Reforms intended to shape the future of Division I’s infractions process took effect three years ago – and this summer, two phases of that process have completed self-assessments required by those changes.
The reforms, part of a broader effort to refocus college sports around its established values of academic integrity and fairness, were devised by the Enforcement Working Group, which was drawn from a cross-section of the division’s membership, many of whom had knowledge of the infractions process. They took effect Aug. 1, 2013.
The changes to the infractions process centered on a move to a four-level system of infractions, a more structured penalty system that aligned with the severity of the violations, improved transparency in how decisions are reached, new options for hearing and processing cases and an increase in the size and diversity of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions. The goal was to provide affected schools and individuals with an enhanced notice of the allegations against them, more flexibility in determining the severity of the infractions, and a more efficient process for bringing cases to conclusion.
As part of the reforms, the Enforcement Working Group recommended that each part of the infractions process conduct a self-assessment every three years. The first of those reports from the enforcement division and the Committee on Infractions was released this summer. Among the findings: Efforts to improve the overall system across the different groups have resulted in a high level of accuracy in allegations, and a reduction in the overall time spent investigating and deciding on any penalties after review from the Committee on Infractions. Feedback from member schools indicates they feel they have been treated fairly and had a chance to be heard.
“We want to give every student-athlete and every coach a fair chance to win,” said Jon Duncan, legal counsel to the Enforcement Working Group prior to being named the vice president of enforcement at the NCAA national office. “When violations nevertheless occur, we must keep getting better at detecting and processing them—not for purposes of satisfying an imaginary infractions quota, but to protect schools, coaches, administrators and student athletes who comply with the NCAA Constitution and bylaws. This is our definitive priority moving forward.”
Here is a look at some of those changes:
When violations of NCAA rules are alleged to have occurred, the enforcement division’s team of 57 national office staff members investigates and processes those allegations. The enforcement team’s mission is to uphold integrity and fair play among member schools while ensuring that compliant schools and student-athletes are not disadvantaged by playing by the rules.
Here are three ways the enforcement group has changed in the last three years:
1. Cases are taking less time to process.
Seeing cases get drawn out for months, if not years, was a concern expressed by NCAA members when the Enforcement Working Group submitted its report. The average case in 2013 took 8.7 months to complete. The enforcement division committed to moving cases more quickly in the last three years without sacrificing quality, and the numbers back it up. With modifications to the staff makeup and structure, safeguards against “scope creep” in investigations and enhancements to staff training, the average length of an investigation dropped by nearly a full month in 2015, and the average length of Level 1 and Level 2 violations — the most severe — dropped 9 percent.
2. Quality control leads to accurate results.
In addition to reducing the time it takes to process cases, the accuracy of allegations has also improved. Much of that is due to the development of the F.A.C.T (Fair, Accurate, Collaborative and Timely) investigation philosophy the group adopted, as well as the addition of a quality control position and a case management team that helped improve the division’s operational efficiency. The department takes steps before, during and even after cases to ensure all matters meet member and internal expectations. Multiple reviews of the allegations by teams within the national office have also helped the staff ensure continuity and consistency in its charging decisions. The result: The Committee on Infractions determined that 94 percent of the allegations it has heard since 2013 did, in fact, occur. The COI also agreed with the violation level cited in 89 percent of the infractions.
3. Customer service is now a core philosophy.
In refocusing around a commitment to safeguarding fairness in college sports, the enforcement division worked to ensure the process was not adversarial or frustrating for schools. So it now regularly surveys schools to ask if they felt they were treated fairly, had multiple opportunities to be heard, and whether they felt the process was performed with integrity. The average score on a five-point scale, with one being the highest score, was better than a two in each of the last two years. And members generally agreed or strongly agreed that the process was fair and that the process was conducted with integrity. “The NCAA was fair, even kind, to us considering the magnitude of our violations,” one NCAA member wrote in their survey response.
Moving forward, the enforcement division intends to follow direction given from the NCAA membership to pursue issues that most threaten college sports, including issues of academic misconduct and recruiting violations. The group will also focus on continuing to reduce the time it takes to complete an investigation, improve members’ understanding of how decisions are made, and ensure that schools aren’t disadvantaged by their commitment to compliance.
COMMITTEE ON INFRACTIONS
The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions forms the second step in the infractions process. It is an independent body made up of individuals from NCAA member schools and members of the general public, which can include college administrators or former coaches, attorneys or university professors, among others. The COI decides infractions cases involving alleged rules violations that are developed during the enforcement group’s investigative process. It then decides what happened, whether the actions violated NCAA rules and prescribes the appropriate penalties.
Here are three ways the Committee on Infractions has changed under the Enforcement Working Group reforms:
Diversity and efficiency has improved
The COI has grown in the last three years from 10 members who hear every case to 19 members who share the work load, and it could ultimately grow to 24 members. Cases are heard by a panel of five to seven members, which can be formed as needed, depending on the caseload. The restructuring has helped the committee increase its capacity and improve its efficiency: The COI has cut the time it takes to issue a decision after a hearing by 15 percent, and it expects to continue improving its efficiency.
Members have more options for hearing a case
Schools now have more options for how their cases can be heard. They can contest the case with an in-person hearing, expedite the process through a summary disposition review when both sides agree on the facts of the case, or ask for a hearing only on the penalties. This has helped schools move to a conclusion more quickly after an investigation is complete. Since 2013, 18 of the 33 cases the COI has heard have been resolved through the summary disposition process. And in the last six months, the time needed to release a decision after an in-person hearing has dropped by 18 percent while the time required to release summary disposition decisions decreased 50 percent.
There is more transparency in the COI’s decision-making process
To provide more detail and transparency to the COI’s processes, the committee now publishes its internal operating procedures and makes them readily available. They provide a road map to help schools and individuals involved in an investigation better understand the nuances of the infractions process. And it provides the committee with a formal, yet flexible, method for hearing cases while allowing it to respond to issues that arise.
The COI will continue its efforts to educate the membership on its processes through presentations at athletics coaching association meetings, NCAA events and meetings with conference officials and athletics administrators. Resolving cases in a timely fashion will remain a focus.