Annual Meeting

Panelists Describe Lawyers' Work Behind the Scenes in NCAA Investigations

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Anyone hoping to hear a spirited discussion over whether the NCAA overstepped its authority when it sanctioned Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal instead was schooled in the NCAA’s investigation and enforcement process.

A panel of four lawyers spoke today about that process at the Young Lawyers Division-sponsored “Demystifying the NCAA Investigation & Enforcement Process” program.

“There is no mystery,” said Orland Park, Kan. lawyer Richard Evrard, who represents universities before the NCAA. “Demystification is a problem that exists in the minds of people who think the NCAA is doing things.”

Also on the panel were Brynna Barnhart, the NCAA’s assistant director of enforcement; Indianapolis lawyer and sports agent Joe Champion; and Indianapolis sports lawyer Stuart Brown.

The NCAA has a comprehensive set of rules and bylaws which govern how all the players must conduct themselves in an investigation or proceeding, the panelists noted.

Evrard, who compared the NCAA bylaws to the IRS tax code, said you must read the 400-plus page book before trying to judge how the collegiate athletic association works.

“The question that I would pose to anyone who wants to have a conversation about the NCAA process is whether the process is good for the school? Does it cover all the bases? There is a rule book. If an institution or student does not follow them, there is a process for determining whether they violated them.”

Noting that the NCAA is a voluntary organization, the panelists discussed how the association collects information, whether athletes and coaches have rights during proceedings and what role a lawyer can play while representing student-athletes, coaches and universities before the collegiate sports authority.

Brown said lawyers can definitely add value during the entire process, especially when it comes to advising clients about how to act during investigations.

As for the Penn State case, Evrard said the real question lawyers should now be asking is not whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds, but what new standard was set.

The NCAA used its authority to bypass its investigative process to impose the sanctions, Evrard said in reference to the Freeh Report conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and commissioned by Penn State’s trustees to investigate the Sandusky scandal. “The NCAA, through the details of the report, asked Penn State whether they agreed with the report. Penn State said it did. The NCAA said it did, too.”

The NCAA put itself in an interesting position by imposing these penalties, Evrard added. “The question is now: What is the standard for NCAA? If a coach is now arrested for conduct with a student, does that reach the standard where NCAA will bypass its investigative process? We as lawyers have to figure out the standard.”

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