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NCAA fires VP of enforcement, pledges change after 'debacle' in Miami probe

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The NCAA emerged Monday from a 27-day external review of its ongoing University of Miami investigation with president Mark Emmert calling the situation a "debacle," and with new leadership of its enforcement division.

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Julie Roe Lach was fired as the NCAA's enforcement chief. (AP)

Vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach was fired in the wake of an external report detailing an abuse of power in the NCAA's investigation into the Hurricanes' football and men's basketball programs. Emmert refused to confirm Lach's dismissal on a national teleconference Monday, but multiple sources confirmed the action to Yahoo! Sports.

Roe Lach's dismissal stems from her approving an improper financial relationship between an NCAA investigator and an attorney of former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. NCAA president Mark Emmert announced on Jan. 23 that the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft had been retained to conduct the external review of the association's "enforcement environment" – notably the relationship between the NCAA and Shapiro attorney Maria Elena Perez.

The findings released Monday state that the enforcement department: went against NCAA legal advice in paying Perez for depositions she shared with the association; violated internal NCAA policy; failed to consider the NCAA membership's understanding of the limitation of its enforcement powers; and failed to sufficiently oversee Perez's actions on the association's behalf.

Emmert said the NCAA's investigation into Miami remains active and will go forward to the committee on infractions, likely ruling out a summary disposition in the case. But as a result of interviews stemming from two "tainted" depositions by Perez, the NCAA has thrown out 20 percent of its evidence in the case, in the estimation of Kenneth L. Wainstein, a partner with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

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"This is an outcome nobody wants to see on their watch, or anyone else's," Emmert said. "It's something that's an embarrassment to our association and our staff. … This is not a good situation at all."

Miami president Donna Shalala criticized the NCAA for continuing its "lengthy and already flawed" investigation.

"We believe strongly in the principles and values of fairness and due process," Shalala said in a statement. "However, we have been wronged in this investigation, and we believe that this process must come to a swift resolution, which includes no additional punitive measures beyond those already self-imposed."

While the external investigation concluded that no bankruptcy laws or NCAA bylaws had been broken by enforcement staffers, the firm found they ignored the advice of legal counsel to steer clear of a financial relationship with Shapiro's attorney. Wainstein said the choice to move forward with Perez was an example of "bad judgment" that ultimately undermined the expectation that NCAA employees will heed the advice of the association's internal counsel.

Although Lach was dismissed, Wantstein volunteered that she was "completely cooperative" in the external review and that there was "nothing about the facts that indicate any lack of integrity on her part. She was quite candid and straightforward."

"I still have the highest regard for Julie Roe Lach," said David Price, Lach's predecessor as head of enforcement. "I think she's one of the finest people I know. … It's a tragic day for enforcement, no matter how you look at it."

Lach has been replaced on an interim basis by Jonathan Duncan, a law partner with a focus on education and sports law at Spencer, Fane, Britt & Browne. She is just the latest departure within an enforcement staff that has seen significant – and often acrimonious – turnover in the last year.

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NCAA president Mark Emmert said the investigation into Miami remains active. (AP)

Investigator Ameen Najjar was fired in the spring of 2012 while working on the Miami case. The following December, investigator Abigail Grantstein was fired for improper conduct during the association's investigation into UCLA basketball star Shabazz Muhammad. The enforcement staff also lost longtime investigator Richard Johanningmeier, who retired in 2012, and saw the abrupt resignation of Bill Benjamin, who left his post as the NCAA's director of enforcement less than eight months after taking the position.

"There are a handful of people I could name in my career who emulate integrity on a daily basis, and Julie is one of those people," said Carrie Doyle, a former NCAA enforcement representative who now is compliance director at North Carolina State. "I am convinced Julie acted with integrity and did the right thing. She is who she is. … What's happened is unfortunate, for the membership and the enforcement staff."

Lach was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon, but those familiar with her work were saddened to hear of her firing.

"Julie has done great work at the NCAA," said Alabama attorney Gene Marsh, a former member of the Committee on Infractions and currently a specialist representing schools in NCAA investigations. "… She's always been very impressive. She's very meticulous and thorough.

"I've dealt with lots of people [at the NCAA] in lots of different contexts. She clearly was one of people I thought would listen and change her position if the argument was solid. Some of the others were like talking to a stone. This is really unfortunate. Sad and unfortunate."

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Marsh said he has read the full report on the external review.

"The facts are what they are, and the NCAA's decision is what it is," he said. "Folks make mistakes."

Marsh also has taken note of the rapid turnover at the NCAA.

"There have been more dismissals in the last few months than in all the years I've been involved with them," he said. "The NCAA right now is under more scrutiny than ever in my life. They used to be largely veiled from scrutiny."

Emmert said he does not believe the NCAA's enforcement process is broken. But he said the long-term effect of this policy failure and subsequent internal review could be a new model for how NCAA Enforcement and the Committee on Infractions conduct business. He said he is initiating the process of seeking feedback from NCAA member schools about the best way for that vital, controversial arm of the association to operate.

"We will take a broader look at the processes across all our regulatory systems," Emmert said.

Emmert was asked whether he, as president of the organization, should face sanctions for problems on his watch. He responded by saying that it's not his decision.

"If the Executive Committee believes there needs to be some disciplinary action toward me, I'm sure they will," he said.

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