NCAA addresses Cam Newton's eligibility: The Auburn football student-athlete is immediately eligible to compete, but Auburn limits his father’s athletic access. Read more »
Many in the media and public have drawn comparisons between recent high-profile NCAA decisions while ignoring the important differences among the cases. There is a purposeful distinction between determining student-athlete responsibility through an eligibility decision and university culpability through the infractions process. Universities are accountable for rules violations through the infractions process.
Student-athletes are responsible for rules violations through the eligibility process.
Reinstatement decisions are independent of the NCAA enforcement process and typically are made once the facts of the student-athlete’s involvement are determined. The reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation.
“The enforcement staff investigates all types of rules violations,” said Julie Roe Lach, NCAA vice president of enforcement. “Some of these investigations affect student-athlete eligibility and others do not. The investigation does not stop with a student-athlete eligibility issue, but school officials must address it as soon as they are aware of the violations.”
The NCAA looks at each student-athlete eligibility decision based on its merits, because no two are identical. In the Cam Newton reinstatement case, there was not sufficient evidence available to establish he had any knowledge of his father’s actions and there was no indication he actually received any impermissible benefit. If a student-athlete does not receive tangible benefits, that is a different situation from a student-athlete or family member who receives cash, housing or other benefits or knowingly competes and is compensated as a professional athlete.
“As the reinstatement staff reviews eligibility cases, we must review each case based on its own merits and the specific facts,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.
“During the decision, we must examine a number of factors, including guidelines established by our membership for what conditions should be applied based on the nature and scope of the violation. We also carefully consider any mitigating factors presented by the university to determine if relief from the guidelines should be provided.”
While comparisons may be human nature, they should at least be made based on the facts.
“We recognize that many people are outraged at the notion that a parent or anyone else could 'shop around’ a student-athlete and there would possibly not be repercussions on the student-athlete’s eligibility.
I’m committed to further clarifying and strengthening our recruiting and amateurism rules so they promote appropriate behavior by students, parents, coaches and third parties. We will work aggressively with our members to amend our bylaws so that this type of behavior is not a part of intercollegiate athletics.”
The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement process is a long-standing procedure developed by the membership and followed by the staff and membership alike.
Jennifer Henderson, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement, explains how cases are handled.
Question: Explain the student-athlete reinstatement process.
Answer: It always begins with the institution acknowledging that a rule has been violated. The school, not the NCAA, declares the student ineligible after citing a specific bylaw that has been violated. Bylaw 14.11 states that once an institution knows that a violation exists, school officials are obligated to report it. It is an obligation of membership.
Once the school does that, officials have to decide whether to seek reinstatement. In some instances a school will not seek reinstatement because the student-athlete did something against the advice from the institution. In the event that a school wants to seek reinstatement, officials submit the circumstances of the case and any mitigation to the NCAA reinstatement staff explaining why the violation occurred and addressing the student’s culpability. The staff then makes a decision, which can be appealed to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, composed of representatives from NCAA colleges, universities and conference offices.
Q: What is the timeline?
A: We try to be as timely and as thorough as possible. Sometimes decisions are rendered in one day and other times it takes longer given the complexity of the matter. In all cases, the staff is aware of the next date of competition for the student and does everything possible to render a decision before that date.
Q: What is considered mitigation that might distinguish one reinstatement case from another?
A: There are several factors, which may include the nature and scope of the violation, the assessed culpability of the student, the source of the benefits, and whether benefits were actually received by the student. Again, each case is unique and specific to each student.
Q: What is the difference between student-athlete reinstatement and initial eligibility?
A: An initial-eligibility case is one in which a student has failed to meet the minimum academic requirements of either Division I or II. That’s not a violation of rules – it’s a failure to meet minimum standards. That has a separate waiver process. A reinstatement case is one in which a student has been involved with a violation of NCAA rules and therefore has to be reinstated. The critical thing is that, in making either type of decision, we have all the necessary and relevant pieces of information.
Q: What’s the difference between the enforcement process and student-athlete reinstatement process?
A: They run independently of each other. The reinstatement process is dealing with the individual student-athlete and his or her eligibility. The enforcement process focuses on institutional involvement or culpability. At times, the student-athlete eligibility issues become ripe within the context of an enforcement investigation. When this occurs, the school and the enforcement staff agree upon facts that are then presented to the reinstatement staff specific to the student-athlete’s eligibility.
Q: Why do we not make all of our information public?
A: Protecting student-athletes’ privacy rights is always the NCAA’s top concern.