The NCAA's enforcement staff handles thousands of tips and hundreds of cases on infractions every year
POSTED: 11:13 a.m. HST, May 19, 2014
The numbers pour from Jonathan Duncan in a torrent: “5,000 bylaws … 23 sports … 1,200 institutions … three divisions … 460,000 student-athletes … ”
Officially the NCAA vice president of enforcement, Duncan is, for all intents and purposes, the police chief of college athletics, and his beat stretches from Maine to Hawaii.
Duncan and a 60-member staff in Indianapolis are charged with investigating and bringing to justice those who skirt the bylaws contained in the association’s 417-page Division I Manual.
Who the NCAA is, what it does and how it operates have increasingly become topics of interest as the University of Hawaii men's basketball team has come under deeper scrutiny.
What began as an inquiry into an altered number on an official form for an incoming recruit in January and landed on the NCAA's desk in Indianapolis soon after has become a wide-ranging, two-month investigation, according to people familiar with the situation.
UH acknowledged "an ongoing NCAA investigation of potential rules violations" Saturday but declined additional comment.
Duncan and NCAA officials declined to address the UH case -- discussion is expressly forbidden under bylaw 19.01.3 -- but agreed to talk in general about their often-controversial organization, its mission and the enforcement process.
"I would boil it down this way: Our charge is to make sure the kids and coaches have a fighting chance to win any given contest knowing that the bylaws are uniformly enforced," Duncan said. "So that when they play on that football field and look across the field they know that they can win or lose the game based upon their talent and not because one side has an unfair advantage over the other."
That ideal helps generate nearly 6,000 tips and admissions of potential infractions each year, 5,000 of a secondary nature.
Schools are required to self-report violations they detect and, Duncan said, individuals, other coaches, staffers, athletes and competing schools also offer information. In addition, he said, the NCAA has its own sources in the industry and actively monitors social media and other forums.
Once information is received, the NCAA said its enforcement staff determines whether it is credible and whether an investigation should be undertaken.
Based upon information gathered by its enforcement staff, 57 percent of whom have law degrees and 40 percent of whom have been college athletes, "our staff decides whether to bring allegations and the investigative team makes recommendations to a larger allegation review board," Duncan said.
Nine months ago the NCAA adopted a four-tier system for classifying infractions, with Level I connoting "severe" followed by Level II ("significant"), Level III ("breach of conduct") and Level IV ("incidental").
The vast majority fall into Levels III and IV and, Duncan said, "get processed very quickly. We're down to about 30 days on those."
Major cases "with a dozen or more (Level I) allegations can sometimes take a year or more," Duncan said.
Currently, Duncan said, there are "over 100 cases that we are actively investigating. Not all cases are created equal. (For) some there are a lot of allegations and some there are fewer."
NCAA investigators lack subpoena power. "We have limited authority over a limited number of people in the industry and it would be helpful to have the (subpoena) power, I suppose," Duncan said. "It would be helpful to have full cooperation of everybody involved in a case, to be honest."
NCAA officials would not disclose the enforcement staff's budget.
The enforcement branch does not rule on the cases or mete out sanctions. That is the province of the Committee on Infractions, a 10- to 24-member group composed of people from NCAA schools and the public. The committee includes professors from Oregon, Missouri and Temple. Bobby Cremins, former basketball coach at Georgia Tech; Lloyd Carr, former football coach at Michigan; and the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also serve.
"This year alone ... we have submitted 58 allegations to the Committee on Infractions and that's across 12 cases,"Duncan said. "We're projecting at least 10 more by the end of the year. Those are just the major cases, Levels I and II."
UH has appeared on the NCAA radar during a period of significant changes to both the association's enforcement model and its staff, with increased efforts at streamlining and accountability. The NCAA enforcement process has been complicated, shrouded in secrecy and rarely addressed publicly until sanctions are handed down.
Small wonder Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, who chairs the Division I Committee on Infractions, said the process is widely misunderstood.
"I think the public views the NCAA as an organization that isn't an extension of its membership, but the truth of the matter is the rules are adopted by the members," said Banowsky, who would also not address the UH case but spoke in general terms about the enforcement process. "They weren't made up by the NCAA enforcement staff. The membership has charged the enforcement staff with enforcing the rules that are made by the membership, including the University of Hawaii."
Banowsky said, "I think the membership wants to have a meaningful enforcement arm of the NCAA do its job thoroughly and efficiently and not to have a protracted period between the start of an investigation and the conclusion. An extended period of time does harm to the university, primarily from a public relations standpoint."
In late 2012, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, which is made up of 18 university presidents and chancellors, approved changes in the classification of penalties (Levels I-IV), redefined "aggravating" and "mitigating" factors, and increased accountability for head coaches and penalty ranges that went into place nine months ago.
"The enforcement process has been revamped in hopes of making it more effective, more timely and a better collaboration of the relationship between the NCAA and the university, so the process can be more respectful of the university and more thoroughly implemented and administered," Banowsky said.
Enter the 43-year-old Duncan, a former competitive swimmer and soccer player who came to NCAA headquarters 14 months ago as an interim VP and an agent of change during a period of turmoil and NCAA reexamination.
In the wake of a badly bungled investigation of the University of Miami and a critical independent study, Julie Roe Lach was forced out as the head of enforcement after just two years. More than a dozen staffers departed.
Duncan, who had spent 15 years as an outside counsel to the NCAA while working for Kansas City law firms, was named interim vice president and given 18 months to make headway.
But after 12 months, he was given the position full-time last month.
"I think he's been a really effective leader," Banowsky said. "I think he understands (the challenges)."
Duncan mandated additional training in several facets of the job for investigators, a more thorough grounding in the association's rules and sensitivity to the membership.
"It is not an easy job, but I think he's doing a good job," Banowsky said.
"(NCAA) enforcement has been going on for a long, long time, 50 years -- or more -- and it is still evolving."