Keeping Up With Compliance

This story will appear in the February issue of eDuck Magazine. The timeliness of the story is important for all Duck fans, boosters and alumni.

The August 1, 2004 edition of the NCAA Division I Rules and Bylaws Manual found at spans 504 pages and takes up 2.44 Mb of space in an Acrobat Reader file. Its sections include its Constitution, Operating Bylaws and Administrative Bylaws. It is a complicated and comprehensive treatise of the past year's legislative actions taken by the NCAA Division I board of directors with interpretations identified by the Division I academics/eligibility/compliance subcommittee. It discusses 16 separate principles for conduct of intercollegiate athletics ranging from institutional control and responsibility to academic standards and amateurism to governance of recruiting, eligibility, financial aid, playing and practice seasons and postseason competition.

It is not light reading and requires a team of legal experts from within the University of Oregon Athletic Department to study and decipher the manual's import and provide rules interpretations and guidance to coaches and other department and university personnel.

"It is our responsibility in the compliance office to correctly interpret the rules for the university including any gray areas between the lines," says Bill Clever University of Oregon assistant athletic director. "It is a dynamic and interactive process as the rules are updated every year and occasionally during the year. We use an on-line database of over 10,000 different interpretations to assist us and attend regional rules seminars hosted annually by the NCAA."

Clever, an attorney by profession, joins Gary Gray, associate athletic director, Leanne Pascua, initial-eligibility coordinator and John Lucier, grant-in-aid coordinator in the compliance office.

"Our role is not only to monitor what our coaches and staff do in terms of conducting themselves in accordance with the rules, but to look at what is coming down the pike in regard to new rules, changes or developments that could impact future compliance," continues Clever."

And, what is the purpose for all this oversight and administration?

To ensure that the university doesn't become incompliant with the NCAA rules legislation evoking disciplinary actions that could debilitate the athletic program, department and university. Violations can range from simple secondary infractions to major infractions all the way up to the so-called "death penalty". The "death penalty" applies to a member institution that repeatedly commits major infractions within a 5-year period regardless of sport. Such an offender could be subject to any or all of the following penalties generally for a period of two years: prohibition of competition within a named sport, elimination of grants-in-aid and recuiting activities, resignation of the institution's staff serving on NCAA executive committees and councils and the relinquishment of voting privileges within the association for four years.

"I tend to think of a secondary (infraction) as a misdemeanor and a major infraction as a felony," says Clever. "The vast majority of violations committed are secondary infractions that are voluntarily reported. Typically, they are isolated incidences, or inadvertent, and didn't provide any undue advantage. Most secondary infractions are related to Bylaw 13 (recruiting) and Bylaw 16 (awards and benefits)."

According to Clever, many secondary infractions appear to be perfectly innocent and harmless in nature. For example, according to the rules, high school athletic prospects are not allowed to receive recruiting letters prior to September 1 at the beginning of their junior year. As circumstance might have it, a player's graduation date may be incorrectly stated on a list or form that was used to compile a recruiting mailing list. This could occur because of a typo or a high school coach or a player's friend or relative incorrectly filled out a form at a football camp or any number of other ways. The result: the prospect prematurely receives a recruiting letter constituting a secondary infraction for the university.

"We average about 20 secondary infractions per year but that's indicative of a healthy compliance program," says Clever. " What they (the NCAA) want is that we are actively monitoring and pursuing all violations."

Since the NCAA began recording such infractions, the University of Oregon has only been cited with two major infractions according to Clever. The first occurred in 1981 and involved improper recruiting entertainment and inducements. The second infraction was recorded in June of 2004 and involved a single assistant coach and a single prospect and principally pertained to the improper administration of a national letter of intent over a two-day period in January 2003. For this latest infraction, the school is presently serving a two-year probation.

"Overall I think we have a good record and it's a result of several factors," says Clever. "Our culture in the athletic department, as established by Gary Gray and Bill Moos and others, is to follow the rules. This attitude is extended to department staff and to boosters as well. Many of the calls we field are from boosters. They want to do what's right. We also have a good system in place to monitor recruiting activities and the fact that Eugene is relatively isolated also helps in regards to the presence and contact of agents for example."

Boosters are perhaps the most uncontrollable element in the world of compliance. In their enthusiasm to support their favorite school or the student-athletes they admire, a booster may knowingly or unknowingly cross the line and become involved in activities that might precipitate a violation to a university. If you own a shoe store why not give players from your favorite college team free sneakers or additional price discounts? If you own an apartment building what harm could come in giving special rent concessions to players in exchange for complimentary game tickets? If you saw a local prep athlete's photograph on your favorite website, why not approach the player when you recognize him on the street and try to convince him to play ball for your alma mater? On the surface these booster interactions with student athletes all might appear to be harmless enough, yet every one of them has resulted in a NCAA infraction.

