An Interview With Compliance Guy

Submitted by Brian on February 24th, 2010 at 11:29 AM

Bylaw Blog is the "Unofficial Blog of NCAA Compliance," which just goes to show that you can find anything on the internet. Its author is an anonymous employee in the compliance department of a Division I school who pegged Michigan's findings in a totally speculative post that some people got upset about but turned out to be accurate. He goes by Compliance Guy. I flagged him down and asked him a number of questions about where we are now and what's likely to happen in the future.

1. What is the process that Michigan has gone through to reach this point? I might be a little bit fuzzy on the details, but this is what I think has gone on so far:
- Article.
- Notice of Inquiry
- Michigan internal investigation undertaken with assistance/cooperation from NCAA.
- Michigan files report with NCAA
- NCAA responds with Notice of Allegations.
Is this an accurate picture of how the process works?

Flop the notice of inquiry and Michigan's investigation starting and you have the basic order. Michigan would have started the investigation the moment the story broke. At a certain point, either because of what Michigan was telling the NCAA or what the NCAA was hearing from somewhere else, the enforcement staff got involved and issued the Notice of Inquiry.

2. Past this point there are a couple more steps. Michigan will respond. They may or may not issue self-imposed sanctions. And then they'll go in front of the committee. How often do accusations of major violations get degraded to secondary violations in practice? Is the NCAA-issued NOA going to closely resemble the final findings at the committee or is it likely to get walked back? If so, how much?

A major violation case, once it gets to this point, rarely is argued back down to a secondary infraction. To get to a Notice of Allegations, especially in this case, the enforcement staff and Committee on Infractions would have worked very closely to decide if there were major violations, ultimately the COI's decision.

Individual major violations are sometimes downgraded to secondary violations during the response and hearing. In the Kelvin Sampson case at IU, one of the original five major violations--that Sampson and assistant coach Jeff Meyer gave Derek Elston a backpack and t-shirt and recruited him during a camp--was found to be only a secondary violation. Of course, the COI can add too, like the failure to monitor charge that came after the committee hearing.

The final report is going to look very similar. The most likely charge to be downgraded is actually the excessive practice, since it was never grossly beyond the limits like originally alleged by the ex-players. But the lack of documentation at the time makes it difficult for Michigan to prove that the violations were "isolated or inadvertent" and did not result in a "significant competitive advantage."

3. The five accusations:

1) Michigan quality control staffers "monitored and conducted skill development activities," assisted with "warm up and flexibility," watched film with players, and occasionally attended coaching meetings.
2) Similar in nature in points a) and b). c) consists of disciplinary measures after missing class in summer. d) consists of varying but relatively small amounts of excessive mandatory activity.
3) A graduate assistant lied during the process.
4) Rich Rodriguez "failure to monitor."
5) Athletic department "failure to monitor."

Are my characterizations of all these charges correct? If so, how serious are each of them?

#2 is, very generally, excessive practice. Michigan allowed excessive practice in one of three ways:

1) Did not count stretching and warm-up, thus requiring too much CARA (countable athletically related activity);

2) Disciplined players for missing class over the summer, when no required physical activity is permitted for any reason; and

3) Allowing excessive voluntary activity during the summer.

The third type is likely the most bewildering to fans. The NCAA tightly regulates even voluntary activity during the summer in football. The large team peer pressure and culture of discipline in football can cause it to get out of hand, so the NCAA limits how long you can work out with strength coaches in the summer, even voluntarily and sets periods of time where strength coaches cannot work out with football student-athletes at all.

The most serious charge is the failure to monitor charge for the university. It does allow for a wider variety of penalties. The "failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance" charge for Rodriguez means his continued employment at Michigan might change things. The ethical conduct charge is serious, but only really affects Herron. The other two violations are normally secondary in isolated incidents, but went on long enough to be considered major. Of the two, exceeding the coaching limits by a significant amount (11 is the limit with a total of five extra) is more serious.

There's also a sixth violation floating around, as an element of other violations but should be considered almost like a separate violation: the failure to submit practice logs for over a year and a half. Why that happened is going to be one of the COI's burning questions and the lack of the logs makes raising a defense to the charges that much more difficult.

4. On your blog you've recently documented a gradual broadening of "major violations" from serious dolla-dolla-bill ya'll type charges to considerably less severe violations, using the recent Arizona basketball issues as an example. Would these charges have gotten the same amount of scrutiny five, ten, fifteen years ago?

15 years ago, we wouldn't have the 24-hour news cycle that caused the violations to come to light in the first place. In addition, neither the NCAA nor Michigan would have had the resources to devote to discovering just how serious the violations were. Even now, we only know that limits were exceeded "some weeks."

But with larger compliance offices, bigger NCAA staffs, and a Committee on Infractions getting sick of the idea that secondary infractions don't matter, there is increased scrutiny. 15 years ago Michigan might have just reported a vague secondary violation and negotiated how much to reduce the practice time by. Now, just the fact that neither Michigan nor the NCAA has been able to completely quantify how big the violation was is not helping Michigan.

