Mason Barfield has a pretty good idea of what happened at West Georgia, which last week received one of the more severe penalties in NCAA Division II history. An investigation found that the school used 119 ineligible athletes in all 11 sports.
Basically, the Clayton State athletics director said, people got in over their heads.
"I know the people over there; they're good people. They mean well," Barfield said. "Sometimes you can get overwhelmed because of these types of issues. Things can snowball on you. I hate to say it, but it does happen out there."
A number of college athletics administrators share Barfield's sentiments. Division II and III schools, as well as smaller Division I programs, often unintentionally run into NCAA trouble because many of them can't dedicate enough administrators solely to rules compliance, as is commonplace at larger Division I schools.
The job of compliance administrator has been around roughly since the mid-1990s, said David Ridpath, an Ohio University sports-administration professor. Most, if not all, Division I athletics departments have one or more compliance officials. Georgia, Georgia State and Georgia Tech all have two.
But at Division II schools such as Clayton State and West Georgia or Division III schools, the task of ensuring that potentially hundreds of athletes and dozens of coaches all know and are following the NCAA's complex set of rules often falls to a coach or an administrator with other responsibilities.
Gulf South Conference commissioner Nate Salant, whose league includes West Georgia, estimated only about one-third of Division II schools employ an administrator dedicated to compliance.
"Division II and III face a major problem in that the resources do not exist to fund enough purely administrative positions in the athletics department," Salant said.
One previous West Georgia compliance official also was the golf coach and the academic coordinator, someone with little training in compliance, according to the NCAA's report. Another was a former academic advisor who told NCAA investigators she did not have a working knowledge of NCAA rules.
"The institution's administration failed to recognize the unmanageable time demands placed upon compliance personnel or the lack of training received by them," the report said.
At Division I Mercer, assistant athletics director Jennifer Greer, the school's only full-time compliance staff member, said she spends up to 60 hours a week handling compliance issues. The more tedious tasks include making sure camp brochures meet NCAA rules (two-sided single sheet, cannot exceed 17 by 22 inches when opened in full) and reviewing the phone bills of the roughly 25 coaches and matching them with the phone logs they keep on calls to recruits. The NCAA has rules regulating how often and when coaches can call recruits.
"It's a little more complex than just one blanket rule," she said. "It's always a little more complex."
Giving someone the task of monitoring these matters, along with coaching a team or selling tickets, seems a near-impossible task. For instance, the NCAA found that 51 West Georgia athletes competed without being certified by the NCAA as amateurs.
The problem wasn't that they weren't amateurs, but that the compliance official didn't realize that they couldn't compete before receiving the NCAA's final certification.
Said Salant, "It wasn't a deliberate attempt to break the rules."
In terms of probation, the NCAA has exceeded the penalty on West Georgia (four years' probation) only four times in Division II history, according to its database.
Among the corrective actions that West Georgia took was making room in the budget for a full-time compliance official, hired in 2008.
"It's really a choice of where you're going to put your resources," said West Georgia vice president for university advancement Michael Ruffner, who was hired in 2008 after the school turned itself in to the NCAA. "A real good choice is to put it into compliance and education programs."
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