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Head Coach Monitoring: Understanding NCAA Requirements and Proactively Protecting Your Interests

By Justin Sievert

A Presumption of Responsibility Under NCAA Bylaw 11.1.1.1

NCAA Bylaw 11.1.1.1 places the responsibility on a head coach to promote an atmosphere of NCAA rules compliance within his/her program, as well as to monitor the activities of his/her staff to ensure compliance with NCAA legislation. Should a potential violation of NCAA legislation be reported, the NCAA enforcement staff will complete an investigation and determine whether a violation has occurred. Should the enforcement staff substantiate the allegation, and should it involve an athletics staff member who reports directly or indirectly to a head coach, the head coach will be presumed responsible for the actions of the staff member unless the head coach can rebut the presumption by demonstrating he or she promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his or her staff.

11.1.1.1 Responsibility of Head Coach. An institution’s head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. An institutional’s head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and shall monitor the activities of all institutional staff members involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to the coach. (Adopted: 4/28/05, Revised: 10/30/12, 7/16/14).

Building a Winning Case for Head Coach Monitoring Compliance: Documentation

While many head coaches believe their head coach monitoring responsibilities are being met, numerous infractions involving high-profile coaches indicate a disconnect between the expectations of the NCAA enforcement staff and NCAA Division I infractions hearing bodies (i.e., the Committee on Infractions (“COI”) and the Infractions Appeals Committee (“IAC”)) and current practices head coaches believe to be sufficient.

In the Syracuse University case, the head men’s basketball coach argued he provided the evidence necessary to rebut the presumption through documentation that included “monthly meetings, constant communication with compliance and daily meetings with his staff to discuss compliance issues.” However, the COI spokesman reasoned that while the head coach provided some evidence, it was neither specific or clear enough to rebut the presumption. The COI further explained their rationale when analyzing whether the coach met the Bylaw 11.1.1.1 (then Bylaw 11.1.2.1 standard).

Within that responsibility rested the presumption that head coaches are responsible for the conduct of all assistant coaches and administrators. That presumption is rebuttable. Here, the head basketball coach failed to rebut the presumption. The head basketball coach identified general rules compliance initiatives such as conversations with the director of basketball operations, assigning staff members as compliance liaisons – one of whom was the director of basketball operations – and NCAA rules meetings with the institution’s compliance staff as proactive measures, which promoted an atmosphere of compliance. In practice, however, the head basketball coach operated under assumptions and he neglected to inquire and monitor his staff and student-athletes. The head basketball coach’s generalized statements fail to rebut the presumption. Therefore, the head basketball coach is accountable for the violations that involved his student-athletes and staff, occurred in student-athlete academics and resulted from their interactions and engagements with the representative.

For a head coach to eliminate this disconnect and protect themselves from a Bylaw 11.1.1.1 allegation/finding, the key is creating a system that documents the coach’s rules-compliance efforts. This allows a head coach to present a detailed narrative supported by real-time, reliable evidence.

The Building Blocks of Compliance: Communication and Monitoring

While there is no safe harbor provision under Bylaw 11.1.1.1, the NCAA enforcement staff and recent infractions decisions by the COI and IAC (See Southern Methodist University, Syracuse University and its Appeal, and University of Louisville) have provided head coaches a starting point in identifying activities that will help them demonstrate they are actively promoting an atmosphere of compliance in their programs and monitoring the activities of their staff members. These activities can be broken down into two categories: (1) the communication of rules-compliance expectations; and (2) the creation, use and review of rules-compliance monitoring systems.

Communicating Rules-Compliance Expectations

A head coach promotes an atmosphere of rules-compliance by working with institutional and athletics administrators to ensure his or her program understands applicable NCAA legislation and the rules-compliance expectations of the institution as it relates to his or her program. Highlighted practices include the following:

