator were to call the NCAA president, the president could honestly say that enforcement isn't in his domain. "I don't think it has an actual effect," Beebe says of a call placed to Emmert's office. "But you sure could have the perception of undue influence. In this world, perception can amount to a lot."

"I'm not sure enforcement can survive another 10 years the way it's structured now," adds Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who got his start in NCAA enforcement. "Every five years or so there's a feeling we have to get tough. Then people can't take it, and the NCAA has to back off."

Or as one high-ranking college administrator puts it, "I'm really concerned. There's a need for a healthy NCAA. It's not healthy right now."

Few of these critics spare the man at the top. Emmert has already had so many calls in the media for his ouster that presidents on the NCAA's executive committee felt compelled to give him a vote of confidence in February. Staffers describe Emmert as heavily invested in his public profile, whether he's handing out the championship trophy at the Final Four, making a TV tour after wading into the Penn State mess or shoehorning himself and his family into an NCAA documentary about Title IX. Among staff he's known derisively as King of the Press Conference, and his knack for commenting on ongoing cases has left investigators exasperated. "There's less interference and noise for the committee on infractions if you don't have the NCAA president saying anything," says former Alabama faculty athletic representative Gene Marsh, a lawyer who spent nine years on the committee. "I'm drop-dead sure the enforcement staff feels the same way."

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