Sunday, October 28, 2007

Inside the World of NCAA Compliance

Check out this interesting article about compliance activities within the MAC in general, and Ball State specifically:

MUNCIE -- Ball State University was ahead of the curve in 1992 when it was the first Mid-American Conference school to hire an athletics compliance director.

That was then. This is now.

The Ball State athletics compliance department no longer sets the bar for the MAC. Since 2002, the school has fallen behind many of its conference counterparts in having enough staff to track its compliance with a burgeoning NCAA rule book. . . .

"If it was up to me, I'd have more people," said Kyle Brennan, the director of athletics compliance and eligibility at Ball State. "It's really just me. That is low for the MAC. I'm grateful to athletic director Tom Collins and president Jo Ann Gora for the GA. I've tried to get more people on the staff to keep up with every team and all the NCAA requirements."

The compliance department interprets the NCAA rule book for athletes, coaches and administrators to ensure that the athletic department adheres to the guidelines. A copy of the manual -- all 440 pages of small-print jargon -- sits on Brennan's desk.

"It's not a pop-up book," Brennan said. "It seems to be written by lawyers for lawyers. They read just like statutes."

Brennan was a probation litigation attorney in Denver before he accepted a compliance assistant position at Northern Illinois in 2004, so he understands the lingo. His responsibility is to make sure the coaching staffs for all of BSU's 19 sports, 430 student-athletes, and the Cardinal Varsity Club understand it as well. And with the NCAA rules constantly expanding, the responsibilities for a compliance department have become burdensome on staffs of three and four, let alone one. . . .

The textbook violation occurred when David Land was the athletics compliance director. He was replaced by Brennan before the 2006-07 school year, but there were no additions made to the staff.

"Is it enough?" Gora said about the size of the compliance department when questioned during a Star Press editorial board meeting last week. "I don't think any of the violations would have been avoided with more people. The compliance official at the time there was David Land, and the NCAA was very hard on him. He should have monitored the situation."

Brennan already applied to the Office of University Compliance for more additions to his staff for next year but that seems unlikely, according to Gora.

"I'm satisfied with our compliance office and the staffing," Gora said. "We changed compliance officers and instituted a program of rules education that is significant.

"I don't think the number of compliance officers is key, but what they do and how they function."

In other words, Kyle Brennan, you are expendable, and you are the scapegoat should Ball State have any future compliance problems.

The Ball State compliance office funds the staff salaries, but the athletic department pays for all the other expenses. Those expenses range from camps to clinics to software updates to travel. Brennan said his options are limited because his budget, including salary, is less than $100,000. By comparison, the Eastern Michigan director of athletic compliance, Melody Reifel Werner, said her budget is around $200,000.

When asked if he understood Brennan's worries about being understaffed and underfunded, Ball State athletic director Tom Collins said, "absolutely."

Werner once operated under similar conditions as Brennan. Underfunded and understaffed, she took her case all the way to the top. Now, she has a faculty compliance associate, a graduate assistant and two interns.

"Like everybody, we were understaffed. I went to our president and explained I thought we were vulnerable and at risk of violations because we were understaffed," she said. "The president granted a 100 percent release to a faculty member, so I have someone with 25 years of teaching experience working for me full time." . . .

Ahhh, so the practice of minimizing reported athletics expenses by utilizing other budget lines extends to compliance as well.

Some compliance departments benefit in the long run from their athletic departments committing NCAA violations. Michigan State associate athletics director for compliance Jennifer Smith said the NCAA recommended changes to the department after the school committed violations in 1997 that landed the school on probation. The school responded by bringing in new leadership and adding two positions. The sweeping changes bolstered the compliance department, and since then Michigan State has steered clear of any NCAA investigations.

So if the NCAA punishes Ball State further after ruling on the Thompson investigation, will the school follow Michigan State's example and bolster its athletics compliance department? There's no reason to think so at this point.

"I would hope so. I don't know," Brennan said. "With the book scandal, they've known about it for two years and there's been no staff added."

Best of luck Kyle, best of luck.

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