Luchs: The NCAA system is broken; here's how to fix it

Publish date:

Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. College sports reaches a new low ... again. It reeks.

Nevin Shapiro, the University of Miami booster and the man behind a Ponzi scheme has been revealed by a Yahoo! Sports' expose as the most flagrant, brazen, flaunting violator in the history of college sports ... and that's saying something.

When I decided to come clean to SI's George Dohrmann last October about paying college players, it shined a bright light on corruption in college football. It should have scared the hell out of players, agents, boosters, coaches and universities. But so should have Cam Newton's father shopping him like a hot watch, Jim Tressel's players trading championship memorabilia for tattoos and Reggie Bush forfeiting his Heisman over illicit payments.

Reading Charles Robinson's Yahoo expose on Shapiro, I couldn't help thinking, nothing has changed since I came clean. And it made me think, what will it take to get real change?

There's a natural reaction to Shapiro's debauchery to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Miami's compliance staff. Before we make them responsible, ask who pays them, who they report to, who they owe allegiance to. It's the University's athletic department. And in a big sports school like Miami, the most powerful people in the athletic department are the head coaches of the football and basketball teams. Compliance works for the coaches. Conflict? Uh, yeah.

It's against the self-interest of the compliance department to find wrongdoing. (If that sounds similar to the criticism of Wall Street compliance departments being paid by Wall Street firms during the financial meltdown it's no coincidence.)

In my nearly 20-year career (half of which was spent providing improper benefits), I never once met or saw any compliance personnel. That is, until I was asked to participate in panel discussions at law schools around the country and speak at the NCAA regional rules seminars in front of hundreds of compliance staffers. They're invisible ... by design. Miami compliance director David Reed is a part, and maybe a victim, of the same unrealistic structure as all compliance personnel in college sports. They're paid to be firefighters as opposed to police officers. The schools and coaches don't want them to find anything wrong. But if they do, they want them to get rid of the problem, put it out like a fire, not find the cause to prevent the next one.

Want a real solution -- real change -- instead of the next expose? Don't blame the compliance departments, change the system. Make them like Eliot Ness' "Untouchables" who busted the bootleggers -- not local cops on the take but G-men. Take Compliance Departments off the school payroll and put them on an autonomous payroll of the NCAA. It just might produce more vigilant compliance staffs and an atmosphere more conducive to rules enforcement as opposed to self-preservation.

Athletic departments will hate this recommendation -- it's a loss of power and an admission of failure -- but it's time that the NCAA member institutions acknowledge that the NCAA enforcement model reliant on athletic department self-monitoring has failed. Just ask Nevin Shapiro. Like me, he never got caught.