  1. A head coach should meet with the institution’s chief executive officer and/or appropriate designee, the director of athletics and the senior athletics compliance administrator to discuss the institution’s rules-compliance program and expectations. This meeting should clearly indicate the head coach is ultimately responsible for the integrity of his or her program and that staff actions will result in clear disciplinary measures. The head coach should create a detailed meeting summary (i.e., key issues discussed, attendees, requests for additional resources, etc.).
  2. The head coach should work with the director of athletics and/or designated sport supervisor and the athletics compliance office to establish an athletics compliance plan that will address how information pertaining to rules-compliance will be disseminated to the head coach’s program, how compliance resources will be shared and the rules-compliance responsibilities of all program staff as they relate to the responsibilities of the athletics compliance office. Additionally, the head coach and athletics compliance office should address expectations for submitting rules interpretations and waiver requests, expectations for reporting potential rules-violations. The head coach and athletics compliance office should also coordinate a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss key compliance issues that face the coach’s sport and program.
  3. The head coach should explain to his or her staff that athletics compliance is a shared responsibility by establishing clear expectations for rules-compliance in his or her program. These expectations should include the responsibility to promptly report actual and potential issues to the compliance staff, explaining how staff violations will result in clear and immediate measures, the institution’s philosophy and expectations for rules-compliance and the program’s ethical standards, expectations for regular communication between the coaching staff and compliance staff, and a coordination of regularly scheduled rules-compliance meetings for the program’s staff members.
  4. The head coach should establish clear reporting lines for resolving actual and potential NCAA rules-compliance issues within his or her program and should also determine appropriate reporting lines for his or her program to notify the athletics compliance staff of any current rules-compliance issues involving prospective or current student-athletes.
  5. A head coach should reinforce rules-compliance efforts through his or her own conduct. A head coach does not demonstrate a commitment to compliance when he or she is personally involved in NCAA rule violations, or when he or she knows about allegations or violations and fails to take prompt action. Further, a head coach should avoid prevent retaliation against any person who reports violations or potential violations.

Monitoring Athletics Staff Members

A head coach demonstrates a commitment to compliance by monitoring his or her staff’s activities in consultation with the compliance staff. Recommendations include the following actions:

  1. The head coach should create timely, planned and detailed educational programming for all coaches, staff and student-athletes in his or her program. This educational programming should include, but is not limited to, the institution’s rules-compliance expectations for his or her program, common rules-compliance hot topics for his or her sport, and issues relating to high-profile prospective and current student-athletes. These sessions should include written agendas and should be documented with an attendance log, evidence of subjects covered (i.e., presentation notes, handouts, etc.) and issues discussed (i.e., session minutes).
  2. The head coach should work with the athletics compliance office to create written policies and procedures to ensure the head coach and his or her staff is monitoring the program’s rules compliance. The NCAA enforcement staff suggests these procedures include the designation of a staff liaison to the athletics compliance office, assigning staff members with specific program compliance areas to monitor (i.e., recruiting communications and contacts, initial eligibility, amateurism, etc), and a system of regularly scheduled meetings between the head coach and staff members to evaluate whether the assigned areas of compliance are being monitored, responsibilities are being completed and to discuss potential enhancements to made to the current system and topics to include in future educational sessions.
  3. The head coach should be active in his or her own monitoring efforts even though some specific responsibilities have been delegated to a member of his or her staff. For example, a head coach should actively spot check whether delegated responsibilities are being completed and assigned areas are being monitored, evaluate whether the expectations of the athletics compliance office are being met by the program, evaluate any red flags through pointed questions and solicit feedback to determine whether monitoring systems are working. For example, a head coach should follow up on issues such as the eligibility of at-risk student-athletes, the involvement of a third party in a prospective student-athlete’s recruitment to the institution, travel arrangements and payment for unofficial visits and the amateurism status of international prospective student-athletes.
  4. The head coach should request feedback from the institution’s athletics compliance office on a regular basis regarding the head coach’s monitoring efforts to help identify potential improvements to be made.

Conclusion

In sum, head coaches must be proactive with their head coach monitoring responsibilities. By keeping detailed records of the head coach’s efforts, such as the strategies listed above, a head coach will be able to present a strong case of compliance should a Bylaw 11.1.1.1 allegation be in play.

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Posted in NCAA Compliance
Justin Sievert
Justin Sievert is Senior Counsel at Vela Wood and chairs the firm’s sports and compliance practice group. His practice focuses on contract drafting and negotiation, marketing and promotions compliance, NCAA compliance matters, and Title IX. You can see Justin's attorney profile here.