NCAA can learn from Pac-12 investigation

June, 3, 2013

UW Green Bay went to a local independent attorney for an investigation into allegations of abuse by its men's basketball coach, Brain Wardle.

The Pac-12 sought out an independent law firm in Indianapolis to investigate the handling of the Pac-12 tournament officiating, a fine to Arizona coach Sean Miller and the behavior of former coordinator of officials Ed Rush.

Neither were NCAA investigations, but they were handled in a similar fashion. If the NCAA wants to truly overhaul the enforcement process, then it should take the investigations out of the NCAA enforcement hands, look to independent entities and then produce the reports for the committee on infractions to issue any penalties or sanctions.

In these two spring examples, extensive interviews occurred. Each report was nearly 40 pages long, and the two investigations were wrapped up in six weeks or less.

Wow, what a concept.

The Green Bay report was delivered to the president, who ultimately had the final say. Wardle was cleared of any serious charges. He kept his job. The report debunked the most serious charge that Wardle had pushed a player when he was ill and embarrassed him. Ultimately, he was given a penalty of needing an adviser with him for next season to monitor behavior and language.

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Sean Miller
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSean Miller and Arizona benefited from a third-party investigation.

No one seemed to squawk about the independent nature of the investigation on either side of the case.

The Pac-12 report was released publicly Sunday night. The report backed up why Miller was fined for his profane postgame language at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas after a technical foul on Miller was the difference in a two-point loss to UCLA. It also clearly showed Rush's behavior varied from too aggressive, and a bit of a tyrant, to instructive in trying to make the officials enforce the current rules. The reports showed how some officials interpreted his theatrics in different ways. While some took it harder than others, no one literally thought they would get cash or a trip for issuing technicals.

Arizona, the school with the most at stake in the report, sent out comments Sunday night. None of those questioned the validity of the report. The report details the reason for Miller's $25,000 fine, the debate on whether it should be reduced and the final ruling that it would be handed down and then closed once Miller paid.

Stu Brown, who conducted the report for the legal team Ice Miller, said the charge was to produce a factual report. They weren't told to put in opinion or suggest further penalties (there weren't any).

Neither the Pac-12 or the Green Bay investigations were under oath, but neither are NCAA investigations. Had Duke or the ACC or, better yet, the NCAA conducted an independent investigation into the Lance Thomas jewelry case, then there is still a chance none of the key personnel would have talked to a third party. But without the ties to a school, conference or the NCAA, there may have been a chance.

The NCAA has a perception problem right now that isn't going away anytime soon. The people in enforcement are hard-working individuals. From those that I know, they don't have a list of coaches or ADs or schools that they need to "get." But the NCAA has lost its ability to be viewed as an objective, neutral party. Having attorneys or true investigators, who are professionals in this area, conduct a thorough and expedient investigation would be a benefit to all schools.

The goal of the independent investigation wasn't to penalize or prosecute, and it shouldn't be for NCAA investigation, either. The NCAA should be interviewing, fact-finding and then handing over the organized report to the committee on infractions, which should then review whether a violation occurred and penalties pending.

Brown's group talked to everyone involved, organized the information and then reached conclusions.

"Everybody we spoke to was cooperative and quickly responsive and shared their time and made things go relatively smoothly,'' said Brown.

The conclusions were shown why they were reached. The Pac-12 then had the opportunity to review whether or not further sanctions were necessary. They were not.

This could occur in an NCAA case. You could have a third party investigate whether or not a workout occurred, who paid for it, how the person traveled there and what happened, and then have the COI review it. The COI could determine that nothing out of the ordinary occurred or that the player would have to sit games.

In these cases, the person who was being investigated could still participate and play while there is an investigation ongoing. They would not be presumed guilty before an investigation was complete. The NCAA enforcement wouldn't be trying to prove a violation occurred, but rather an independent, third party would be looking at the incident in question, gathering the facts of the case and presenting a report as to what occurred.

And that should be the bottom-line mission of any investigation: Present factual reports to be judged in the case, not play prosecutor or be an advocate for a rule.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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