“Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of achieving a free society.”
- Felix Frankfurter, former Supreme Court Justice
For a long time, the high watermark of NCAA investigation was the federal authorities. When the feds began sniffing around allegation of NCAA wrongdoing, it felt like only a matter of time before the case would be blown wide open. While it was over three years before the University of Southern California would appear before the Committee on Infractions, the fact that federal investigators were poking around the case as part of an extortion investigation made it seem more likely the original Reggie Bush report would result in NCAA sanctions.
Those two articles are just some of the many signs that there’s a new sheriff in town. Yahoo! Sports has proven to be stunningly, almost supernaturally good at uncovering NCAA violations by some of the biggest athletic departments in the country. They are the poster child, but they aren’t alone. While not in the field of compliance, Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com was in front of every move the Big 12 made during this summer’s conference reshuffling.
It’s only natural for compliance officers to have mixed feelings about the Yahoo! Sports team, and it’s hard to begrudge those that are hostile. When a reporter finds out about a potential violation before the compliance office does, it looks bad. There’s plenty of good reasons for it though. Maybe a source that wouldn’t speak to the compliance office will talk to a reporter. A compliance office has little reason to audit a coach’s emails due to the relatively loose rules, but a journalist might have a tip.
There’s also the feeling that the NCAA is “outsourcing” its enforcement responsibilities to the media. This means that larger schools are perceived to be targets because they bring more eyeballs and ad dollars. It also means that public schools, subject to open records laws, are at a disadvantage to private schools, who generally get to keep their documents under wraps.
As foolish as a compliance office might look, sometimes they are ahead of the media. While Yahoo! Sports gets the credit for being the first to report allegations that Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel knew of his student-athletes receipt of extra benefits long before the violation was reported, the university had been on the case for almost two months at that point and was preparing a self-report of the violation.
Ultimately the team at Yahoo! Sports is a force of good in college athletics. The uncovering of violations and the sanctioning of offenders helps fix what is broken (sub. req’d) no matter who starts the process. We know that the NCAA and its members haven’t punted enforcement to the media and many talented and dedicated people are working from the inside. Outside help shouldn’t be turned away.
Plus the team at Yahoo! Sports is just like us compliance folk. How did the string of agent extra benefit violations this summer come to pass? Through the cultivating of sources by the Agents, Gambling, and Amateurism staff. Journalists aren’t getting this done with subpoena power and criminal charges. They aren’t using any tool that a compliance office doesn’t have at their disposal.
Instead of reacting to Dan Wetzel, Charles Robinson, Jason King, and the many others as threats, see them as a challenge. So avoid the feelings of schadenfreude when another school is in the media’s sights. And when the call comes to your school, accept that it will be good for college athletics in the long run and take the medicine, as bitter as it may taste.
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.