For college administrators, an NCAA investigator roaming around campus might not be the most comforting sight.
So Jon Duncan, the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, was not expecting a slew of positive reactions from membership when he proposed a program that would send members of the enforcement staff to member schools for days or even weeks at a time. The program is designed to foster a better understanding of the day-to-day life in athletics departments, while supporting the broader Association goal of restoring confidence in the enforcement process.
“This is not an investigation,” Duncan said. “This is not fact-gathering. This is not kicking tires and rifling through files. This is truly a good will visit to understand your world and help you understand ours.”
Last year when he became the enforcement department’s newest leader, Duncan sought feedback from presidents, chancellors and athletics department administrators. He learned that many believed his staff “didn’t have a good understanding of what it’s like to be on campus.” To address the issue, Duncan created the Campus Placement Program.
Maryland was among the first of many members to express interest. “It appeared to be a really good initiative that Jon was coming up with,” said Marcus Wilson, a senior associate athletics director in charge of compliance at Maryland and a former NCAA staff member. The two parties designed a jam-packed, six-day schedule that would introduce Nate Leffler, the selected enforcement staff member, to all aspects of the Terrapins athletics department.
The first visit of the pilot program began April 28. Leffler sat in on Maryland’s compliance meetings and met with coaches. He attended a marketing meeting and watched the staff’s strategy take effect at a baseball game later that day. He learned about administrative decision-making and academic counseling, fundraising and facilities management.
Leffler, who has never worked on a college campus, said the experience achieved its intended goals. Back at the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis, he shared what he learned with the rest of the enforcement department.
Wilson said the visit helped reinforce the culture of compliance that Maryland strives to create, and he has since recommended the program to other schools. “It gave the athletics department an opportunity to speak one-on-one with an NCAA enforcement representative to find out what they do on a daily basis,” he said. “On the same token, Nate was able to get a better understanding of how we work on campus. I think it was eye-opening for him.
“It was a great way to enhance our relationship with the national office and the enforcement staff, in particular.”
As part of its recent professional development and campus connection efforts, the enforcement department in June hosted a panel of former NCAA staff members who later worked on college campuses. Armed with unique perspectives, the panelists shared some insights:
"I suggest the enforcement staff approach each case with the presumption that compliance officer(s) are working under a great deal of pressure from multiple sources, and the overwhelming majority of compliance officers are as committed to rules compliance as the enforcement staff; therefore, delays in responding to requests should not cause the enforcement staff to automatically assume the compliance officer is attempting to undermine the investigation."
– Lori Williams, senior counsel at Buckner Sports Law
"The way your staff serves our member schools is vitally important; your expertise helps us do our jobs. Superior customer service and maintaining excellent relationships must remain at the forefront of each interaction."
– Vanessa Fuchs, senior associate athletics director/senior woman administrator at Florida State
"The pace of life on campus is incredibly fast; it doesn’t end at 5 o’clock, and it doesn’t observe weekends. It can be incredibly stressful for campus personnel, coaches and student-athletes when a call isn’t returned quickly, a decision isn’t rendered for a few days or you have to wait until Monday morning to speak to someone. I’m not sure I fully comprehended that during my time at the NCAA."
– Mike Ward, senior associate athletics director at Tennessee