College football and basketball head coaches have been put on notice.
If rules are broken within your program – by anyone – it will come back on you. And the sanctions will be more severe than they've ever been before.
That's the offshoot of a vote by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors Tuesday morning to overhaul the NCAA's entire enforcement structure. The primary changes:
• A four-tiered violation structure, as opposed to the current two categories of major and secondary violations. The intent is to more effectively penalize the major rule-breakers and spend less time on trivial violations.
• An expansion of the membership of the Committee on Infractions, which hears NCAA cases, so the adjudication process moves more quickly. More committee members mean more committee hearings, which means less lag time for schools waiting to hear their fate.
• A new penalty structure, with recommended penalties for each of the four levels of violations. It comes with a clear imperative from the presidents to make the penalties harsher than ever within a framework of postseason bans, scholarship reductions, financial penalties, recruiting restrictions and a more meaningful probationary status. There could also be an increase in show-case penalties for individuals named in violations.
• An increased burden of responsibility on head coaches for what happens within their programs, including more frequent use of suspensions from coaching games.
It's all significant news within the college athletic community, but the element that will get the most public attention is the last one. The days of head coaches shrugging and saying they had no idea what an assistant coach was doing to land a recruit, then watching the assistant take the hit while they avoid penalty, are essentially over.
Starting with cases ruled on after Aug. 1, 2013, when these changes go into effect, head coaches who have major violations within their programs will probably be missing games. And other penalties are likely to be stricter as well.
"The perception was that the rules were not consistent, not predictable and weren't strong enough," NCAA director of enforcement Chris Strobel told Yahoo! Sports. "They didn't deter violations. The membership was interested in more consistency and making penalties stronger.
"The accountability piece with head coaches kind of goes right along with that. To change the culture and sent a message, the feedback we got from the membership is that the most effective way to do that is to suspend the coaches. And you need to increase the significance of those suspensions."
If, for instance, a school is found to have committed a major violation – which will be termed Level One or Level Two in the new structure – coaches could be in line for a lengthy suspension from competition.
How lengthy? At the high end, a full year. Strobel said an "Aggravated Level One" violation, which is one where significant rules were broken and there was a lack of cooperation with the investigation by the school, could result in a season-long suspension of the coach.
A "Standard Level One" violation could result in a suspension for 30-50 percent of a season.
Even Level Two violations such as excessive phone calls to recruits could put a coach out of action for up to 10 percent of the season, Strobel said. And there are some Level Three violations, such as improper contact during a recruiting dead period, which could also result in a head-coach suspension.
"There's no question that the level of transparency and accountability need to go up," Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "And the No. 1 person who needs to be held accountable is the head coach. That's why you're called the head coach.
"I think the NCAA has taken some very positive steps."
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However, the concern among some coaches is that they are now being held accountable for the actions of people who do not directly report to them. That includes athletic department staffers who work in strength and conditioning, academic support and other areas that are in contact with recruits and enrolled athletes.
Fitzgerald, for one, doesn't want to hear those complaints.
"I would say this to any head coach who is concerned: if you have concerns about anybody who's touching your program, you've got problems," he said. "At the end of the day, the buck stops with the head coach."
However, sources told Yahoo! Sports that the increased compliance burden on head coaches could result in demands for even bigger salaries, and calls from coaches to further strengthen what are often understaffed compliance departments.
In the end, the NCAA is hoping to streamline its infamously cluttered and dense rule book, speed up its cycle of justice and further crack down on cheaters.
"A more sensible rules book combined with a more efficient way to enforce those rules will serve to sustain the collegiate model and restore public trust in college sports and the NCAA," said Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, who is on the Division I Board of Directors, in an NCAA release.
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