SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga coach Mark Few expressed disappointment that the NCAA's investigation of the federal corruption trials hasn’t sped up punishment for teams named in court and media reports.
He’s not alone. A number of coaches have echoed Few’s sentiment. Few said he is one voice among many who share his frustration.
The NCAA’s enforcement division and NCAA President Mark Emmert actually share those concerns and would love to see the process move faster, too. But it cannot.
The NCAA membership has never been in favor of giving one entity or individual absolute power, which is how the Association ended up with the current model.
The college model was built so that power is not vested in one person to direct change. If you’re looking for a comparison, think more of a governmental setup with different branches of oversight. Not a professional sports model that has a commissioner.
Who is the NCAA? “It’s us. We’re all in this together.” Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir explains that when referencing “the NCAA” it’s the 1,100 member schools. pic.twitter.com/aX6QWg0qeo— NCAA (@NCAA) March 22, 2018
The NCAA is not set up in any way like a professional sports organization. There are no provisions for the national office to suddenly, arbitrarily judge that violations have occurred, let alone impose sanctions. Violations and penalties for schools are determined by a membership committee (yes, that means representatives from the schools) called the Committee on Infractions. Of course, this happens after the enforcement division, made up of NCAA staff, investigates potential violations.
“We have a representative style of government,’’ said Emmert. “It’s not a monarchy. Can that be frustrating to everyone, including me? Sure. But it’s the best way to run college sports with 1,100 members.’’
Few said he is a supporter of Emmert.
“I am an ally,’’ said Few. “I think President Emmert has done a really good job of navigating this enormous organization through some of the most complicated issues that have arisen in these modern times that we never foresaw being at odds with the current NCAA model. I commend him for that.
“But I wanted to make sure that at this very important time in our history in college basketball that we stood up and fought for it,’’ said Few. “I totally understand that the NCAA is hamstrung by the process. What I was trying to suggest was that in dire circumstances you’ve probably got to alter the process.’
Few is hopeful that the NCAA’s executive board would use precedent and take action.
“This is big enough where we may need something like that,’’ said Few. “I totally understand the due process, but all the other student-athletes deserve due process too.’’
The representative structure of the NCAA process is not the only challenge here. The Association is also working to navigate ongoing criminal prosecutions. One federal trial is complete. There are still two more ─ one in February and another in April. There will not be any finality until all the trials are over — at the earliest.
“Our investigative teams are already working aggressively on all of these cases,’’ said Emmert. “But we have to wait and see how these trials and the information play out over the coming weeks and months. I wish they would happen faster but that’s up to the Department of Justice.’’
Does that mean there is the possibility a team or player could play in the 2019 NCAA tournament and then be penalized later? Yes, but if there are players who could be ineligible then they should be held out of competition by the school.
Few added that it’s not just unfair to the team that loses a tournament game to a possible ineligible team.
“What about the team they beat along the way?” Few asked. “The team that didn’t get in because of that team? This is such an important thing and there has been precedent. When it’s this important maybe we need to handle it in a different way.’’
“I agree with him, but there needs to be an ability to acquire actual evidence before a decision is made and it takes time to do that,’’ said Emmert. “It can affect the students who are competing against a team that was caught cheating and doesn’t get penalized until all of the offenders are gone. Nobody likes that system but it’s the best one we have available. It’s a representative system that the universities put in place.’’
The NCAA enforcement division made a conscious decision not to risk interference with the federal government’s investigation. The enforcement division will also need to conduct its own investigations. While select information has been admitted at trial and made public, the government will not disclose other information in its possession.
“I trust the national office is going through an extensive and deliberate process to ensure that there are no loopholes in these cases,’’ said Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, who is the chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. “I understand in many cases that it takes time and we’ll need to be patient, but in the end hopefully we will have been thorough in order to clean up our game.’’
There is no quick remedy while one or two more trials could still produce evidence.
This isn’t an excuse. This is a fact. The process, whether it’s NCAA membership-driven or even a legal case, isn’t constructed to be wrapped up quickly.