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Working group to recommend expanded violation structure for infractions

By Marta Lawrence

INDIANAPOLIS – An NCAA working group on Enforcement will recommend the adoption of an expanded, four-level violation structure for infractions when it meets with the Division I Board of Directors on Saturday.

In its report to the board, the group wrote:  “The working group anticipates that the proposed four-level structure will provide member institutions and affected individuals with a better notice of the alleged infractions, and the level of seriousness assigned the infractions, for which they will be held accountable if NCAA rules are violated. Further, the group anticipates that the proposed structure will better ensure that enforcement efforts are focused on those infractions that clearly violate NCAA enduring values.”

The group will also recommend increasing the size of the Committee on Infractions from its current number of 10 to more than 18, and expanding the composition to include former presidents, athletic directors and coaches.  It is anticipated this would decrease the workload of individual members and increase the number of hearing opportunities held per year.

The working group’s report is preliminary, and the group told Division I members at an informational session today it is still working through some of details. Julie Roe Lach, NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, said the group is recommending moving from the current two-level structure of major and secondary violations, to four categories:  

  • Level I: Most egregious

A violation that seriously undermines or threatens the integrity of any of the NCAA enduring values (student-athlete success, the collegiate model, amateurism as a student model, competitive equity), including any violation that provides or is intended to provide a significant or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, or significant or extensive impermissible benefit. Multiple Level II, III and/or IV violations may collectively be considered a Level I violation. Individual conduct that is unethical may be classified as a Level I violation, even if the underlying institutional violations are not considered Level I.

  • Level II: Serious

A violation that provides or is intended to provide a minimal to significant recruiting, competitive or other advantage; or includes a minimal to significant impermissible benefit; or involves a pattern of systemic violations in a particular area. Multiple Level III and/or Level IV violations may collectively be considered a Level II violation. Some limited individual conduct that is unethical or dishonest may be classified as a Level II violation, even if the underlying institutional violations are not considered Level II.

  • Level III: Those violations currently categorized as secondary violations 

A violation that is isolated or limited in nature; provides no more than a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage; and does not include more than a minimal impermissible benefit. Multiple Level IV violations may collectively be considered a Level III violation.

  • Level IV: Minor or technical issues that do not rise to the level of a serious violation

An issue that is an action/inaction that is inadvertent and isolated; limited or technical in nature; and results in a negligible, if any, recruiting, competitive or other advantage of negligible, if any, impermissible benefit. Level IV issues will not impact eligibility.

“The idea here is that these penalty guidelines would give more flexibility and predictability,” Lach said.

Although penalty guidelines have yet to be finalized, the report described a need to more strongly punish those that deliberately violate NCAA rules as part of a risk-reward analysis. The group designs to accomplish this through penalties that hold individuals and coaches more accountable for setting the tone and culture of compliance.

“There seems to be a general loss of integrity in upholding the rules and upholding the collegiate model,” Lach said. “This isn’t a reactive move. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”

The report expresses the group’s belief that “head coaches should be suspended for the egregious conduct of their staff.” This will be accomplished through a set of penalty guidelines for the most serious rules violations.

These proposed guidelines may set a range of penalties that the COI could impose in a given situation. They desire to find an appropriate balance in recommending any core penalties or penalty ranges, to allow the COI sufficient discretion while also assuring stronger and more predictable consequences.

Chaired by Oregon State University President Edward Ray, the team is part of NCAA President Mark Emmert’s efforts to transform intercollegiate athletics by recalibrating college sports toward a set of enduring values through bold and sweeping changes to the enforcement process and penalty structure, NCAA rulebook, increased academic standards for student-athletes and a critical examination of the funding of the enterprise.

The enforcement group was tasked with creating a multi-level NCAA rules violations structure, an enhanced penalty structure for rules infractions, and reestablishing a sense of shared responsibility between member institutions and enforcement. The decisions of the group were guided by the principles of fairness, accountability and integrity.

Following the Board meeting, the working group will continue outreach efforts with key membership groups.