The NCAA violations at Miami, North Carolina, Ohio State and several other schools in the past decade have alerted fans, coaches and administrators alike that the compliance industry in college football is of primary importance. The strategies to prevent such breakdowns in the future are many, and while none is a cure-all, the various ideas provide a framework for cleaning up the sport’s act in the coming years.
Some of the changes that have been recommended are big ones that could reweave the entire fabric of college sports.
“For 90 percent of the sports that the NCAA governs, it works very well,” Charles Robinson, the Yahoo! Sports writer who broke the story about violations at Miami, said. “The way [football players] are being compensated now creates that gray area. It creates that sort of landscape, it creates that real estate where impropriety can occur…. Maybe we’re going to pay athletes in college football and college basketball.”
Deputy Director of Athletics Chris Kennedy disagrees with Robinson’s notion that paying the players from the vast program revenues is the only way to eliminate infractions.
“The day that we start paying players,” Kennedy said, “is the day I get out of the business.”
Changing the structure of the NCAA is a big-picture solution, but Duke exemplifies an institution that has applied smaller-scale preventative measures in order to mitigate the risks of potential third-party involvement in the football program.
First, though head coach David Cutcliffe knows he has to make scholarship offers to prospects early in the process if he hopes to attract their attention, those offers are far from unconditional.
“We’ll offer ‘contingent upon,’ and we make sure they understand,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not in fine print. It’s in big print. Contingent upon academic performance, social performance, high-school coach recommendations…. And that’s in our offer stuff. If your recommendations suddenly turn sour, the deal’s off.”
Once they get to campus, all Duke scholarship athletes are required to fill out what Kennedy called “car and job forms” every year, which provide the athletic department with information about two potential areas where NCAA infractions are often found.
“What car are you driving?” he said. “Who is it registered to? How is it being paid for? What job did you have this summer? What were you paid? And so on and so forth, so that if somebody calls up and says that so-and-so is driving a Porsche, we can pull up the form and he’s [listed as] driving a 1998 Chevy ‘Clunker’, and maybe borrowed a fellow student’s Porsche.”
This is just one of the ways that, according to Kennedy, the department and the coaching staff keep a vigilant eye toward any suspicious activity surrounding the program. Then, for the players who harbor professional aspirations, the athletic department has strategies in place to steer them toward the right representatives.
“For almost thirty years, ever since it was permissible, we’ve had this career counseling panel, which helps players pick agents,” Kennedy said. “One of the impacts of that is it’s a deterrent for the worst of the agents. They know they have to be scrutinized by Paul Haagen, [senior associate dean for academic affairs at Duke Law] and me and whoever else is on the panel at the time, and then we make them register. We’re going to look into their past. That’s served as kind of a filter, so that the agents who have been interested in our players have for the most part tended to be the most honest and reputable of the bunch. And the feeling out there is that if you’re a guy who wants to buy a player, it’s not going to work here.”
But all the strategy in the world cannot completely eradicate the chance that a player at some point decides to allow himself to be influenced by a malicious third party. Kennedy acknowledges that violations and infractions can occur anywhere.
“When the lacrosse thing blew up here in 2006, I got a lot of phone calls from lacrosse coaches at other schools saying, ‘That could’ve just as easily happened to me,’” Kennedy said. “You try to demonstrate to the NCAA that you did everything you reasonably could have done to prevent this from happening, and it was the individual action of this person and not a systematic breakdown.”