Obeying rules a constant struggle

The University averages about 35 minor NCAA rules violations each year.

Stephanie Kudrle

The University is tied with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a few other institutions for the second-highest number of NCAA violations.

Each of the institutions has had seven major violations in the last 50 years, Athletics Compliance Director Frank Kara said. Southern Methodist University in Dallas has had eight.

A major violation is usually an intentional act that gives one university an extensive advantage over others, said Jennifer Heppel, associate commissioner of compliance for the Big Ten.

If Minnesota’s men’s basketball team receives another major violation – like it did for the academic scandal – before 2006, the program could be cut for a year, Kara said.

Kara and the rest of the University’s compliance office try to prevent the basketball team, and all other Gophers sports, from facing such penalties.

He handles all NCAA violations within Gophers sports and interacts with compliance officers from the NCAA and the Big Ten to make sure the University’s athletes, coaches and staff are following the rules.

The most recent investigation into NCAA rule violations involved recruiting practices for the football team.

Kara said recruiting infractions are the most common violations he finds. Approximately 50 percent of all NCAA violations at the University are in recruiting, he said.

“It’s the biggest, most complicated chapter in the rules book,” he said. “It’s easy to trip over.”

Heppel said aside from operational changes to athletics, there is not much more the University can do to prevent further violations.

Much of a compliance officer’s job is trying to identify where problem areas might be, she said.

The Big Ten reviews all violations reports from its 11 institutions, she said.

“Minnesota is doing a very good job in attempting to move forward,” she said. “We’re hoping the next 10 years aren’t like the last 10.”

NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes said there are hundreds of violations reported to the organization each year.

If the report is a major violation and research shows a reasonable cause to examine the situation, the NCAA will begin an investigation, Hawes said.

But Kara said most violations do not warrant an NCAA investigation.

“Major violations don’t come along very often Ö and we don’t want them to,” he said.

The compliance office has three main jobs, he said: educating others about NCAA rules, monitoring sports teams for violations and enforcing penalties if an infraction is discovered.

Because the NCAA rules book is constantly being updated, Kara said, he spends the bulk of his time educating others about the rules.

“We encourage people to come in and ask questions,” Kara said. “It’s a proactive approach and tries to prevent violations.”

To prevent conflicts of interest with reporting violations, the University is the only institution in the Big Ten to have its compliance office separate from the athletics department.

Instead of reporting to the athletics director, Kara reports to the general counsel office at the University.

Kara said being separate benefits the compliance office because he can make use of the general counsel’s investigation resources and advice.

“The biggest part of it is as more people are looking at it, there are more chances to catch something,” he said.

Also, Kara said the athletics director did not hire him or set his salary, and therefore cannot exert much influence over his decisions.

Jennifer Brinegar, assistant athletics director for compliance at Indiana University, said its compliance office is run through the athletics department, but also reports to the general counsel.

She said there are benefits with both systems and each institution has to decide which one is right for it.

Reporting to the general counsel might give the compliance office more authority over coaches, she said.

John Bove, compliance director for Penn State, said his office reports directly to the athletics department.

He said he does not feel any job pressure from the athletics director. Penn State has no major violations.

Bove said he respects the way Kara handles his job.

As a Big Ten compliance commissioner, Heppel said, she encourages all Big Ten institutions to have two reporting outlets, so the athletics department is not the sole resource for the compliance office.

The compliance office is not alone in reporting violations. The office finds approximately 50 percent of all violations, Kara said, and estimated that coaches report another 10 percent.

The rest is a combination of NCAA and Big Ten officials, faculty members, anonymous sources and students.

The University averages approximately 35 minor violations in a year, he said.

After a violation has been reported, Kara said, he will interview sources, ask for athletics documents and logs, and try to put the facts of the case together.

Out of the 35 yearly violations, he said, slight sanctions are imposed for approximately 30.

Most investigations of violations are done internally, within the compliance office, he said, but larger investigations, such as the recruiting violations, are turned over to an outside source.

Other typical penalties for infractions include fines, suspensions, forfeitures, monetary reductions or letters of reprimand from the NCAA, he said.

“We ask ourselves what we can do so it doesn’t happen again,” Kara said.