‘Why Hasn’t the Hammer Come Down?’

At Knight Commission meeting, sports officials are wondering why -- after NCAA reforms in men's basketball -- presidents and athletics directors haven't taken a stronger role in disciplining unethical coaches.

May 23, 2019
Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
Carol Cartwright, chairwoman, Knight Commission, president emeritus of Kent State University and Bowling Green State University

WASHINGTON -- National Collegiate Athletic Association representatives on Wednesday touted reforms that followed the men’s basketball scandal of 2017. But other officials involved in college sports questioned why top administrators hadn’t stepped in to punish bad actors -- namely coaches.

NCAA leaders presented at a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, describing a "significant" slate of changes, including much stiffer penalties for breaches of association rules and a new entity that would investigate the most complex violations.

These changes and others -- which passed the association membership with relative speed, given the usual lag in approving NCAA policy -- were in response to a pay-for-play scheme federal law enforcement officials revealed in September 2017.

At the time, 10 men -- including Adidas executives and assistant or associate coaches at prominent institutions -- were arrested for allegedly guiding recruits to certain teams in exchange for cash payments. In the past two years, coaches and players in top programs all across the country have been implicated in the controversy.

A committee appointed by the NCAA, led by Condoleezza Rice, who was formerly U.S. secretary of state and Stanford University's provost, made recommendations last year that were largely adopted by the association and were shared with the Knight Commission on Wednesday.

But one panelist at the commission meeting, Mike Brey, the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Notre Dame and president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, questioned why athletics directors and presidents hadn’t fired corrupt coaches. Brey was responding to Michael Crow, a commission member and president of Arizona State University, who asked why basketball coaches couldn’t be more self-regulating, akin to the medical or legal professions. Crow said he was confused why the onus needed to be on the NCAA when coaches have such an understanding of their field.

Brey initially agreed with Crow, that coaches should take that responsibility, but then turned the question back on Crow with questions of his own.

“Why hasn’t an athletics director or president acted in some of these current cases already?” Brey said. “I think a lot of our coaches want to know, why hasn’t the hammer come down? Again, I’m a little naïve to it -- is it legal stuff? … I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations.”

Other coaches, Brey said, have been waiting for “an explosion back.”

In an interview, one of the commission's chairs, Arne Duncan, former U.S. education secretary, said, “There has been an absence of strong leadership” -- not just by athletics directors and presidents, but college governing boards, institutions and the NCAA.

“We would urge institutional leadership -- presidents, chancellors and others -- to look seriously at opportunities to send those strong signals,” said Carol Cartwright, president emeritus of Kent State University and Bowling Green State University and the other commission chair. “Because tone at the top really matters. And when you release a coach for reasons other than [wins], you send a pretty important signal about the values in your program.”

Earlier in the meeting, Cari Van Sensus, the NCAA vice president of policy and chief of staff, had introduced a pilot program in certifying basketball coaches. It is being modeled off a program in Division II athletics called Division II University, in which coaches take online classes on concepts such as sexual assault and mental health. Van Sensus didn't specify how institutions would administer the certification or if it would be required for coaches to keep their jobs. She said many of the details have yet to be ironed out, but that the NCAA was working with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

The top NCAA governing panel, the Board of Governors, in January endorsed the pilot program for Division I basketball coaches with the intention that it may eventually spread to other sports. After a series of felony convictions in the men’s basketball scandal in October 2018, the Knight Commission had suggested that the NCAA develop such credentials.

Brey said that education for coaches should be ongoing. To advance in their careers -- to the spot of head coach -- a certain level of credentialing should be required, he said.

Credentialing will likely not avoid the problems that arose in the men’s basketball scandal, Josephine R. Potuto, former member of the NCAA Division I infractions committee and Richard H. Larson Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told Inside Higher Ed.

She said that the program might teach interpersonal skills, which is a worthy goal, but it would not address coaches' ethical lapses.

“The scandal emanated not from a failure to understand rules or appreciate ethical behavior but from efforts to circumvent rules,” Potuto wrote in an email. “There have been people for many years arguing that it should be a requirement for coaches that they show they have adequate background and training to warrant their opportunity to work with students.”

Many of the reforms following the scandal will be in place in time for the next season. Cartwright and Duncan praised the NCAA for "stepping up" and approving the changes quickly, though they said the association could do more, including making public contracts with shoe and apparel companies.

University presidents and athletics staffers must now commit in their contracts to cooperate with NCAA investigations, and the NCAA now has the power to suspend coaches and staff immediately if they fail to do so.

NCAA investigators and adjudicators can also use findings from other administrative bodies -- courts, police or other governing agencies -- in rules violations cases. This will be particularly helpful in disciplining coaches or institutions implicated in the men’s basketball scandal.

And in particularly complicated cases, a separate, independent body from the NCAA can investigate.

Five new members were also recently added to the Board of Governors, with no ties to individual institutions or NCAA conferences. They are:

  • Kenneth Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst and former chairman and chief executive of American Express.
  • Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities.
  • Grant Hill, former college and National Basketball Association athlete, now a partial NBA team owner and a broadcaster.
  • Dennis McDonough, senior principal and chairman of the Rework America Task Force for the Markle Foundation and former chief of staff to President Obama.
  • Vivek Murthy, the 19th surgeon general of the United States.


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