Unfortunately for boosters, a legal team to interpret the NCAA Rules and Bylaws Manual isn't always at their disposal to guide them. The University of Oregon has provided season ticket holders and others a short synopsis on NCAA rules primarily directed at educating boosters on Bylaws 13 and 16 regarding recruiting and student athlete benefits which probably are the most relevant, but ensuring that boosters comply with NCAA rules is still a challenge. Some boosters don't even know that they are boosters and therefore don't believe that their conduct in regards to collegiate athletics applies to NCAA rules. Understanding whether you are a booster is the first step in understanding your responsibilities. You are likely a booster if you can answer yes to any of the following questions: Have you participated in or been a member of any organization that promotes the athletics of a college? Have you ever made financial contributions to a collegiate athletic program or any affiliated organizations? Have you ever provided any benefit, for example a job, to a college student athlete or their families? Have you ever assisted college athletic staff in the recruitment of a prospective student athlete? Have you ever been involved in promoting a college athletic program?

Boosters might not fully appreciate the repercussions regarding them personally should they get entangled in NCAA rules violation and enforcement. The NCAA recognizes boosters as representatives of a member institution's athletic interests. If a booster is named in a violation the NCAA may apply a show cause requirement that often requires that the institution disassociate that individual from its athletics program(s). This disassociation may be imposed on a permanent basis – sort of a "death penalty" for boosters.

With the advent of the Internet, boosters have been given access to more detailed and timely recruiting information than ever before such as a prospective recruit's name, photograph, contact information, family situation, standardized test scores, favorite colleges, official visit dates and other information. This widespread dissemination of information concerning prospective student athletes can provide more opportunities for boosters to run afoul of the rules. For example, if a nationally recruited prep star walks through a shopping mall today there is a greater chance that a booster might recognize the player than in the years past and that recognition could possibly lead to inappropriate contact between a booster and a recruit.

"Certainly no contact would be best," says Clever. "But, that is not always realistic. The important thing is to not attempt to recruit the kid or promote an athletic program to him."

As boosters get more Internet savvy they may also start their own websites or contribute to other websites as a way to more closely follow their favorite teams. This might lead to boosters inappropriately contacting recruits in the interest of providing content for those sites.

"There is concern that some Internet sites that report on recruiting and contact prospective collegiate athletes are not legitimate media outlets but operate more along the lines of a booster," says Clever.

Again, there are a number of pertinent questions you can ask yourself concerning whether your Internet site falls into the booster category. For example, does the school(s) you follow recognize you or your site as legitimate working media and provide you with press credentials to attend athletic events? Do you practice objective reporting and are you or your employees trained in the vocation? Is your website a legitimate business that is recognized by the state in which you operate? Do you publish in other formats such as a monthly magazine or weekly newspaper in addition to your website? Are you affiliated with other media organizations? These and other questions can help to identify your correct standing, and if you have any doubts you can always contact a school's compliance office or the NCAA.

"The Internet has changed recruiting not only for the players and coaches but from the perspective of compliance," says Clever. "We have to find ways to work within the rules. Recruiting discussions and speculation among boosters on the Internet sites is generally OK. It's when boosters start to insert themselves or contact a prospective collegiate student athlete and try to impact where that person will attend college that (violations) occur."

Clever indicates that parents of student collegiate athletes and prospective student athletes can subscribe to booster Internet sites and join in the fan-based banter as long as participation doesn't cross the line of overtly recruiting for a particular university. Furthermore, it is permissible for prospective collegiate athletes to contact and recruit fellow prospective collegiate athletes, but not at the behest of a school's coaches or recruiting staff. The players should also have some history between them such as meeting during an official recruiting visit or at a game or training camp or similar event.

"The important point for boosters to remember when conversing with parents on the Internet is to not try and recruit the parent or the child through the parent," says Clever. "Don't mention things such as ‘we have the number one business school,' or ‘our stadium is a consistent sell out,' or anything that could be construed as promoting the school. However, it is perfectly acceptable to say ‘welcome to the family.'"

Although one might think that the Internet has proven to be more of a nuisance to the compliance office, according to Clever it has also provided some benefits.

"The Internet also provides a gateway for us to monitor our program," says Clever. "After an official (recruiting) visit, it helps to read what happened from the perspective of the recruit. We look for statements such as ‘Oregon's been recruiting me since I was a freshman," or "it was great to get picked up in the Nike jet.'"

Herein represents the gray area in the practice of compliance. Did the Internet reporter incorrectly quote the student athlete? Did the student athlete mistake the chartered jet that transported him to and from Eugene as a Nike jet? Did someone affiliated with the university put that thought into his head? Has a coach really been inappropriately contacting a player since the ninth grade? And so on.

In the final analysis rules and compliance are necessities in the amateur sports environment. According to the NCAA, it is an association of colleges and universities with legislation created by the members for the members. The enforcement process is an integral part of the process to ensure integrity and fair play among the members. One of the fundamental principles of the enforcement process is to ensure that those institutions that are abiding by NCAA legislation are not disadvantaged by its commitment to rules compliance.

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