Can the NCAA Enforcement Department be trusted?

One of the purposes of ISLE is to draw attention to examples of ethical issues in sports and to stimulate thought and discussion about those events.

One such situation with significant ethical overtones involves the NCAA Enforcement Department’s investigation of the University of Miami.  Nevin Shapiro, a convicted felon, provided information to the NCAA regarding acts that, if true, would amount to significant violations of NCAA legislation by Miami.  An NCAA investigator decided to have Shapiro’s criminal defense attorney solicit information from potential NCAA sources under oath in depositions in order to gather information that the NCAA otherwise would not have learned.  This scheme was hatched in an effort to bolster Shapiro’s credibility and to potentially increase the severity of the allegations against Miami.   Further, this scheme was carried out despite clear written warning from NCAA legal counsel that this proposed course of action was inappropriate.

The individuals being deposed otherwise had no obligation to cooperate with the NCAA, and it is important to note that the NCAA has no subpoena power.  In fact, the stated purpose of the depositions was to discuss issues related to Shapiro’s bankruptcy proceedings.  Some of the information provided during these depositions about NCAA matters was adverse to Miami’s interests, and the NCAA has stated that no information disclosed in these depositions will be used in any subsequent investigative hearing.

An outside legal firm reviewed this matter at the request of the NCAA, and their findings are detailed in a report that is available to the public through the NCAA website.  The media and general public, as one would expect, have been highly critical of the NCAA and its leadership in this matter, as has the president of the University of Miami.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I served as a member of the NCAA Enforcement Department from July 1976 until January 1984 and participated in a number of high-profile cases.  I have always been sympathetic to the difficulties, including ethical challenges, facing NCAA investigators.

That being said, developments in the Miami case give me pause to wonder if the culture of the NCAA Enforcement Department continues to reflect the core values of a department that heretofore has prided itself on ethical, if not always popular, actions.

NCAA enforcement efforts always have been controversial, and NCAA investigators always will be presented with ethical issues.  That is the nature of the work, and it is not for those with a low threshold of stress and criticism.  Likewise, it is not for those who would seek to take short-cuts to subvert the process.

NCAA actions in the Miami case give rise to a number of relevant questions:

Is the Miami case an aberration involving a rogue investigator and inadequate supervision?  Or, has the enforcement department embraced a culture where ethical considerations are secondary, and the ends justify the means?

  • Is the NCAA investigation of Miami an example of a broader problem?
  • Can the NCAA Enforcement Department be trusted?

Report on the NCAA’s Engagement of a Source’s Counsel and Use of the Bankruptcy Process in its University of Miami Investigation

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