5. During the press conference new Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon downplayed a number of the charges, particularly the hours exceeded. Those were declared a misunderstanding about how stretching and other prep time was classified. It sounded like he was preparing a defense. If the NCAA and Michigan worked together on this, how could they be unfamiliar with this point of view? What is the probability that arguments like "it was a misunderstanding" will have any effect?

Brandon is preparing a defense, but at this point reducing the penalty is the more likely goal rather than winning an acquittal. Secondary violations need to meet two requirements: isolated or inadvertent AND did not produce a significant competitive advantage. Convince the NCAA of both and you have a secondary violation. Convince them of one, and you still have a major violation, but a lesser one.

Trouble is that the NCAA looks at what coaches and administrators "should" have known rather than what they did know. If the NCAA changes a rule, issues an interpretation, or releases an Educational Column (non-binding, technical discussions of the rules), a compliance officer is virtually presumed to have read it. And if the coaches were never educated about the rule, not only does it not save them, but it also becomes an element of bigger institutional charges like failure to monitor and lack of institutional control.

6. Michigan's handling of the situation has been fairly controversial on the internet because Michigan fans, rightly or wrongly, feel that the university's relative openness was detrimental in the Ed Martin case. Michigan has apparently been as accommodating as possible with the NCAA. Is inviting NCAA investigators in asking for trouble or a way to mitigate any potential sanctions? If you were in Michigan's position, what would you have done?

That's a tricky question because as a public institution, Michigan can only be so secretive. A great deal of the investigation can be open to the public via open records laws and the Freedom of Information Act. Look at the fervor caused by one informational meeting with the trustees that Michigan attempted to keep quiet.

What is the measure against which Michigan's openness is being judged? I'm sure most fans are pointing at USC and how the Reggie Bush investigation took five years and it seems like USC is in front of the COI almost out of the blue. But USC is a private institution, and doesn't have to worry about bitter rivals, wronged alumni, and nosy reporters demanding every scrap of paper. Michigan probably hasn't made public anything that wouldn't be made public before.

Looking back to the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan's willingness to cooperate was likely a key consideration in getting the second year of postseason ban overturned on appeal. Cooperating with the NCAA is wrongly portrayed as "going above and beyond vs. defending yourself." It's an obligation of being a member of the NCAA.

Michigan fans like to talk about the integrity and class in the program. If that means anything, it means acknowledging your mistakes, taking your medicine, and working to improve. It doesn't mean being difficult just because it seems USC is.

I think Michigan's handling of the case has been a model of how to deal with a major infractions case so far. And the result will likely be fairer penalties and a case that is disposed of quickly rather than casting a shadow on the program for a number of years.

7. Would one GA lying to the NCAA seriously hurt the university as a whole, assuming that he is then fired?

It's highly unlikely. A single, isolated unethical conduct violation generally hits the person who committed it rather than the institution. The primary tool the COI uses for this is the show-cause penalty, which states that any institution who hires the person must appear before the committee and "show cause" why they should not be punished the same way the previous school was.

As a counterexample, Dave Bliss' unethical conduct, in instructing players and coaches to lie in the Baylor case, is much more serious on an institutional level. When high level administrators (ADs, presidents, etc.), head coaches, or people who should know better (compliance staff) commit unethical conduct, it speaks to institutional control.

8. Is there any possibility Michigan escapes a major infraction at this point? What do you think Michigan's penalties will be? If you think some of the accusations are walked back, what would they be in that case?

It's almost a certainty that come October or November, Michigan will be back on probation. The Committee on Infractions generally doesn't start flimsy cases. Look again at USC. Since the original Yahoo! Sports report about Reggie Bush, the COI could have sent a Notice of Allegations as a fishing expedition. But given the fact that they were dealing with a major football program, they couldn't afford to have the case blow up in their face. So they continued investigating, interview, asking for documentation, and working with USC to develop the case until they had a slam dunk.

I'm also confident the same five charges in the Notice of Allegations will be in the final report. Like I said earlier, the excessive practice is the most likely candidate to be reduced, but Michigan lacks the best tool for doing so: detailed logging of practice time during that period. Consistent and timely logs, though mistaken, would have been the best evidence that the violations were all an honest mistake.

I expect a lengthy list of penalties, but none of which are too severe. Despite Michigan's status as a repeat violator due to the Ed Martin case, the death penalty is clearly not in the cards. [Editor's note: I think this is meant to be reassuring.] Neither are more severe penalties like a postseason or TV ban. In fact, Michigan doesn't even need to vacate wins (unless it self-imposes) because these violations do not affect eligibility. I think you'll see a list like this:

  • A reduction in countable coaches (one coach will have to be reassigned to a noncoaching position);
  • A reduction in practice with a shorter spring season in 2011 and/or reduced hour limits;
  • Possibly recruiting restrictions, including limiting the number of coaches off-campus at any one time;
  • Possibly a reduction of around three scholarships for a year or two;
  • 3-4 years probation (longer due to repeat violator status)

Combined I think they are a setback (which they're intended to be), but they aren't program crushing penalties that will take years to crawl out from like the Ed Martin penalties were.

