NCAA makes significant rule changes, coaches now accountable

By REED NELSON

Back in August 2011, with the NCAA bracing for yet another season fraught with inevitable reputation-smearing rule violations, the board began debating ways in which they could effectively curtail the behavior.

As the NCAA has never been a pillar of efficiency, however, these talks lasted quite a while. Penn State happened. Then it kept happening. The rules needed a face lift, but they took a back seat to more pressing issues. Months passed, then a year.

On Tuesday morning, however, NCAA president Mark Emmert dropped the long-awaited bombshell on the intercollegiate community, announcing a new enforcement structure that promises more clarity, swifter action and harsher punishment for violators. And it will take effect on Aug. 1, 2013.

Only it won’t. The new enforcement structure starts today. Like, now. And in accordance with the new format, all future violators, even those that commit infractions prior to the Aug. 1 inception date, will be subject to the new rules.

So much for clarity, but that wasn’t really the NCAA’s thing to begin with.

Under the new structure, violations will be lumped into one of four tiers within a “violation hierarchy” — Severe breech of conduct, significant breaches of conduct, breaches of conduct and incidental issues — which is a significant improvement over the arcane and limiting “two-tier” system currently in place1.

In order to swiftly process these cases, the board has approved a measure that will increase the number of infractions committee members to 24, up from just 10.

And lastly, and most importantly, the NCAA has placed the onus of responsibility upon the coaches. Emmert, that crafty dude, flipped the requirements for burden of proof: Instead of necessitating proof that a coach knew what was happening in his program, the committee now runs under the presumption that, aware or not, they are responsible for the actions of the subordinates, and an innocent finding would necessitate proof that a coach truly didn’t have any knowledge of the alleged wrong doing. If he can’t prove ignorance, then a coach would face a suspension from one game to the full season, depending on severity.

But the possibility of suspension isn’t the only punitive bazooka that the NCAA keeps strapped to its back: They now have the ability to level financial penalties akin to Penn State, as well as similar postseason bans.

Is this overhaul reactionary? Of course it is, that’s how things work, but that’s a topic for a different forum. Would it have prevented the Penn State fiasco from becoming an unbleachable stain on the increasingly splotchy blouse of college football? No, probably not. But it sure was time for a change. And slowly, the NCAA appears to be finally getting it.

Left out of the referendum were celebration penalties and those targeting more emotive athletes. Gone is the Hammurabi-style classification of violation. Abandoned is the notion that coaches have deniability for undoubtedly culpable behavior, which — after Ole Miss was forced to meander on in to the 20th Century in the fall of 1962 — was the most fictitious notion left in college football.

Under the new rules, are just simply held responsible. From the NCAA’s release (via ncaa.org):

Penalties in the previous structure relied on whether the head coach knew of the violations or whether there was a “presumption of knowledge.” But under the new structure, rather than focus on knowledge or the presumption of it, the bylaw will be amended to presume only responsibility. Accordingly, if a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.

Why is this so important? College football coaches are perfectionists. They’re slightly psychotic, the good one’s are universally relatable, but most of all, they’re control freaks. Most coaches can tell you the name of the kid who fills the water bottles during practice. They can tell you the number of snaps their third-string quarterback took from under center as a high school sophomore. They know what fast food restaurant their offensive line prefers. I’ve even met one who asked about a clip board one of his assistants was holding. Seriously. He didn’t recognize the clip board.

Some don’t even allow members of the media into practices. They say the policy is to protect their gameplans, but it probably has more to do with the ability to micromanage a program in all areas. If you unleash one interview-savvy reporter on an unsuspecting player in a post-practice media scrum, you’ve already lost control2.

Joe Paterno was not a clueless old man. Jim Tressel left a paper trail. Bruce Pearl invited the recruits to his own damn house. These guys are some of the savviest strategists on the planet, in any realm, they have to be. I don’t buy the notion that they let even one iota of information slip through their program unchecked, ever. After all, it would be tactical suicide.

That is why, above all the all other ratifications, rectifications and YouTube-televised articulations, the Responsibility Clause is the most important.

Granted, it will be nice for a program to be tried and charged (or not charged) within a decade of the infraction. And yes, the severity distinction within penalty classification is refreshing, progressive and surprisingly Californian (it’s medicinal, bro…). But it doesn’t come close to this strange notion of accountability at the top.

A college coach that isn’t a control freak is like a dog who isn’t really into sniffing butts, a teenage girl not really into shopping, a 12-year-old boy not into touching himself. They are like a Hollywood producer who let’s the director win or a weightlifter who doesn’t own a mirror. They don’t exist. If they do, they aren’t around for long.

Yesterday, Emmert put the NCAA’s control freaks on blast. From here on out, they have only themselves to blame.

Footnotes

  • Plus, they’ve added this for Tier IV: “Minor infractions that are inadvertent and isolated, technical in nature and result in a negligible, if any, competitive advantage. Level IV infractions generally will not affect eligibility for intercollegiate athletics.” Common sense, you say? Why, yes! Jump.
  • Like, for instance, a guy like Matt Charboneau, the Detroit News’ awesome Michigan State beat writer. He got Andrew Maxwell to challenge him to a 100-yard sprint (a gasser) within three questions following the Spartans’ first spring practice. Once that happens, you’ve lost control.Jump


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