"It's all Jimmy's fault!" and other observations on institutional control

BSD: Bump...couldn't say it better myself.

"It's all Jimmy's fault!"

That has been Ohio State's basic contention since January, when President Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith were allegedly informed of the scandal brewing in offices of Jim Tressel's storied program.  Now, the NCAA has essentially confirmed that theory.

Today, the initial phase of the investigation of the Ohio State football program concluded with the NCAA preferring charges against the university.  The first charge alleges that Ohio State player "received preferential treatment" and "sold institutionally issued athletic awards, apparel, and/or equipment."  The second, and far more damning, charge alleges that Tressel not only "knew or should have known" of the first charge, but that he "failed to deport himself in accordance with . . . honesty and integrity," specifically by failing to report potential violations to his supervisors (particularly by claiming he "didn't know who to tell") and lying directly to the NCAA.

Potential sanctions were detailed by the Columbus Dispatch here, including postseason bans and loss of scholarships.  Tressel himself also faces the possibility of a show-cause penalty, which could effectively end his coaching career.  To put it mildly, these charges are serious and reflect the NCAA's recently renewed commitment to sanctioning major athletic departments for their misconduct.

The strangest news, at least for me, was the fact that the NCAA essentially left a bullet in the chamber.  Since the death penalty disaster of SMU in the late-80s, the most serious allegation that the NCAA can prefer against a university is "lack of institutional control."  I was surprised, and thought I might as well look into the charge since we hear the words bandied about so much by the media.

So what did I learn?  Well, I learned that parties acting in good faith can vehemently disagree.  The NCAA obviously brought the charges that they think they can prove, but I'm fairly certain that if I was in charge of the investigation of the Buckeyes, I would have certainly charged them with "lack of institutional control."

First, a description of the charge here, provided by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

Before delving into the meat of the issue, it's helpful to look at undisputed facts.  Since the 2001 season, the Ohio State football program has seen itself embroiled in controversy with freshman phenom Maurice Clarrett (charged and then cleared with academic misconduct issues, then dismissed from the team for filing a false police report), Troy Smith (suspended several games after taking money from a booster), and Santonio Holmes (alleged to have received preferential treatment by an agent, though no charges were filed by the NCAA).  In addition to the current charges, Ohio State has the unenviable distinction of reporting more secondary violations (375 as of 5/31/09) than anyone else in FBS since 2000.

The NCAA's definition of institutional control is, in my view, fairly direct.

In determining whether there has been a lack of institutional control . . . it is necessary to ascertain what formal institutional policies and procedures were in place at the time the violation of NCAA rules occurred and whether those policies and procedures, if adequate, were being monitored and enforced.  It is important that policies and procedures be established so as to deter violations and not merely to discover their existence after they have taken place.

Ohio State has often been touted for their large compliance department, and the fact that they're good at their job has been the primary defense to the absurd number of secondary violations the institution has self-reported.  In my mind, though, the bolded language above speaks for itself.  The Ohio State compliance department has done a remarkable job in finding athletic department violations.  But the compliance department can't prevent those violations from happening.  It's up to the administration and those in charge of the programs to make sure that their athletes and colleagues are deterred from this behavior.  So far, it's clear that deterrence hasn't been the Ohio State model.  Instead of correcting behavior, the number of continued violations alone indicate that sanctions are minimal and behavior is essentially tolerated.

If this is still too abstract, here are the "Acts that are likely to demonstrate a lack of institutional control" that are applicable to the factual situation delineated above.

A person with compliance responsibilities fails to establish a proper system for compliance or fails to monitor the operations of the compliance system appropriately.

A person with compliance responsibilities does not take steps to alter a system of compliance when there are indications the system is not working.

The institution fails to make clear, by its words and its actions, that those personnel who willfully violate NCAA rules, or who are grossly negligent in applying those rules, will be disciplined and made subject to discharge.

The institution fails to make clear that any individual involved in its intercollegiate athletics program has a duty to report any perceived violations of NCAA rules and can do so without fear of reprisals of any kind.

A head coach fails to create and maintain an atmosphere for compliance within the program the coach supervises or fails to monitor the activities of assistant coaches regarding compliance.


How can the NCAA possibly not charge "lack of institutional control" based on this?  It seems to me that the NCAA relies heavily on this sentence - "In a case where proper procedures exist and are appropriately enforced, especially when they result in prompt detection, investigation and reporting...there may be no lack of institutional control although the individual or individuals involved may be held responsible."  

Here's the direct correlation with Jim Tressel.  Tressel has been at Ohio State longer than either Gee or Smith and it's his sport that has caused so much consternation.  Maybe in the eyes of the NCAA, it's appropriate for him to shoulder the blame.  But to me, that's ridiculous.  The NCAA cites it's standard as a "practical, common-sense" test.  There's nothing practical or common sense about making one man the target of an investigation when his behavior has been systemically enabled by an entire institution.

......but we just disagree.

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