Ohio State’s New Compliance Chief: ‘I’m Not Expecting the Calm Life’

When I visited Ohio State University this fall for my piece on Jason Singleton and the big changes the Buckeyes have made in athletics oversight, Gates Garrity-Rokous had been on the job only a few weeks.

Mr. Garrity-Rokous, a former executive at GE Capital America, was hired in September to oversee the new Office of University Compliance and Integrity. He wasn’t available to talk in person when I was there, but joined in by speakerphone in what may be the largest conference room in college sports (seriously—the table alone could probably seat 30 people).

Ohio State’s new chief compliance officer, to whom the athletics-compliance unit now reports, has never worked in college sports. But he was well versed in the recent scandals at Ohio State, and already had a bone or two to pick with the NCAA.

“The NCAA is the only enforcement entity that doesn’t truly credit voluntary disclosure,” Mr. Garrity-Rokous said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare, the Defense Department, and “even the IRS” give you credit “when you disclose something on yourself,” he continued. “The NCAA punishes universities whether you find the problem or they do.”

He would like to see the association penalize colleges less severely when they self-disclose problems.

“Universities should be encouraged to identify and penalize risks, not punished for it,” he said. “It’s not like we want a pass, but the public doesn’t understand that our finding them is a good thing.”

Mr. Garrity-Rokous has spent much of his career working amid controversies, having served as an assistant U.S. attorney and a fraud investigator for the U.S. Department of Justice. At GE Capital, he oversaw the compliance department during the height of the financial crisis.

But he knows universities bring their own challenges. “I’m not expecting the calm life,” he said.

The shorthand version of his new job: Help assess risks from the university side and advise Doug Archie, Ohio State’s top athletics-compliance officer, on which areas deserve the most attention. (He is also charged with overseeing the university’s medical center and its research program, among other things.)

The university now spends $1.1-million a year on athletics oversight. But its monitors can’t be everywhere.

“We could have a compliance officer for every player, folks stationed at every door,” Mr. Garrity-Rokous says. “But you have to evaluate the risks.”

In time, he hopes to help the university be more proactive in its oversight. He would like to see Ohio State perform an annual risk assessment for sports. And he wants the compliance department to be more visible.

“It’s what the police do when there’s more crime,” he says. “You issue a lot more parking tickets and create a presence. That’s how homicides go down.”

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