For years the NCAA enforcement lay supine; every now and it roused itself to take action, but never systematic and patterned. The enforcement staff remained a well intentioned backwater and with remarkable indifferent leadership and mediocre competence. My own experience arises from watching them botch a sure case against Washington coach Rick Neuheisel by not following their own rules. They turned a strong case into a multimillion dollar settlement with a corrupt coach on the basis of slipshod work. Programs worried about investigations but seldom feared them.
The new NCAA President Emmert can change this by building on the USC success. He is radically altering the enforcement leadership structures. Its number of investigators risen from 23 from 12 in five years. The NCAA SWAT team to investigate the cesspool of college basketball recruiting and AAU teams doubled. Emmert has made clear that he will continue to beef up the staff. More importantly he has removed the obstacle to hiring a higher quality more aggressive staff and legal counsel. The NCAA has been hamstrung by mediocre legal quality of its own staff and its outside representation for years.
Increasing staff quality, quantity and competence is critical. Emmert has made clear that even if he cuts the NCAA's staff, he will not touch enforcement. But that is only half the equation. The NCAA must create serious program wrecking penalties.
USC is the harbinger. The penalties put superstar coaches on notice that no one is immune. More importantly it let them know that not only will the NCAA "vacate" titles and games, but will aggressively chop scholarships. The vacated games did not matter to Florida State; the vacated games and title did not matter to Pete Carroll after he left USC. The vacated games and titles certainly have not stopped John Calipari. No the vacated games are only a start; Take away bowls, deny championships and above all reduce scholarships and take away TV money; these strike at the heart of a program's ability to sustain itself against other ferocious competitors.
Another key for the new NCAA approach will be absolute accountability for head coaches. They all claim it for themselves to garner high salaries and adulation for their successes. But when something bad happens, suddenly the all knowing coaches fall into denial mode. The "who me" "I didn't know" attitudes pervade college sports. Just watch the comments of Rich Rodriquez at Michigan; Pete Carroll of USC or Butch Davis as North Carolina splinters.
The NCAA must demand absolute accountability from coaches. Creating a portfolio of a coach's history of academics and violations just dips into the water; if the coach wins. It will be good to have a public record of academic and compliance success or failure. But no penalties attach to coaches. And no penalties follow them. To be blunt, if they win, they will be hired again regardless of the portfolio.
This new accountability that puts whole programs at risk will force coaches to follow up their own rhetoric. This kind of program future accountability will also force ADs and presidents to be more prudent when they hire coaches who can walk away but leave a program in shambles for years.
Enforcing higher standards and program crippling penalties will demand coaches match their rhetoric and power by taking responsibility for the athletes they recruit and build their reputations on. It will force them to protect the institutions they claim to be loyal to. It takes immense self deception and denial to ignore the cars, homes and travels surrounding players.. Even more so when reported in the media. The program wrecking approaches will force the coaches to do what they should do. They would not accept from players the excuses they offer for themselves. .
Coaches are often beyond the effective control of Presidents and Boards. Often they have their own supporters on Boards limiting Presidents who try to control them. The NCAA has always had the potential to take high profile coaches on but been covered by its own lack of competence and the need to preserve the TV deals who lionize and make marketable stars of coaches.
Cripple a few more programs; not the death penalty, just wound them seriously, so the other programs can smell blood and circle around and tear them apart, and the NCAA might once again be taken seriously as the guardian of the games.