What procedure does the NCAA follow in an investigation?

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - With rumors and allegations running rampant regarding Auburn Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton, many are noticing that the NCAA is about the only organization that isn't talking about the Cam Newton investigation, surprisingly when it's the only body that ultimately matters.

The NCAA is a slow and deliberative body when it comes to investigating possible improprieties. It took the organization upwards of 5 years to release its findings on USC's Reggie Bush, after all. There is a detailed roadmap of steps the NCAA travels down regarding players and coaches and investigations of them.

Here's a look at how the NCAA governs recruiting:

The NCAA says most recruiting violations are inadvertent with violations ranging from occasional improper phone calls and text messages to the more serious matters such as the funneling of cash and other illegal benefits to prospective student-athletes and their families.

The NCAA has a detailed list of rules and regulations and provides definitions for every word that could possibly be used in an investigation.

Below is a layout of the NCAA's investigation guidelines and definitions the organization uses to determine violations.


When the enforcement staff has a legitimate reason to believe a member school violated NCAA rules, they may initiate an investigation. Depending on the circumstances, the investigation may be conducted by reviewing correspondence with the school or conference, or through in-person inquiries.

There are three things that will trigger the enforcement staff to review a situation – if information obtained indicates that an intentional violation has occurred, that a significant competitive or recruiting advantage may have been gained, or that the institution or the enforcement staff has been given false or misleading information.

How investigations begin

Investigations can start through the enforcement staff or by high school and college coaches or student-athletes who contact the NCAA to report a potential rules violation at an NCAA member school. Many times, the school discovers a violation and reports itself to the enforcement staff.

The time an investigation takes varies on each case. The NCAA enforcement staff has a high standard of proof to proceed with an allegation of  rules violations. The enforcement staff must take the time necessary to obtain complete information from individuals involved and outside sources. It also takes time to locate and coordinate interviews with involved individuals and their legal counsel. In some cases, as additional information is uncovered, more possible infractions are uncovered which broadens the scope of the investigation and takes more time to investigate. Involved schools may request additional time to respond to allegations, which may impact the timeframe.

Letter of Inquiry sent

When the enforcement staff begins to review a situation, the NCAA sends a notice of inquiry to the NCAA member school's president or chancellor. Usually an enforcement investigator is assigned to conduct in-person interviews.

The notice of inquiry tells school leadership the enforcement staff will be investigating the school. The alleged facts of the case are also presented including the potential violations by sport, the approximate time period associated with the potential violations and the involved parties. The enforcement staff also includes an approximate time frame for the investigation and notes any facts found during the investigation may cause additional violations, related or not, to be identified.

The NCAA does not release the notice of inquiry publicly, but the school may choose to release the letter or confirm its receipt.


The enforcement staff conducts an investigation to determine whether adequate information exists to indicate that a major violation of NCAA rules occurred. The amount of time an investigation takes depends on each specific situation.

Each case has a unique set of individuals, issues and circumstances so there is no single way to conduct an investigation. However, there are similarities in all investigations.

Preliminary information is reviewed by the investigator(s) assigned to the case. The investigator first tries to speak with the source who reported the potential violation.  This interview is "on the record" and electronically recorded if possible. If the source anonymously reported the potential violation, the NCAA enforcement staff cannot use the information to prove a violation occurred, but they can use the information to find others who may have information about the situation.

Before the enforcement staff contacts those directly involved with the potential violations, they attempt to gather as much information as possible. The goal is to minimize the possibility of those directly involved compromising the integrity of the case by working with others to change the information reported to the enforcement staff.

If NCAA enforcement staff conducts interviews on campus with enrolled student-athletes or other individuals, school staff members may be present during the interviews. Everyone interviewed by NCAA enforcement staff may have legal counsel present during the interviews. In many cases, information such as long-distance telephone records, bank records and academic transcripts are also collected during the process.

NCAA enforcement regulations and student-athlete eligibility procedures employ many traditional due-process protections. Of note, the enforcement staff tries to tape-record all interviews.  Those that cannot be electronically recorded are transcribed or summarized.

