Congressmen Seek to Reform NCAA Rule Enforcement Process

The NCAA Accountability Act would provide due process protections for universities and individuals under investigation.

November 4, 2021 · Updated on November 10, 2021

Congressmen Seek to Reform NCAA Rule Enforcement Process
College Sports

  • The NCAA Accountability Act would regulate how the organization investigates and punishes rule breakers.
  • The bill would provide due process protections for universities and individuals under investigation by the NCAA.
  • It would also prevent current athletes from being punished for misdeeds committed by predecessors.

A new bipartisan bill aims to reform the NCAA's disciplinary power over colleges, coaches, and athletes.

Reps. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), and Burgess Owens (R-Utah) this week introduced the NCAA Accountability Act. They say it would result in a better system for investigating and punishing rule breakers.

"The NCAA's infractions process is systematically flawed," Kustoff said in a statement, because the organization "writes the rules, enforces the rules, and punishes universities at will."

"The NCAA's infractions process is systematically flawed."

– Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.)

"Essentially, the NCAA acts as the prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner over college athletics," said Kustoff, pictured above. "This unchecked authority and exploitative behavior has ruined careers, harmed the U.S. education system, and caused great economic damage to local communities."

The bill would provide due process protections for universities and individuals under investigation by the NCAA, create a two-year statute of limitations on NCAA violations, place limits on how long the NCAA has to complete its investigations, and provide schools an option to appeal sanctions to a three-person panel of neutral arbitrators. The bill also would prevent current athletes from being punished for misdeeds committed by those who came before them.

Additionally, the NCAA would have to submit annual reports to the U.S. Department of Justice summarizing its enforcement proceedings and submit reports to each state's attorney general summarizing its interactions with member universities located in their respective states.

Significantly, the DOJ would have the authority to fine the NCAA or individual NCAA staff members up to $15 million for violating the provisions of the bill.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College and president-elect of the Drake Group, an organization committed to reforming college sports, told BestColleges he supported the proposed legislation.

"Due process for athletes and schools under NCAA investigation is long overdue," Zimbalist said in email.

The NCAA's enforcement process has been criticized for being inefficient and for taking too long to render decisions. It's also been perceived by some as favoring big-time programs, handing out harsher penalties to lesser-known programs compared to brand-name schools like Duke University and the North Carolina University at Chapel Hill, for instance.

The NCAA launched its enforcement process, the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), in August 2019. It relies upon independent investigators, advocates, and decision-makers to handle complex cases involving serious infractions by Division I schools. It was conceived by a commission led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was created in response to an FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting.

Since its formation, the IARP has received six cases, but has not issued a decision on any of them, spurring criticism. The IARP's first case came in March 2020 and involved the University of Memphis and its recruitment of star basketball player James Wiseman, who now plays in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors.

The other cases involve North Carolina State University, the University of Kansas, Louisiana State University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Louisville. But it is the Wiseman case, in particular, that has irritated Kustoff, who earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Memphis.

"The NCAA has a history of unfair practices and playing favorites, and it's time they face up to their improper conduct. I look forward to investigating their actions and doing what I can to ensure greater transparency for all student-athletes," Kustoff said in 2019 as he announced his own investigation into the NCAA over the Wiseman case. The congressman's office didn't respond to BestCollege's request for an update on that investigation.

"The NCAA has a history of unfair practices and playing favorites, and it's time they face up to their improper conduct."

– Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.)

In response to its critics and in recognition of its commission's shortcomings, the NCAA Division I board of directors announced in August that it was immediately changing the way it handles major infractions cases being adjudicated by the IARP. The change was an attempt to speed up the IARP's protracted process.

"The oversight committee, which has expressed concerns about the delay in the resolution of cases referred to the independent process, determined that much of the delay is the result of efforts by the Complex Case Unit to 're-investigate' cases that the enforcement staff thoroughly investigated," the NCAA said in a news release. "Accepting the enforcement staff's results will speed the process significantly without compromising the goals of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process."

Following the change, the IARP released timelines that detail the steps it has taken in its investigations of Arizona, LSU, NC State, Kansas, Louisville, and Memphis. It has not released any information as to when those cases will be decided.


Featured Image: Pool / Pool / Getty Images News / Getty Images