Fighting For Justice And Achieving Results Since 1960
Legal team of Tremont Sheldon P.C.

Scandals Test the N.C.A.A.’s Top Rules Enforcer

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2012 | Coach Sexual Abuse, Firm News |

INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly two weeks after sexual abuse allegations surfaced last month against a former Penn State assistant football coach — and after myriad law enforcement officials and the Department of Education announced they were investigating the matter — the national governing body for college athletics sent a letter to the university requesting information about the charges.
The N.C.A.A., the organization that sent the letter, demanded a response by Dec. 16. On Thursday, a day before that deadline arrived, Penn State appealed for more time, saying the N.C.A.A. might find answers to its questions in the findings of the other investigations. Whenever Penn State ultimately provides its official response, the nature of its answers and the penalties it might face as a result will be the latest test for the person with what may be the most Sisyphean job in all of sports: Julie Roe Lach, head of enforcement for the N.C.A.A.

In terms of major scandals, this year has been one of the most calamitous in the history of college athletics. From reports in August about a University of Miami booster providing cash and prostitutes for its football players to sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and then against a Syracuse assistant basketball coach, fans and college officials alike have begun asking whether the big-money world of college athletics has sufficient oversight.”It seems like there have been more high-profile issues in a condensed time frame — and I say that after being here for 14 years,” Roe Lach said one recent afternoon during an interview at the N.C.A.A.’s headquarters here. “It used to be, in the past, one or two a year, and so far we’ve had a lot more than that. Double that or more.”In their role as the police force of college sports, Roe Lach and her staff of 55 are left to investigate these high-profile cases and hundreds of less sensational ones. Or, at least try to. They do not have subpoena power, and when witnesses do cooperate, there is no threat of a perjury charge for false testimony.”I have a lot of respect for Julie, but it’s an impossible job,” said B. David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University and a member of the Drake Group, a network of professionals who lobby for academic integrity in college sports. “Inherently you have an organization that’s focused on revenue generation and public relations.”Roe Lach, 35, grew up in Pinckneyville, a coal-mining town of 5,600 in southern Illinois that, she said, is “a little bit like ‘Hoosiers.’ ” She went on to play college basketball at Millikin University, a Division III program in Decatur, Ill., before beginning her ascent within the N.C.A.A. as an intern. She was assigned to the student reinstatement division, which evaluates whether players who have been found in violation of N.C.A.A. rules can regain their eligibility. Meanwhile, she worked her way toward a law degree at Indiana University.Roe Lach later moved to enforcement, where she worked to assemble cases against colleges. She was made a director of enforcement in 2004 under the longtime vice president David Price.”It was just obvious she was going to be a superstar from the outset,” Price, now retired, said. “She always made people around her better.”Last year she became the first woman to run the N.C.A.A.’s enforcement arm.”It’s a thankless job,” said Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law and a longtime friend of Roe Lach’s.Because it does not have the manpower to comprehensively police the more than 1,000 member institutions, the N.C.A.A. largely relies on a system of self-reporting. It urges colleges to come forward when they know of wrongdoing, promising lighter penalties than if violations are exposed other ways.Of major cases, less than half are self-reported. But, Roe Lach said, among secondary violations, some “99.9 percent” of the 4,000 or so enforcement processes are self-reported.”In 100 years of the N.C.A.A., it has never worked,” Ridpath said of the self-reporting model.In creating new positions and redefining old ones, Roe Lach has hired 12 new staff members. The position she left — director of enforcement — was redefined to focus on football, she said. Two assistant director positions were added to focus on basketball.Roe Lach also created entry-level “desktop investigator” positions to troll online data, including Google, social media networks and public records to help build files on people, Roe Lach said. “There’s so much information out there,” she said. “We can figure out what are the issues or people or programs that we need to monitor.”The addition of staff was a response to the criticism that investigations may be “excruciatingly long” and rack up large legal bills for universities, said Mark Jones, a former N.C.A.A. investigator who is now a lawyer with the Ice Miller firm. The average investigation lasts about 11 months.After taking over as head of enforcement, Roe Lach embarked on an eight-month national tour to meet with about 175 coaches, athletic directors, compliance officers and others involved with college sports. Much of those meetings, according to attendees, centered on what kind of cases enforcement should be pursuing. Roe Lach and her boss, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, have spoken publicly about prioritizing more serious infractions over lesser ones, a sentiment echoed by many of its members.”It’s silly. It looks like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Chad Hawley, associate commissioner for compliance of the Big Ten Conference, among those on Roe Lach’s meeting calendar last year. Since those meetings, “it’s been an unbelievable year.”The Penn State case presents a particularly tricky challenge for the N.C.A.A. While it awaits the completion of the criminal investigation into accusations that Sandusky sexually abused at least 10 boys, the N.C.A.A. is trying to determine whether the university was guilty of any ethical breaches or if it failed to “exercise institutional control” over its athletics program, one of the most serious charges the N.C.A.A. can make against a program.”We need to get some more information here to understand what steps, if any, we want to take as an association,” Roe Lach said.”Do we have a culture here, within an athletic department, not just here, but anywhere, where it seems as though athletics has not just become the front porch but has become the first floor of the house? So how can we rein that in? Those are the questions that are being asked. There certainly aren’t any answers at this point.”

December 16, 2011
 By MARY PILON, New York Times



FindLaw Network