THE STATUS QUO
Weak Enforcement Through Inadequate Investigations: The NCAA attempts to control nearly all aspects of its student-athletes' interactions with the outside world. Its rulebook exceeds 400 pages of detailed limitations on contacts with potential student-athletes by member institutions, boosters, and sports agents. It also sets forth constraints on the benefits that may be provided to both current and future student-athletes without jeopardizing their amateur status.
To enforce this surfeit of restrictions, the NCAA employs a staff of approximately 55 people based in Indianapolis. That staff includes about 40 investigators whose expertise appears to favor writing ability and athletic familiarity over actual investigative experience. More than half of the staff were student-athletes, and approximately one in six are former NCAA coaches. (One notable exception was Bill Benjamin, a former NCAA football player and homicide detective, who led a small group of investigators focusing on compliance exclusively in football; unfortunately, Benjamin resigned in June 2012 after less than eight months on the job.)
The NCAA's budgetary support of this investigative staff is unknown because the NCAA refuses to make this information available to the public. Yet, based on the organization's boasts that it returns 96 percent of its more-than-$850 million annual budget to member-institutions and retains 4 percent (approximately $34 million) for "central services," one can ascertain that the enforcement staff competes with all other "central services" for a small piece of that $34 million pie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, without subpoena power and without a staff possessing significant investigative experience, the NCAA's enforcement staff has become hugely dependent on member institutions self-reporting their own violations. And because of the picayune nature of many of the NCAA's rules, most of these self-reports that flood the system concern "secondary" (read: immaterial) violations—about 4,000 per year. Processing these secondary violations reduces the staff's ability to focus on major cases. Across all NCAA sports, the enforcement staff processes an average of only 25 "major" cases each year—and many of those result from self-reports, as well.
Weak Enforcement Through Inherent Conflicts of Interest: Inadequate investigations are compounded by inherent conflicts of interest of the body that imposes penalties for the limited number of violations that are discovered each year. Once processed, a case is referred to a separate body, the Committee on Infractions, for determination of punishment. This committee is composed of three independent members and seven representatives from member-institutions. In other words, the member-institutions basically judge one another. As if this fundamental structure did not create an appearance of impropriety—through the NCAA's role as prosecutor, defendant, jury, judge, and appeals court in the same inquiry—the NCAA exacerbates this problem in at least two ways. First, it gives representatives of fellow member-institutions the power to impose crippling sanctions on rivals and absolve allies. Second, signing multi-billion-dollar media contracts that generate over 90 percent of the NCAA's revenue have created a powerful financial disincentive to imposing penalties that might damage the "brand" of NCAA sports, in general, and the media access to flagship programs, specifically.