It Takes More Than Lawyers to Lay Down the Law

There are plenty of jokes in which the punchline is there are too many dang lawyers. But it’s actually a very serious situation when it comes to NCAA compliance.

We’ve all watched Law & Order. (I think FCC regulations stipulate that there must be at least one re-run of the show or one of its spinoffs airing at all times, day or night.) So we know there are two separate, yet equally important groups of crime fighters. And the jobs of the police and prosecutors are complementary, but not quite the same.

Up until recently, it seems compliance offices across the country were staffed by one and not the other.

Don’t get me wrong, you need the brilliant legal minds to decipher NCAA regulations.  There is something admirable about having the discipline to read spreadsheet after spreadsheet in order to spot a pattern that might indicate violations are taking place. Crafting a defense when something does go wrong? That’s definitely a job for someone who’s passed the bar exam.

As a result, many compliance officers do indeed have law degrees. (Five of the six compliance staffers who have biographies on the OSU website, for instance, have either earned a Juris Doctorate or passed the Ohio bar.)

But compliance also requires someone with the mentality of a beat cop.

Think about it. Michigan got in trouble with the NCAA because Wolverines assistants who weren’t allowed to provide instruction were, in fact, coaching players at practice. Just by attending a workout now and then, Michigan compliance could have put a stop to that before it became part of a larger issue.

Would an in-home interview with Reggie Bush have shown USC there were problems with their star running back?

Certainly Boise State would have avoided NCAA scrutiny if they’d had someone like Detective Lennie Briscoe looking out for them, especially considering that their athletics director told the Idaho Statesman that a big part of their trouble was, “knowing what was occurring.”

That’s why there’s something actually encouraging going on during this summer of NCAA discontent. Athletics departments are starting to consider hiring employees from Quantico instead of Harvard Law…or in the case of Ohio State hiring Buckeye private eyes.

Oregon, too, is being proactive by posting a job listing for someone who will be “monitoring athlete-agent activity and perform regular surveillance on campus, in the community and in cyberspace for the purposes of NCAA compliance and state law.” Those without a law enforcement background need not apply.

Some compliance officers object, saying players and coaches need to feel safe enough to self-report. That, and the fact that many in compliance have backgrounds as college athletes themselves, allows players and coaches to feel like they have a friend in that department. And too many friends is why we have this mess in the first place.

UPDATE: It looks like I’m not the only one to feel this way.

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