Collegiate Athletics: Compliance 101

by TideGP (follow me on Twitter @TideGP)


If you’re a sports fan, you know the airwaves and the social networks have been abuzz over the latest rounds of disciplinary and enforcement actions and investigations handed down by the NCAA.  Ohio State, Georgia Tech, BOTH of last years BCS contenders: Auburn and Oregon, top the list of programs recently or currently under NCAA scrutiny.  While the spotlight is mainly on the stars of these schools dramas; the players involved, coaches and athletic directors, the understudy in the wings are the compliance departments. 

While the specific role a university’s Compliance Dept. holds within the Athletic Dept. varies from school to school, there are certain common elements.  In a nutshell, a  school’s  compliance department and compliance team is responsible for:

  • Understanding and keeping current with NCAA and the school’s member Conference rules and regulations
  • Educating the athletes, boosters and members of the athletic department on those rules
  • Implementing internal policies and procedures to adhere to those rules
  • Investigating potential rules violations
  • Interpreting regulations and the “spirit of the regulations” to determine if a rules violation has occurred
  • Reporting any concerns or rules violations to designated school officials
  • Acting as liaison with regulatory bodies day-to-day

You might compare compliance to a person’s immunity system.  Both are the first line of defense to a problem.  When they are operating well, functioning effectively and efficiently, everyone’s happy, healthy and content.  The athletic department can focus on the daily tasks of collegiate athletics; practice, recruiting, rosters, etc.  The individual can focus on the daily tasks of life; job, family, exercise,  hobbies, etc.  Just as the human body doesn’t perform well when it’s sick, athletic departments don’t operate as efficiently with the spectre of a regulatory investigation looming. 

The best compliance departments understand that their role is to operate quietly in the background and shield the athletic department, the athletes and the school  from problems.  It’s a thankless job.  No gives much thought to compliance until there’s an issue, and when there are compliance issues, all hell breaks loose.  Rosters may have to be revamped, players are distracted, performance suffers, recruiting may be affected.

That said, it’s very interesting to see how different schools approach the task of their internal compliance.  How large is their staff?  Who is chosen to be included in the staff?  What role, if any, do the athletic director and coaches have with compliance?  Do their policies lend themselves to transparency in how they deal with investigating potential rules violations, or does it seem that they sweep problems under the rug? Are they proactive or reactive? 

The answer to these questions is ultimately at the discretion of the school, its board of directors, athletic department and fans.  To be fair, there’s no one right way to implement compliance, but it’s obvious that while some schools seem able to find the balance between staying diligent and maintaining successful athletic programs, other schools seem to believe that a trade-off is necessary for their programs to succeed. 

Some schools have 20 people listed on their compliance staff, others have as few as four.  There’s no mandate on the minimum or maximum staff size, but it does make you wonder if there’s a correlation to staff size vs. how seriously an institution is towards adhering to collegiate athletic rules.

So what’s it going to take to whip schools with reputations of running shady athletic programs into shape?  I don’t know that there’s an answer. I guess it may depend on how “sick” they get the next time there’s a problem, and what prescription Dr. NCAA writes for a cure.


~ by Gut Check Admin on July 29, 2011.

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