By Marta Lawrence
When NCAA Vice President for Enforcement Julie Roe Lach assumed her duties in October, the 13-year NCAA veteran knew the job brought a host of communication challenges.
The most glaring was the need to educate critics and give them a better understanding of the process. The response will take place Tuesday when more than 30 members of the media and readers of a live blog will participate in the Enforcement Experience − a day-long session that will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the complex task of holding institutions, administrators, coaches and student-athletes accountable for NCAA rules that are intended to promote education and fair play.
The NCAA will live blog from the Enforcement Experience, a behind-the-scenes look at the NCAA enforcement process beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday.
The day-long event will guide members of the media visiting the NCAA national office through a simulated enforcement case, from the initial tip through the investigation, charging, hearing and penalty phases. Attendees are encouraged to log-in to the live blog to ask questions throughout the day.
Committee on Infractions hearings are not open to the public, so Tuesday’s event will mark the first time the media and the public have been given access to committee members in that environment.
“When we began planning for the Enforcement Experience, I asked the staff to brainstorm the most common misperceptions about NCAA enforcement,” Roe Lach said. “We know our detractors believe the process is unfair, and they accuse the staff of being selective and biased. We also know most people don’t fully understand the role of the Committee on Infractions as compared to the role of the enforcement staff.
“We saw this as an opportunity to introduce our staff, educate people about the process and begin a dialogue to correct the record about why the enforcement program exists, who we are and how we do our job,” she said.
Modeled after the mock selections in men’s and women’s basketball, the interactive Enforcement Experience will ask participants to assume the role of an NCAA investigator and later a member of the Committee on Infractions.
Tuesday’s fictitious case – a multi-month process condensed to six hours – will begin with a confidential tip by a caller. Although the case is entirely made up, the confidential tip and ensuing investigation represent a typical scenario.
After reviewing the claim, participants will evaluate how to proceed with the investigation, based on guidance from NCAA staff experts. From there, the case could be passed on to a charging phase, a Committee on Infractions hearing and, if appropriate, the penalty phase.
NCAA enforcement staff members who participated in an Enforcement Experience preview last week said the simulation resembled real life.
NCAA Assistant Director of Enforcement Elizabeth Ramsey admitted she and many staff members are apprehensive every time they present to the committee. But they also said the enforcement staff must strive to ensure that the committee understands the case, is clear on the areas of disagreement and is in the best position possible to make an objective and fair ruling on the case.
“I think some people may believe the NCAA and the Committee on Infractions are one in the same,” Roe Lach said. “In reality, we’re on the hook to substantiate our allegations by presenting the facts. Our goal is to have a well-rounded presentation of the facts, not to keep a win/loss tally. The committee is ultimately responsible for determining if a violation took place and they are the body that assigns appropriate penalties.”
Roe Lach is realistic about the impact of the Enforcement Experience on future media coverage.
“We know members of the media will continue to question actions surrounding the enforcement program and process, and that’s healthy,” she said. “We hope, however, that today’s session will give them a better understanding of the steps the NCAA enforcement staff and the Committee on Infractions take to uphold integrity of the rules by seeking accountability through a fair investigation and hearing for those who break the rules. ”
In a related development, a new section of NCAA.org describing the enforcement process debuted Monday.
The enforcement staff gave their colleagues at the NCAA national office a preview of the Enforcement Experience in a dress rehearsal last week.
While NCAA staff members generally have a good understanding about the NCAA enforcement process, the information and thoughtful presentation provided at Tuesday’s Enforcement Experience gave even veteran staff members a fresh perspective.
President, NCAA Eligibility Center
Number of years on staff: 4
“They are protecting the game and serving as stewards for the Association and its student-athletes. It is difficult and challenging work. Strategy is paramount to figure out what really happened. The enforcement team takes its job very seriously along with the Committee on Infractions. I was surprised at the amount of time it takes to put a case together and to hear the matter. It is not for the faint of heart.”
Associate director of operations, NCAA Eligibility Center
Number of years on staff: 12
“The Enforcement Experience was extremely beneficial and was very effective in simulating a case from start to finish. I now have a great appreciation for the time and effort that goes into an investigation. This experience will provide the media with a good understanding of the detail and why an investigation can get lengthy. It was also eye-opening going through the Committee on Infractions hearing. I don’t think a lot of people realize that not only is the institution stating its case in front of the Committee, but the enforcement staff also has to defend its findings.”
Director of Digital Communications, NCAA
Number of years on the NCAA Staff: 24
“Two parts stood out for me.
“First, I never had considered how important – or difficult – it is to sequence the interviews during an investigation. There’s a delicate balance to be found between getting the information you need without tipping your hand and compromising the investigation.
“The other especially interesting part for me was the model of the hearing. The committee members were quite aggressive in their questions, both for the accused and for the enforcement staff presenting the case. They paid a lot of attention to clearing up fuzzy statements or expanding on points that needed development.”