NCAA needs to shake up enforcement efforts

Organization faces big challenges but must find a way to improve

These are dark times for the NCAA.

As an organization in charge of monitoring all things college athletics, the NCAA has prided itself with creating a certain brand of integrity. That integrity, however, has taken a big hit as of late.

From the way it handled the case against UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad to NCAA president Mark Emmert's mea culpa following questionable investigative practices in the University of Miami case, the NCAA and its rule-enforcement practices have been called into question.

Inspector Clouseau has a better chance of finding wrongdoing in college athletics than some of the investigators involved in these cases.

However, some aren't so quick to criticize.

"It's easy to be a critic, but it's quite another thing to get in there and play the game," said Gene Marsh.

Marsh should know.

He served as chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions from 2004-06 and currently works with Lightfoot, Frankin & White LLC, which specializes in NCAA compliance and collegiate-sports law.

"People on the enforcement staff have one of the most difficult jobs in the universe," Marsh said.

That may be true, but they certainly aren't helping their cause when you consider some of their recent blunders.

Like when an investigator was reportedly fired after her boyfriend was overheard talking about the details of an infraction case on an flight. Or in the most recent case, when an investigator hired an attorney representing former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro to help extract testimony for the NCAA's case it would not have ordinarily been able to compel. All major no-no's in NCAA enforcement circles.

It's not all the NCAA's fault, mind you.

The small investigative unit is at a major disadvantage against well-funded athletic programs.

Billions upon billions of dollars are being generated by the BCS conferences with new television deals under the new playoff system. Those leagues and their members all benefit from the influx of revenue. It explains why the top 10 coaches in college football all make more than $3 million per season and those numbers continue to climb.

It's only a matter of time before someone resurrects the idea of those power leagues breaking away from the NCAA to form their own monitoring organization dictated by the will of those conferences presidents and chancellors.

So if the NCAA has any hope of competing in an ever-changing college landscape, it needs to make changes or it's in danger of being left behind.

"I think they are in a crisis period, but I know of no other organization that does a better imitation of a cat with nine lives," Marsh said.

The NCAA took a step in the right direction when it announced it was paring down its 400-plus page rulebook. Although, more needs to be done, especially in the area of enforcement. Investigators need more training and transparency is needed when it comes to the process.

While the NCAA appears headed for a future of tough times, Marsh said all of this is part of the circle of life for the organization.

"There tends to be, cyclically, a crisis or questions about fairness, then an outside examination and then, lo and behold, some very, very modest changes," Marsh said.

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