[Ed: Many thanks to Compliance Guy. Again: Bylaw Blog is his internet home.]



February 25th, 2010 at 11:36 AM ^

I'm sure the 1997 team had some non-compliance issues as well, as have virtually all schools in the past 20-30+ years. That's life for major college football, and I'm not surprised that, under the letter of the law, UM broke some rules. But maybe it is just me, but I'd rather keep a shred of dignity and not become some maverick program with a constant top-5 finish in the Fulmer Cup, paying players' families, numerous arrests for violence, stealing, and drug abuse by players, and massive "attrition" wherein kids are kicked off the team because they aren't as fast and strong as the new kids coming in. There is a big difference between not being compliant with a few rules concerning off-season weight-lifting and 7-on-7 drills and running a corrupt program. I'm fine with UM going 10 over the speed limit with some of the byzantine rules propagated by the NCAA; I'm not ready to condone going 70 in a school zone for the deaf like some other programs. Call that arrogance or holier-than-thou if you want, but UM has been a power for decades without even a hint of the controversy that has swirled around some of the other programs you listed.


February 24th, 2010 at 2:32 PM ^

How much assessing needs to be done before we the the official, MGoBlog take on all this? I wouldn't blame you if you wanted a few days to collect information, rather than just blurt out emotionally (like the rest of us).

But at some point, we're going to need to be told what to think. (sarcasm).


February 24th, 2010 at 2:41 PM ^

of F'n losing 3 scholly's for a yr or two?!!? Here come the walk-ons. That was not a comforting read to say the least. Probation again which means a purgatory for fans who have to listen to co-workers, friends, family, or enemies proclaim for years to come Mich cheats or violated the ncaa rules. Go ahead and


February 24th, 2010 at 3:07 PM ^

"But the lack of documentation at the time makes it difficult for Michigan to prove that the violations were "isolated or inadvertent" and did not result in a "significant competitive advantage."

Prove the violations "did not result in a SIGNIFICANT competitive advantage"????? Ok, how about this: before 2008 40 years of winning tradition and never missing a bowl game. Since 2008 when these violations occurred > 8-16! I think that's petty cut and dry.

sports fan

February 24th, 2010 at 4:18 PM ^

Thanks for the good reporting. In a very real way I am relieved. Everything will get cleaned up as fast as possible. Internal scrutiny will be intense, Michigan will come out strong and we will have another 30 years of Michigan Football Integrity. I say 30 years because scrutiny will only get more intense over the next 30 years, and it will be harder to stay really clean. We can if we try, though. I think in some ways Michigan got pinged at the time college athletics circumspection intensified and the NCAA had the resources to clean up some burgeoning issues [and a newspaper with an agenda got snarky.] All of college football should get a serious wakeup. Sadly, it came at our expense.


February 24th, 2010 at 6:57 PM ^

If the penalties pan out as the 'unknown employee' sees, most shouldn't be to bad.

Possibly losing 3 scholarships a year for two years could be a bit painful. UM's recruiting classes the next two years are going to be fairly small to begin with. Just guessing that through eligibility expiring and normal attrition, UM would hand out 30-40 scholarships over the next two years. Possibly losing 15-20% of those could be a decent hit.


February 24th, 2010 at 7:33 PM ^

pass this on to the lovely folks at ESPN? All I keep seeing and hearing is "Michigan accused of major violations, sky falling, Rodriguez to be burnt at the stake." PTI even had "Is this year decisive for RR?" as one of the topics on the over/under today.

Legitimate journalism is one hell of a drug.


February 25th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

What it means overall is that the buck stops with the head football coach. Even though he maybe busy doing other "football things," EVERYTHING relating to his football team is HIS responsibility. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE who works under the head coach, should be so on board, and so afraid to be called onto the carpet for screwing up "their job," that they should be on top of what they do, and give a report of 100% to the coach when he asks for it. This monitoring over sight would not have happened under Bo or Vince Lombardi.

Coach Rod is a great guy and a great coach, however, he dropped the ball on this because he should have had a structure in place to confirm that EVERYTHING, is as it should be. He should not have had to wait until there was a report to the freep to look into possible breakdowns.

We don't know how things were handled at WVU, however, WVU was not a major program with rivals like [freep] trying to bring the program down. They could slip up and who would really care? You have to be very careful and diligent in all areas at Michigan.

Also, let us not fool ourselves, every penality will continue to harm the program's progress because it will strike in the areas of need. However, this is the price that we will have to pay for this over sight.