There is an old axiom known by everyone: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. But (alleged) ignorance is often a perfectly good excuse within the context of NCAA litigation.
A huge majority of the ersatz “litigation” before the NCAA involves claims by one or more principals of the “accused” schools (usually head coaches) that they “didn’t know the rules.” The claims usually range from the mildly absurd to the patently outrageous. If, for example, you read Rich Rod’s claims about his alleged “ignorance of the rules”, in Michigan’s litigation before the NCAA last year, you had to guffaw, the claims were so outlandish — but also cringe (as you did when you watched Tressel similarly dissemble at his March press conference), at seeing a man shrink in stature, right before your eyes, as he lies inartfully and blatantly like a schoolboy.
And, in the context of NCAA litigation, which (as we have stated before) has about as much real-life heft as a college Inter-Fraternity Council assessing some claimed wrong-doing by a brother in one of its’ member chapters, these goofy “ignorance” claims consume a huge portion of the investigatory and adjudicative resources of NCAA enforcement, in which they make endless inquiry of every local Compliance staffer and coach, about what “was taught in class”, what was disseminated in emails and memos, and who failed in that local compliance setting. A cynical but accurate summary of many results is that the NCAA makes a straight-faced pronouncement that the school Compliance staff failed to properly educate. And then they announce seriously, as a “punitive” measure, that the transgressing Coach must attend a two-day NCAA compliance seminar!
This process, which is anything but State-of-the-Art, is set up to provide one more excuse for coaches and schools for violation of By-Laws. If the NCAA were truly serious about insuring compliance, they would Get Real, and centralize the rule/By-Law education process.
Require Coaches to be centrally “Compliance-Certified” by the NCAA; If the NCAA were really serious about insuring compliance, it would require that all coaches attend (either in person or even “virtually,” online) the NCAA’s own in-house (or privately available, content-reviewed and approved) Compliance education courses, which would educate and provide “Compliance Certification” to each individual coach. Thus, for example, any person newly designated as a Head Coach at a Division I school would be required to complete the one-week initial course, to get the required certification — and then to attend “refresher” two-day courses every 12 or 24 months.
This has many advantages. Right now, most of the investigation and adjudication by the NCAA involves much sturm and drang about what exactly was taught or not taught by the school’s Compliance department, what was actually absorbed or communicated to the individual coach, in an effort to solemnly determine “what exactly the coach knew” about rules and by-laws — with lengthy resulting written decisions by the NCAA, pronouncing gravely what exactly they believe happened within the school’s Compliance setting. All that nonsense is eliminated by the Certification Process: the NCAA just takes the position that they presume knowledge of the By- law. End of discussion.
This suggested new process is anything but new; in fact, it’s old hat, and is commonly accepted and implemented in almost every administrative system across the country. Most states require hairdressers, for crying out loud, to undergo certification and annual re-training.
And this Coach Certification eliminates some of the counterproductive tension which commonly runs between the school’s Compliance and Coaching staff. But, more to the point, it allows the NCAA to announce to all Coaches: get Certified, or your can ‘t serve as a coach – and, once you’re certified, we are going to presume, in any litigation of any charges, that you had complete knowledge of all rules covered by the Certification process.
The details can vary. The NCAA might even require that the Coach pass a test (just like a hairdresser has to) in order to get certified. Whatever. The NCAA could have the whole course online, so that a Coach doesn’t have to travel to take it. The process saves time and money.
In fact, the process is so simple that you wonder why the NCAA hasn’t ever thought of it. And then you recover your wits: they’ve surely already thought of it, it’s so obvious. But the NCAA’s interest is in having a whole lot of dithering around in fake-out investigation and litigation, to hide the fact that the NCAA goes to great lengths to avoid finding any By-law violation by members. The NCAA doesn’t want an efficient process which will maximize compliance.