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College

College sports: NCAA approves tougher sanctions for rule-breakers

INDIANAPOLIS – The NCAA passed a package of sweeping changes Tuesday intended to crack down hard on rule-breaking schools and coaches.

Under the new legislation, approved by the 13-member board of directors, programs that commit the most egregious infractions could face postseason bans of 2 to 4 years and fines stretching into the millions, while coaches could face suspensions of up to a year for violations committed by their staffs.

The board also approved measures to expand the penalty structure from two tiers to four, create new penalty guidelines, and speed up the litigation process.

The vote ends a movement that started in August 2011, during the midst of one of the most scandalous years in college sports history. NCAA President Mark Emmert was so concerned that he asked dozens of university leaders to join him at a presidential retreat in Indianapolis.

“We have sought all along to remove the ‘risk-reward’ analysis that has tempted people – often because of the financial pressures to win at all costs – to break the rules in the hopes that either they won’t be caught or that the consequences won’t be very harsh if they do get caught,” Emmert said.

Under the plan, violators found in a “serious breach of conduct” with aggravating circumstances could get those postseason bans and be forced to return millions of dollars from specific events or gross revenue generated by the sport during those years in which rules were broken.

That’s exactly what
happened to Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The NCAA banned the Nittany Lions’ football program from postseason play until after the 2016 season and levied a $60 million fine on the school.

If a member of the coaching staff commits an egregious infraction, the head coach must prove he or she was unaware it occurred or face a suspension that ranges from 10 percent of the season to one full season.

Another piece of the plan allows the NCAA to scrap its current system of major and secondary infractions for a four-level stepladder – severe breach of conduct, significant breach of conduct, breach of conduct and incidental issues. The board is hoping this allows the enforcement staff to focus primarily on the most serious cases.

The legislation also creates standard penalty guidelines, something schools and college fans have long argued the NCAA needed, and board members also approved a measure to expand the infractions committee, from 10 to up to 24 members.

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