Enforcement chief: NCAA falls on athlete’s side

NEW YORK — The NCAA’s enforcement chief says punishing athletes for violations they didn’t 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’s rules, Julie Roe Lach told The Associated Press on Monday that college sports’ governing body traditionally has preferred to “fall on the side of the student-athlete.”

In the wake of the Newton decision, some conference commissioners expressed concern more adults will shop around recruits now that they’ve realized the player won’t be suspended if he wasn’t 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’t know about the ploy or receive benefits from it.

“That’s 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,” said Lach, the NCAA’s new vice president of enforcement. “When you’re 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.”

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’t comment specifically about Newton, but she addressed in general terms several issues the case raised.

She said the NCAA’s 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.

“If more information comes to light as a result of the enforcement staff or institution’s 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,” Lach said.

The NCAA also tends to release less information about reinstatement decisions.

“I think that’s where some frustration occurs by people in the public and media because they want to know, and I understand that,” Lach said. “But at the end of the day federal law is there to protect the student’s privacy, so they can’t 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.”

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