NEW YORK ‚Äî The NCAA‚Äôs enforcement chief says punishing athletes for violations they didn‚Äôt even know about would be a major shift in philosophy for the organization.
Days after the NCAA cleared Auburn quarterback Cam Newton to play despite finding his father broke the organization‚Äôs rules, Julie Roe Lach told The Associated Press on Monday that college sports‚Äô governing body traditionally has preferred to ‚Äúfall on the side of the student-athlete.‚Äù
In the wake of the Newton decision, some conference commissioners expressed concern more adults will shop around recruits now that they‚Äôve realized the player won‚Äôt be suspended if he wasn‚Äôt aware of the scheme. The Heisman Trophy front-runner is eligible to lead the Tigers against Oregon in the BCS title game, even though his father solicited money for the quarterback to sign at Mississippi State, because Cam didn‚Äôt know about the ploy or receive benefits from it.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the question I think a lot of people ask not just today, but when I worked in reinstatement 10 years ago. We struggled with the issue of student-athlete knowledge and culpability for certain violations vs. the deterrence factor,‚Äù said Lach, the NCAA‚Äôs new vice president of enforcement. ‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôre talking about a National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose primary mission is to serve student-athlete well-being, then generally you land on the side of student-athlete welfare.‚Äù
Lach was promoted to replace the retiring David Price in October, having worked previously both in rule enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement.
NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement Thursday saying the organization was committed to strengthening and clarifying its rules to prevent a repeat of the Newton case. Lach wouldn‚Äôt comment specifically about Newton, but she addressed in general terms several issues the case raised.
She said the NCAA‚Äôs Division I Amateurism Cabinet was studying whether to broaden the definition of who is considered an agent. A parent or adviser could be viewed as an agent based on their actions, giving the NCAA new approaches to prevent violations in an evolving recruiting landscape.
Lach was in New York on Monday to meet with media as part of her goal of giving fans and schools a better understanding of the enforcement process. One important detail the Newton case illuminated was that infractions investigations of schools and eligibility decisions about athletes are two separate processes.
The NCAA has noted that decisions on reinstatement often come before the investigation closes.
‚ÄúIf more information comes to light as a result of the enforcement staff or institution‚Äôs investigation, and that information is credible and contradicts the prior facts that were used to base the reinstatement decision, then that information would need to go back to the reinstatement staff,‚Äù Lach said.
The NCAA also tends to release less information about reinstatement decisions.
‚ÄúI think that‚Äôs where some frustration occurs by people in the public and media because they want to know, and I understand that,‚Äù Lach said. ‚ÄúBut at the end of the day federal law is there to protect the student‚Äôs privacy, so they can‚Äôt always know exactly what each circumstance was of each case. On the infractions side they can know more because those reports are public, so I think there is probably more scrutiny even, you could argue, more accountability on the infractions standpoint.‚Äù