There's not exactly a new sheriff in town, but the existing sheriff now has some new ways to punish the crooks.
On Tuesday, the NCAA board of directors approved new enforcement rules aimed at streamlining the infractions process, increasing the severity of sanctions for the worst offenses and installing a more uniform set of penalties. Whether any of it will have much of an effect on cleaning up college sports remains to be seen.
Some of the highlights of the new enforcement process are:
Head coaches will be held responsible for violations by anyone on their staffs, unless they can prove that they maintained an atmosphere of strict compliance. Plausible deniability is no longer the easy way out for a head coach when an assistant or staff member breaks a rule.
Instead of having two categories for violations -- major and secondary -- the NCAA will now have four. Level 1 is the most serious and is described as a "severe breach of conduct." In such cases, the NCAA could hand out multi-year postseason bans and millions of dollars in fines. In other words, what Mark Emmert did to Penn State now becomes an actual, written power the NCAA can wield again.
Quicker hearings for infractions cases. In the past, these have sometimes dragged on for a year or more. The NCAA infractions committee will increase from 10 to 24 members, and the hope is that cases where the evidence is not overly complicated can be adjudicated in half the time or less. Remember how long Ohio State's case took? Do you think the Buckeyes might have liked a judgment before the end of last season so they could have potentially gotten a bowl ban out of the way in 2011? (Of course, part of that is their own fault, as new problems kept popping up).
More consistent penalties. The rulings handed down by the infractions committee have often been impossible to predict because they change from case to case with no apparent standard in place. Ohio State and AD Gene Smith were confident that the Buckeyes would not get a bowl ban last year because there was no precedent for it. USC fans are still mad at how harsh their penalties were for the Reggie Bush case in comparison to other, seemingly more serious violations at other schools. The NCAA has long needed more consistency with its enforcement, and if this works, schools would have a better idea of what to expect when they break rules.
So it all sounds pretty good. Still, the factors that often make NCAA enforcement rather toothless -- the lack of subpoeana power and a small staff of investigators -- isn't changing. Potentially harsher penalties could serve as more of a deterrent, but when there's so much money to be made by winning, the temptation will always be there. Head coaches will now have to make sure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed with their paperwork and compliance to make sure they are not brought down by a rogue assistant. Just one more thing on their plate that I'm sure they're thrilled about doing.
Hopefully this will have some impact on a college sports landscape that has been rocked by too many scandals in the last couple of years. We shall see if that's actually the case.