After years of complaints about the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) handling of infractions, Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Cory Booker of New Jersey will introduce the NCAA Accountability Act of 2021, which, if passed, will dramatically alter the infractions process. The bill is similar to the NCAA Accountability Act of 2021, introduced by Representative David Kustoff in November 2021.
Issues with the NCAA Infraction Process
The bill appears to be taking direct aim at the timing of the infractions process by setting deadlines and shortening the statute of limitations.
According to the Division I’s Committee on Infractions 2021 Annual Report, when the enforcement staff receives information regarding a potential violation, the enforcement staff spends an average of 12-20 months investigating the information before issuing a notice of allegations.
After receiving the notice of allegations, if an institution cannot reach a negotiated resolution, the cases are placed on one of three tracks:
The Summary Disposition Track: the parties agree to the facts and draft a report and a Committee on Infractions Panel issues a decision;
The Hearing Track: the allegations are challenged and each side presents to a Committee on Infractions Panel, which issues a decision; or
The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP): used in complex cases.
For the Summary Disposition Track and Hearing Track, parties may appeal a decision rendered by the panel. Parties cannot appeal a decision made via the IARP.
If a party chooses the Summary Disposition Track or Hearing Track, it can take an average of 4 months for a decision to be rendered. Then, it can take another 4 months for an appeal. Thus, for a violation, it could take over two years from the date information is received by the enforcement staff to reach a final resolution.
Potential violations that go through the IARP process take even longer. In the case of North Carolina State University, the enforcement staff received information regarding a potential violation in 2018. Notably, the information revolved around a violation in 2015. A final decision was rendered on December 20, 2021, over two years after the enforcement staff first received the information and well after the players and coaches involved in the violation had left the university.
In Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee, the University of Memphis’s case is being resolved through the IARP process. The NCAA enforcement staff began investigating the case in May 2019. Nearly three years later, the independent review panel has yet to issue a final decision.
Proposed Changes to the Infraction Process
The NCAA Accountability Act of 2021 alters the timelines. First, the bill shortens the investigation stage to 8 months after the enforcement staff receives information. Further, the NCAA would not be able to investigate possible violations that occurred more than 2 years before the date the enforcement staff sends a notice of inquiry to the institution, which would have barred much of the conduct in the NC State infractions case.
Second, a panel must hold a hearing no later than one year after an institution is provided with the notice of allegations, and at the hearing, a party cannot offer information from confidential sources into evidence.
Lastly, if a party disputes the decision made by the hearing panel, the party may appeal to arbitration conducted by a separate 3-person panel. By setting deadlines, if the bill were to pass, the average infractions process time should decrease.
The new bill comes at a time when the NCAA is transitioning to a new model. Under the new Constitution, each division has the power to make its own rules and regulations. Further, the overhaul of name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules has altered what constitutes an NCAA infraction. With the new transition, it appears that Congress is now stepping in alter the NCAA model.