INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA enforcement may be going private – at least private investigator.
As the NCAA’s most feared division reinvents itself, that little nugget emerged during my recent conversation with enforcement director Julie Roe Lach. She has been with the NCAA for 14 years. But it was the last 12 months or so that have been the most challenging, with seemingly a scandal a week.
“It was constant,” she said
As part of a new streamlined approach, the NCAA might indeed use private investigators on a contract basis to observe subjects.
“Literally, if they could mobilize someone in a matter of hours as opposed to us putting someone on a plane it’s a timeliness issue,” Roe Lach said. “That, to me, is where we need to stay ahead of the curve.”
Proactive is a term seldom attached to the enforcement division. Last year’s test of the association’s ability to police itself comes at the same time the NCAA is trying to downsize its 436-page manual.
The NCAA has become more open, more accessible, more understandable. Last year, Roe Lach’s department conducted an all-day Enforcement Experience exercise for media. The idea is to communicate that enforcement is going to be more efficient, more streamlined.
“Are people going to expect that more is going to be permissible? …,” said Roe Lach, 35. “Should we publish a list of all the schools we’re investigating? I don’t know if we’re going there.”
The NCAA last week released a set of proposed enhanced penalties that could be in effect later this year. CBSSports.com’s Bryan Fischer first published a version of those documents on Jan. 15.
As a part of that, Roe Lach said her division may begin contracting with private investigators for selected surveillance missions. Jim Rockford used to charge $200 a day plus expenses. Will the NCAA go there in hiring out investigative contractors?
“We could. Our bylaws don’t preclude it,” Roe Lach said. “We’d have to be very careful how we do it.”
As long as the NCAA gets it right. With only 55 persons in enforcement – 30-something on the street – enforcement can never catch all the outlaws. But told her department needed more vigilance in football, the NCAA hired former homicide Bill Benjamin to head a new football enforcement division.
“If we get wind that a booster is employing student-athletes or an agent is too connected we’ll just go and watch foot traffic,” Roe Lach said. “It’s not like we’re out there stalking people.
“We’ve definitely conducted surveillance recently. Is it a better use of our resources to contract out surveillance?”
Here’s a quick Q&A with Lach …
CBSSports.com: The NCAA seems to be more open under president Mark Emmert. To the point that Cam Newton’s father was called out, the media is engaged on subjects and enforcement is more of a transparent process.
Roe Lach: “Probably because I think that’s President Emmert’s philosophy. First, the challenge is to take an honest look at where can we have more transparency. We also recognize there are some times we can’t be transparent about either because federal law says so or there is a greater interest at stake.
“I don’t think the default is no longer, ‘We can’t say anything.’ “
CBSSports.com: Talking to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he agreed whole-heartedly with the intent of the Penn State letter to possibly investigate the school in light of the Sandusky matter. Where is your department on that right now?
Roe Lach: “Right now, and I can say this because it’s been stated publicly, the Penn State letter was framed very specifically as from the president’s office. It’s really at an inquiry or information gathering stage and if the NCAA should take some sort of action. If the answer is yes … the next question is how?
“Is this an enforcement action or is there some other action that doesn’t currently exist that needs to be examined?”
CBSSports.com: Was there a border crossed there? The Sandusky case is a legal matter.
Roe Lach: “Historically, legal matters are dealt with through the criminal system … There are times when criminal action also violates NCAA rules. There was a Division II case where a coach was providing a prescription drugs to student-athlete. I don’t know if that is legal.”
CBSSports.com: But even that is different from the Sandusky case.
Roe Lach: “You’re right. Typically, criminal issues are separate from NCAA issues but not always. Especially on the gambling front. That’s why we try to have relationships with the FBI and other agencies.
“The larger issue at play … is what’s the culture here going on in the athletics department? Does that somehow tie into how the athletic department exercises institutional control? President Emmert’s letter opened the door for that discussion.”
CBSSports.com: Does that mean every similar case like that is going to end up on your desk?
Roe Lach: “I don’t think so. The larger issue is, do you have NCAA violations that may not be as clear? But you could make the argument that those are part of the culture that undermines institutional control. That the athletic department is not really being controlled by the school.”
CBSSports.com: Couldn’t you just wait for the courts to play out?
Roe Lach: “Sometimes that’s what we have to do … It’s not necessarily a wait-and-see approach either.”
CBSSports.com: There has been an addition of a director of enforcement for football, Bill Benjamin. What does that entail?
Roe Lach: “I was with the head football coaches (at the coaches’ convention) … We had heard from them, ‘Hey, here are our concerns [about enforcement].’ … That helped really to support the move to move staff to football.
“Part of their push to us has been we need to increase the penalties for secondary violations and suspend some coaches. They’ve also met with the Committee on Infractions and want to ramp up the penalties on football cases.
“To me that’s the first time a coaches’ association has stepped forward and said, ‘We want you to do more to us.’ “
CBSSports.com: Dr. Emmert told me in November in the middle of the investigation that Miami had been ‘extraordinarily cooperative.’ That’s the first time I’d heard anyone from the NCAA say anything like that in the middle of an NCAA investigation. Your reaction.
Roe Lach: “We don’t typically comment on cooperation but this goes back to the other discussion. That’s not a confidential issue. In the past we probably took a conservative approach. If a school is really stepping up and cooperating and taking some heat … sometimes it helps for them to be recognized by us.”
CBSSports.com: Does that make things uncomfortable if, in the end, Miami gets hammered?
Roe Lach: “I’ve been in hearing rooms where we’ve said, ‘This is an extremely serious case – if not the most – close to it [but] the school did everything within their control once they found out about these serious violations …
“The appeals committee message has been: You need to give some credit in the penalty phase … You need to factor that his. Where the committee has tried to land is, there is an obligation of cooperation. You shouldn’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do. There is a philosophical disagreement about that within the membership.”
CBSSports.com: How is the shrinking of the manual coming?
Roe Lach: “Sometimes you feel like it’s two steps forward, one step back. Right when you think you’ve got a ground-breaking idea … then 10 more unanswered questions pop up. It’s so hard for people to get their arms around less regulation and how does that affect coaches and schools.”
CBSSports.com: Can this year be better than 2012? Perhaps less work?
Roe Lach: “We’re just trying to continue our progress in terms of knowing what’s going on. If people are breaking the rules, we’re upholding integrity by enforcing them.”