If the enforcement staff has gathered enough information to determine if rules violations have occurred, the process continues.

School notified of alleged violations

If the enforcement staff discovers the school has committed one or more major violations, school leadership is sent a notice of allegations that contains specific alleged rules infractions against the school. After the letter of inquiry is sent, the enforcement staff must send the notice of allegations within six months.

The notice of allegations tells the school and all involved individuals the alleged violations the NCAA enforcement staff found during the investigation process. The involved parties have 90 days to respond and may request additional time if necessary.

If during the investigation process the enforcement staff determines the information no longer indicates a rules violation, the school receives written notice the investigation has concluded.

If the investigation process lasts longer than one year after the notice of inquiry is sent, the enforcement staff has to review the status of the case with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. If the Committee on Infractions believes the investigation should continue, the school will receive notice in writing and status reports at least every six months until the case has come to a conclusion.

School responds

When all involved parties have responded to the alleged rules violations found by the NCAA staff, a hearing date is set with the Committee on Infractions.  A prehearing conference with the school and other involved individuals is held four to six weeks before the hearing. During this conference call, the allegations are discussed.

Case Summary compiled

Before the hearing, the enforcement staff writes a case summary. The case summary documents the allegations, the involved individuals, any outstanding issues and other information relevant to the case. At least two weeks before the hearing date, the individuals involved with the hearing and the Committee on Infractions receive the case summary.

Summary Disposition

If everyone associated with the investigation agrees about the facts and the penalties presented in the report, an in-person hearing does not have to take place. This process is called a summary disposition and is a cooperative process between the school, involved individuals and the NCAA enforcement staff. Together, the group compiles the violations of NCAA rules and the proposed penalties. The Committee on Infractions reviews the report in private and decides to either accept the findings and penalties or they can conduct an expedited hearing.

Committee on Infractions hearing

Who can attend? Several people are able to attend the hearing. The school is usually represented by a large contingent of staff that may include: its president or chancellor, faculty athletics representative, director of athletics, the current/former head coach of the involved sport(s), the compliance director and legal counsel. NCAA enforcement staff members who attend include the vice-president of enforcement services and director of enforcement responsible for the case. Other enforcement staff members who assisted with the case, or who have another case to share with the COI, may also be in attendance. If someone is named in the allegations, they may also be present and accompanied by their legal counsel. Student-athletes who have remaining eligibility may also attend. Uninvolved individuals from the school, the general public and media are not permitted to attend the hearings.

What is the format? The chair of the committee opens the hearing with background information. The school, enforcement staff and other involved parties have the opportunity to give an opening statement. Next, the enforcement staff outlines the specifics of each allegation, followed by the school and others involved. The COI asks questions and after the allegation is thoroughly discussed, the same process begins with the next allegation. After all the allegations have been addressed, all parties give closing statements.

When the hearing is over, the COI discusses the case privately, determining findings of violations, if are any, and then assessing penalties. The COI makes decisions about violations based on information that is credible, persuasive and of a nature that reasonable people would rely upon in the conduct of serious affairs. The penalties vary depending on the situation. They can include probationary periods, bans on postseason competition, reductions of athletics scholarships and restrictions on the athletically-related duties of coaches.

How often does the COI meet? The Division I Committee on Infractions meets about six times a year. The meetings usually last two or three days over a weekend. The Divisions II and III Committees on Infractions meet on an as-needed basis because there are fewer infractions cases in these divisions.

Penalties announced

Penalties are announced once the committee writes the infractions report that documents the specific findings, the penalties and supporting rationale for both. After the hearing, it typically takes between six to eight weeks to release the report.

There is a very specific process in place for notification about the penalties assessed. The day before the release, the school and any involved individuals receive a copy of the infractions report. The morning of the release, NCAA public and media relations staff alert the media of the upcoming release. The chair of the Committee on Infractions hosts a telephone press conference to announce the results of the committee decision. A public infractions report is released but specific names are not included. The COI makes no statement about the case until the report is released.

