Get ready for the 'Enforcement Experience'

The NCAA is an easy target. Part of that is deserved. Part of it is not.

The problem is that any time you feel inclined to give the NCAA the benefit of the doubt -- to explain, for example, that enforcement issues are tangled and difficult and inherently prone to reasonable inconsistencies, or that the NCAA tournament selection committee's bracketing and seeding process is a bit more difficult than most seem to understand -- the organization finds a way to do something to shred that goodwill into pieces. Within seconds, the desire to inject nuance flies out the window, and you find yourself angrily railing against the folks in Indianapolis like everyone else.

Yes, in case you're wondering, I'm referencing the NCAA's new early entry deadline rule. I still can't wrap my head around just how bad this decision is. It's just ... sigh. Nevermind.

Horrific recent decisions aside, though, the NCAA is trying, you guys. It really is. Most notably, it is getting much better at being transparent. That effort began with the NCAA mock selection committee, a yearly rite in which media members are invited to Indianapolis to create their own NCAA tournament bracket with the same tools and process the selection committee uses every year. This process has proved enlightening, fun, and occasionally frustrating. More than anything, it has given media -- and by proxy, the fans -- some window into the inner-workings of the NCAA tournament selection process. (Now, if we could only get the committee chair to actually answer a question. Maybe next year.)

Next up in the NCAA's transparency initiative: The "Enforcement Experience." What, pray tell, is the Enforcement Experience? In essence, it's the same thing as the mock selection committee. But this time, media members will participate first in a mock enforcement exercise ranging from a fake anonymous "tip" by a fake caller, to a fake investigation, to a fake hearing in front of a fake Committee on Infractions:

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.

The Enforcement Experience will take place Tuesday in Indianapolis, and it will be worth following. Most media members probably know what to expect from a mock selection committee even if they've never been in the room. The NCAA's enforcement process is even more arcane and opaque.

Moreover, when "critics" complain about the selection process, they're complaining about relatively minor things. When the NCAA draws popular backlash for allegedly inconsistent enforcement decisions, much more -- including and up to the viability of amateur sport itself and the reputation of the well-meaning organization at its center -- is at stake.

That's the goal of the Enforcement Experience; it's right there in the second paragraph of the NCAA's release:

The most glaring [communications challenge] was the need to educate critics and give them a better understanding of the process.

That premise assumes that those criticizing the NCAA are uneducated about the process, which is a little bit condescending, but oh well. Bottom line: This is a good thing. At the very least, it should be educational. If the result is a more nuanced discussion of NCAA enforcement decisions in the years to come, every fan of college sports should be better for it.