In NCAA President Mark Emmert’s comments to reporters at the famed St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis, there was much about the infractions process. Specifically as Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com notes, the need to ensure that student-athletes are not being punished more severely than coaches:
“I certainly believe [the same guidelines] should apply, of course,” Emmert said. “[They should apply] at least as much [as they apply to student-athletes].” (parentheticals in original)
The article also points out that the NCAA has the power to suspend coaches from coaching in any game, including the NCAA tournament. That was highlighted 13 months ago when the Board of Directors endorsed increased use of coaching suspensions. In the interpretation issued, coaching suspensions are to be used specifically to combat a variety of ways coaches could funnel money to individuals that could influence a prospect’s decision of where to play basketball.
One problem though is timing. If a coach gives a student-athlete a envelope of cash, some of the institutional responsibility is clear. The student-athlete must be declared ineligible and then reinstated, potentially with some penalty. As America recently discovered, the student-athlete uses the reinstatement process. While that process is much quicker and more focused, the student-athlete in effect guilty until proven innocent (or at least how guilty).
A coach, as an institutional staff member, is part of the enforcement case. That process takes much longer, and whether an institution needs to self-impose a coaching suspension immediately is unclear. The best anyone can say is that it might impact the penalties handed down by the enforcement staff or Committee on Infractions as an element of cooperation in the case and whether the self-imposed penalties show the institution understands the seriousness of the infractions.
The answer then seems both incredibly obvious and amazingly complex: a reinstatement process for coaches. It would be a procedure where the coach’s personal responsibility for the violation would be determined and then penalties imposed in the form of suspensions and recruiting restrictions, and possibly more creative penalties like educational requirements and fines.
Many coaching eligibility rules already exist. Coaches must pass an exam every year to recruit off-campus. Coaches must sign a declaration every year that they have reported any violation they are aware of to their compliance office. Some coaching positions, like undergraduate and graduate assistants must be enrolled full-time in school. And football graduate assistants even have a seven-year clock to hold that position, akin to the five-year clock for student-athletes.
Any additional enforcement/eligibility procedure for coaches would have major issues to be worked out. It slows down the violation process. It gives an additional incentive for coaches to lie. And how would it operate in a post-O’Brien world where schools are reluctant to fire coaches until the entire violation process is complete?
It also wouldn’t address one of the chief complaints about penalties for coaches vs. penalties for student-athletes: that coaches always seem to have a way out by jumping to a professional team. But maybe that perception will change now that it appears there is a growing trend of student-athletes leaving the NCAA for the professional ranks as soon as they decide intercollegiate athletics is no longer for them (I’ll have much more on that at a later date).
The cost of operating such a system seem greater than the benefits in this case. Most of that cost comes from what is lost by attempting to determine a coach’s culpability outside of the process that has more important questions about how that culpability affects the culpability of other institutional personal and ultimately the institution itself.
Whatever the solution that the NCAA membership comes up with, and it sounds from President Emmert’s comments that we’ll be asked to look at this issue soon, the problem of punishing coaches vs. student-athletes illustrates something greater. Many of these great debates or scathing criticisms are actually just debates about technicalities and details.
The problem in this case is not that the NCAA has draconian punishments for student-athletes and lets coaches get away with murder. It’s that the NCAA membership needs to reexamine how we use tools we already have and ensure these two processes are operating as fairly as possible, keeping in mind that fair doesn’t always mean identical.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.