Explanation of penalties

The intent of the penalties is to ensure they are sufficient enough to deter schools from breaking the rules again. Unfortunately, some sanctions – like the ban on postseason competition – are deterrents but also negatively impact innocent student-athletes. While unfortunate, NCAA-imposed sanctions are meant to be punitive.

NCAA rules do allow for current and former coaches to face punishment if involved in major infractions. The Committee on Infractions can require a member school to take certain disciplinary action against an individual that could affect their athletically related responsibilities. If the school refuses, they could face additional penalties from the Committee on Infractions. If the coach or other individuals are no longer at the school where the infraction occurred but are now working at another institution, the Committee on Infractions may request the current school to take action against the individual, even if the school was not involved in the infraction.

If the involved staff member is no longer employed at an NCAA member school and seeks employment at an NCAA school in athletics, the Committee on Infractions can request the institution to appear before the committee. The goal is to determine what, if any, limitations should be imposed on the individual the school who wants to hire.

If a booster is named in a violation, the Committee on Infractions may take action. In some cases, a school will be required to disassociate a booster from the athletics program, either on a permanent or limited basis. This means the school could not accept any assistance from the booster to help with recruiting or supporting current student-athletes; decline financial assistance for the athletics department; provide the individual with no athletics benefits or privileges not provided to the general public; and take other actions against the individual to eliminate their involvement with the athletics program.

Opportunity for appeal hearing

Both institutions and involved individuals may appeal findings and penalties to the Infractions Appeals Committee.


A contact occurs any time a coach has any face-to-face contact with you or your parents off the college's campus and says more than hello. A contact also occurs if a coach has any contact with you or your parents at your high school or any location where you are competing or practicing.

Contact Period 
During this time, a college coach may have in-person contact with you and/or your parents on or off the college's campus. The coach may also watch you play or visit your high school. You and your parents may visit a college campus and the coach may write and telephone you during this period.

Dead Period 
The college coach may not have any in-person contact with you or your parents at any time in the dead period. The coach may write and telephone you or your parents during this time.

An evaluation is an activity by a coach to evaluate your academic or athletics ability. This would include visiting your high school or watching you practice or compete.

Evaluation Period 
The college coach may watch you play or visit your high school, but cannot have any in-person conversations with you or your parents off the college's campus. You and your parents can visit a college campus during this period. A coach may write and telephone you or your parents during this time.

Official Visit 
Any visit to a college campus by you and your parents paid for by the college. The college may pay the following expenses:
• Your transportation to and from the college;
• Room and meals (three per day) while you are visiting the college; and
• Reasonable entertainment expenses, including three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest.

Before a college may invite you on an official visit, you will have to provide the college with a copy of your high school transcript (Division I only) and SAT, ACT or PLAN score and register with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Prospective Student-Athlete 
You become a "prospective student-athlete" when:
• You start ninth-grade classes; or
• Before your ninth-grade year, a college gives you, your relatives or your friends any financial aid or other benefits that the college does not provide to students generally.

Quiet Period 
The college coach may not have any in-person contact with you or your parents off the college's campus. The coach may not watch you play or visit your high school during this period. You and your parents may visit a college campus during this time. A coach may write or telephone you or your parents during this time.

Unofficial Visit 
Any visit by you and your parents to a college campus paid for by you or your parents. The only expense you may receive from the college is three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest. You may make as many unofficial visits as you like and may take those visits at any time. The only time you cannot talk with a coach during an unofficial visit is during a dead period.

Verbal Commitment 
This phrase is used to describe a college-bound student-athlete's commitment to a school before he or she signs (or is able to sign) a National Letter of Intent. A college-bound student-athlete can announce a verbal commitment at any time. While verbal commitments have become very popular for both college-bound student-athletes and coaches, this "commitment" is NOT binding on either the college-bound student-athlete or the school. Only the signing of the National Letter of Intent accompanied by a financial aid agreement is binding on both parties.