You are here

DI infractions committee welcomes new chair

Incoming and outgoing chairs cite service to NCAA membership as key in taking on role

Leadership of one of the NCAA’s most high-profile committees changed hands this month.

And while the outgoing chair led the Division I Committee on Infractions through significant improvements to the process, the new chair is at the helm of an established committee confident in its promise to deliver fair, consistent decisions.

Greg Christopher, athletics director at Xavier

Greg Christopher, athletics director at Xavier, became chair of the Division I Committee on Infractions on Sept. 1. He takes over the role as Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey’s three-year term as chair ends. Dave Roberts, special advisor to the president on issues of compliance at Southern California, will serve as vice chair, taking over the role from Eleanor Myers, law professor and former faculty athletics representative at Temple.

“We are a membership organization, and we are only as good as our own service,” Christopher said. “From an athletics director perspective, we have to take accountability, not just on our own campuses, but within the governance structure, as well.”

Sankey, who will continue to be a member of the committee until August 2019, also encourages campus and conference leaders to get involved on NCAA committees and governance groups.

“Members in leadership positions need to be engaged in the work of the Association,” Sankey said. “We have a peer-review model for the infractions committee, and in the NCAA’s structure, those of us who work at member schools or conferences play important roles. It is still important to be an active participant in Division I issues.”

Christopher has been athletics director at Xavier since 2013 and a member of the Committee on Infractions since 2012. A native of West Lafayette, Indiana, Christopher earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a master’s in business administration from Miami (Ohio). He began his career in athletics administration at Purdue, where he worked in communications and fundraising functions, and he was athletics director at Bowling Green for more than six years before taking on his current role at Xavier.

Christopher also served on the compliance committee at the Mid-American Conference during his years at Bowling Green, and when the conference commissioner approached him about serving on the Division I Committee on Infractions, the committee’s work intrigued him. He says his tenure on the committee has taught him more about the infractions process and, perhaps more importantly, has led him to believe in its effectiveness.

“In a fast-paced industry, there’s a rush for instant analysis in everything we do, but I’ve found that this process isn’t like that. It is incredibly deliberate, thorough and exhaustive,” Christopher said. “It’s an imperfect process, but I am confident that it is as fair as it can possibly be.”

Greg Sankey, Southeastern Conference commissioner and former Division I Committee on Infractions chair

Christopher steps into a role that looks different than the one Sankey inherited three years ago. Sankey was the first person to chair the committee after Division I adopted reforms to the infractions process in 2012. As a result of that comprehensive review, the committee expanded from 10 to as many as 24 members, and the committee now includes a former U.S. attorney general, a former general counsel for the FBI, and former college football and men’s basketball coaches.

“I would rank the expansion of the committee as the most significant change during my time as chair,” Sankey said. “Instead of 10 members who would hear each case, we now have panels of three to seven members, depending on the nature of the case. That is an important adjustment for committee members.”

The expansion of the committee provided the group a more efficient system for handling a rising case demand, resulting in increased diversity of thought and opinion.

“I am really impressed with the committee itself and the debate,” Christopher said. “With such varied backgrounds, we end up having robust debates around the issues, and it leads to the best possible conclusions with the facts we have at hand.”

During his time as chair, Sankey heard from members that it takes too long for infractions cases to conclude. The committee improved the time it takes to issue a decision, and as Christopher takes over as chair, he continues to consider timeliness a priority.  

“The number of cases and hearings have nearly doubled in the last 12 to 18 months, but the amount of time from the hearing to the decision being released has been cut significantly,” Christopher said. “I want to continue to improve around timeliness and consistency of the decisions we issue.”

Even though the average time changes with caseload and complexity, the data show progress.

For summary disposition cases (a process used in place of a hearing when all parties agree to the facts of the case), the average time dropped from 62 days in the latter half of 2016 to an average of just 24 days from January through July of this year.

For contested cases with hearings, the average time decreased from 69 days in the second half of 2016 to an average of 55 days from January through July of this year.

 While no case is the same as another, a Temple University Sport Industry Research Center study commissioned by the committee in 2015 showed Committee on Infractions decisions over the decades have meaningful consistency.

“The committee has used the past few years to learn about how the penalty matrix is used, and that leads to consistency,” Sankey said. “I think people observe that there are inconsistencies whether it’s decisions or penalties, yet the committee knows when we are reviewing these cases that absolutely every one of these circumstances is unique. There is no way to create absolute uniformity until all the rules violations are uniform, which will never happen. The ability to look at all of the decisions and understand the context — all of that has helped.”

Christopher knows that the committee’s work not only hinges on making fair, informed decisions, but also on working to help the broader membership understand how the process works and why each decision was made. He also wants the public to have a more accurate picture of what happens in an investigation and hearing.

“We need to continue to reach out to the membership and public to communicate our decisions and process as transparently as possible,” Christopher said. “Oftentimes, it comes across that the relationship between the NCAA and involved schools is adversarial, but it is actually very civil. The image we have of a courtroom situation with someone banging a gavel on the desk isn’t correct. There’s a lot of respect both in the hearing room and among committee members.”