Professors Suggest How to Improve NCAA’s Judicial Process

The lead article in the latest issue of the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics has a thoughtful blueprint for improving the NCAA’s controversial judicial system.

On the heels of the NCAA’s missteps in the University of Miami investigation, and its questionable actions against Pennsylvania State University, many people have floated ideas for tweaking the association’s punitive process. Most of those suggestions, however, lack the specificity of this plan.

The ideas come from Christian S. Dennie, a lawyer and adjunct professor at Texas Wesleyan University’s School of Law, and Gerald S. Gurney, an assistant professor of adult and higher education at the University of Oklahoma and a former president of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics. Their article, “Rethinking Penn State Sanctions and Executive Authority,” appears in a special issue of the Journal that is focused entirely on fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In a nutshell, here’s what the authors propose:

1. NCAA infractions cases should be referred to one or more neutral third-party arbitrators with knowledge of sports industry arbitration.

Such a change, which would be modeled on Major League Baseball’s salary-arbitration model, would entitle coaches, athletes, and institutions to a fairer hearing than they receive under the NCAA’s current system, the authors argue, without the “cloud of the NCAA wearing multiple hats in the enforcement process (i.e., investigator, prosecutor, judge, and executioner).”

2. Appeals from the neutral third-party arbitration decisions should be heard by an independent appellate body of arbitrators.

Such a procedure would provide an extra layer of protection for coaches, administrators, and others, and create an open environment for appeals based on established procedures, Mr. Dennie and Mr. Gurney write.

3. If expedited authority is required to address matters for the good of intercollegiate athletics or the specific sport, then the legislation to authorize the NCAA president to levy sanctions should be proposed and voted upon by NCAA member institutions. Appeals of executive action should be afforded through neutral third-party arbitration.

That last proposal, which would prevent NCAA leaders from acting outside of the association’s normal judicial process in adjudicating cases, would remove the possibility of any future Penn State-style sanctions. Lots of institutions would like that security, but the NCAA surely doesn’t want to cede such control.

Most of the talk about changing the NCAA’s judiciary system has centered on less-radical ideas, including creating an independent group that would regularly monitor the effectiveness of the enforcement and infractions process. Some people have suggested a wholesale outsourcing of the system, but those ideas haven’t gotten much traction.

With the NCAA’s recent steps to shore up its enforcement and infractions systems, including a move to enlarge and diversify its infractions committee, the association is certainly not headed in the direction that Mr. Dennie and Mr. Gurney propose.

But Division I is still a big tent. And the authors’ ideas could strike the right note if more people hear about them.

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