How to Protect Your Career and Program with New NCAA Rules

While a source for consternation by head coaches, the NCAA’s Board of Directors’ recent dramatic overhaul of its enforcement structure needs to be greeted with a proactive approach by head coaches in order to preserve their careers and programs.

Under new NCAA rules a head coach is held directly accountable for rules violations by members of the team or the staff, regardless of whether the coach was aware of the activity.  This is a result of the elimination of the rigid set of secondary and major violations. In place is a four-tier penalty structure, carrying with it ratcheted-up penalties for the most egregious violations.

The regulations include a new four level violation hierarchy ranging from severe down to incidental with associated consequences, but coaches must take heed that ignorance is no longer a defense.  Rather than focus on knowledge or the presumption of it, the bylaws presume only responsibility. Total responsibility is in, plausible deniability is out, and penalties can last as long as an entire season.

Now, your added expectation as a head coach is to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor your staff with a standard of vigilance and “constantly coaching your coaches” about rules and the importance of complying with them. That means more time, more work, and more involvement by everyone in the program. To ignore or minimize such requirements places your job and career at risk.

Compliance and knowing how to do it is everyone’s job.  Coaches will need to implement a whole new set of measures and strategies to add to an already overloaded plate filled with practices, training, development, fundraising and media responsibilities.  However, head coaches must bite the bullet in order preserve their livelihoods.

As a former head coach I know teams live and die on “to do” lists, so here is a recommended strategy for creating atmosphere and perception of the high degree of vigilance now required to cover your exposure should a violation occur:

  1. Compliance discussions need to be a part of a staff and team meeting; at least once a month.
  2. The head coach should actively run these meetings.
  3. Use and file sign-in sheets for meetings where compliance issues are discussed. Be prepared to follow up with team personnel who are not at these meetings.
  4. Set up and enforce penalties for not attending meetings where compliance issues are discussed.
  5. Provide reviews of the content of the meetings with anyone who was not in attendance.
  6. Leave no stone unturned.  Present each rule, and ask specific questions about each of them.
  7. Review the most serious rules, providing related scenarios.
  8. Consider compliance a part of the overall training program for the team.
  9. Follow up each meeting with written summaries distribute to attendees.
  10. Document everything including meeting minutes and those in attendance and keep a permanent record and file of this information. Copy these records via memo to the athletic director and compliance staff as well as a listing of those in attendance.
  11. Compliance staff should be a part of these meetings.  This provides a resource for questions you may not be able to answer, but it also provides verification that compliance standards are being set.
  12. Assign a liaison from your staff to the compliance office
  13. Constantly document procedures for following rules, and particularly develop a checklist for recruitment related matters.
  14. Develop a policies and procedures document and distribute to all athletes and staff in your program
  15. Develop an ethics policy and code of conduct (values, principals and strategies) for your program and distribute to all athletes and staff
  16. Ensure that ALL  violations are pursued, documented and reported immediately to the head coach and then to the compliance department without fear of retaliation
  17. Training – develop mock scenarios, address gray areas and teach skills for identifying and resolving ethical dilemmas
  18. Elite prospects should create a heightened sense of awareness leading to closer monitoring by head coaches and compliance staffs (i.e. -  how unofficial visits are paid for and inquire with assistants about whether they suspect a third party or handler is involved in the recruitment)

Head coaches need to accept the “new normal” that it is your job to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitoring – the expectation being that vigilant and constantly coaching your coaches about rules and the importance of complying with them is critical to career and program success and stability.

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