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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Secondary’ violations cast large shadow within NCAA

Story By Jacob Thorpe

If only the East Germans had known Kelli Kamimura’s doping methods, they could have built the Berlin Wall with Olympic medals.

The Washington State women’s golf coach’s transformation into a peddler of performance enhancers happened last February during a competition, when she, undoubtedly spurred by society’s enormous pressure to win, gave her athletes an Ensure supplement.

Sure, Ensure is on the WSU list of approved supplements and foods, along with championship staples like Hershey’s chocolate milk, Fig Newtons and Rice Krispy Treats.

But this wasn’t Ensure Regular or even Ensure Plus, but Ensure High Protein, of which more than 30 percent of the calories within come from protein, a dead giveaway that the cheating coach was looking for a quick way to bulk up her scrawny golfers.

Of course, the mistake was an innocent one and Kamimura reported the violation to the NCAA, the governing body of major college athletics. It was one of approximately 4,000 violations of the NCAA’s various rules and regulations that get reported each year.

“I am a coach that does everything by the book and I make every effort to make sure that I run a very clean program and abide by all of the NCAA rules,” Kamimura said in a letter to the NCAA. “I was shocked and upset to learn that I had purchased an impermissible substance for the players and did everything I could (as quickly as possible) to correct the situation.”

That’s how it works in the world of so-called “secondary violations.” The NCAA sets rules governing what athletes can eat, drink, how much film they can watch and how many texts the coaches can send.

Those rules are invariably broken and the institutions report the infraction in exchange for a series of slaps on the wrist.

“Actively reporting these types of violations is in an institution’s best interest, as it shows the institution is meeting its obligation of monitoring its program for compliance, detecting violations and reporting violations,” wrote NCAA assistant director of public and media relations Meghan Durham in an email to The Spokesman-Review.

The NCAA’s executives in Indianapolis, whose powers are conferred by the presidents and chancellors of its member schools, constantly struggle to straddle a line between ensuring that college athletics are equitable and over-regulating them into irrelevance.

The tide of public opinion is currently pulling toward deregulation. The NCAA is easing up under pressure from fans that question its compensation of student athletes that generate billions of dollars of revenue for the institution as well as recent efforts by Northwestern football players to unionize.

Specifically, schools will be able to give more players free food more often, and with more variety.

It’s a change WSU volunteer assistant coach Mike Naughton likely agrees with, after receiving a secondary violation this spring for eating a training table meal with the rest of the baseball staff.

But the NCAA is constantly adapting to new technologies that make it possible for coaches to sell their school to prospective athletes 24/7 and the minute rules that athletic departments must adhere to seem endless.

Not every infraction is reported by the offending school. Sometimes, schools tattle on each other, as was the case this past year when compliance officers at another school contacted WSU assistant athletic director John Lucier to let him know that a WSU employee, Scott Parrish, was violating NCAA rules by conducting a baseball tournament known as the Palouse Summer Series using WSU facilities.

Washington State was quick to point out the mitigating circumstances in its report to the NCAA: Parrish had purchased the rights to the Summer Series in 2011 but did not begin working for WSU as an hourly employee until 2013, he did not coach for WSU and spent much of his time conducting the tournament at sites away from campus.

The Cougars contended that having an employee run a tournament for high school athletes gave them “no true recruiting advantage.”

Still, Parrish resigned his position with the school in order to continue as owner of the tournament and the school self-imposed recruiting penalties limiting the baseball coaches’ abilities to contact athletes who participated in the tournament, as well as making administrative changes to the employee-hiring process.

The Cougars were lucky; if a school does not report the violations and the NCAA catches wind, the result could be a major infractions case and even lead to a lack of institutional control.

So schools such as Washington State do what they can to keep their coaches within the NCAA’s guidelines.

“The compliance staff meets with the assistants of each staff twice a semester to go over NCAA rules as well as sports-specific rules that they are concerned with,” Lucier said.

“I sit in on the head coaches meetings, which are once a month, and bring any relevant legislation or rule changes to those folks,” he added. “The compliance office also puts out a weekly newsletter during the academic year and we use social media as well.”

The Cougars also make use of a phone monitoring service to ensure that coaches aren’t contacting recruits improperly. Coaches must also pass an annual, NCAA-mandated recruiting exam before they may recruit off campus.

Guarding against some violations, however, can prove more challenging. Level III or “secondary” violations cover the smallest of infractions. Typically, the schools report these violations to the NCAA when they occur, and repercussions are minimal.

Multiple violations for similar offenses may be collectively considered a Level I or Level II (major) violation. Each case is judged holistically, and schools are rewarded for being diligent and honest.

According to Durham, “Each case is handled on a case by case basis. Factors such as confusion, intent, advantage gained, etc. are all taken into account in formulating appropriate corrective actions.”

Most of these violations are the ethical equivalent of jaywalking in a ghost town and are near impossible to prevent.

“I think folks in the compliance world would tell you that if you’re not reporting violations, your people aren’t self-reporting when they make a mistake or your monitoring systems are not working very well,” Lucier said.

That’s not to say they can’t hurt when they happen.

Miguel Machado was a prized junior college football recruit who could immediately help the Cougars on the offensive line this upcoming season. Machado was thought of as someone who could come in and contribute immediately since WSU’s line will break in three starters next season, two of whom are underclassmen.

Assistant football coach Paul Volero was the point man on Machado’s recruitment and had gotten the 6-foot-6, 285-pound tackle to cram himself onto a flight to visit Pullman.

But when Machado missed his flight, Volero says he meant to send a text message to director of football operations David Emerick hoping to get another ticket lined up. But Volero claims he messed up, sending the text to Machado himself, violating a rule regarding recruiting “dead periods” when coaches can spend a weekend with a recruit but cannot send him a text.

As a result the Cougars were forbidden from corresponding with Machado for two weeks. While they did eventually receive an oral commitment from Machado, he ultimatly signed with Michigan State.

Last year alone the Cougars were also dinged for accidentally providing textbook money to a student. Another student-athlete was declared ineligible until they donated $10 to a charitable organization for receiving a banned supplement.

The compliance office expects to report about 20 or so of these violations each year. The NCAA’s rules are complex enough that it would be more suspicious if a school were not breaking them.

“‘It’s not very likely that you would go long without somebody making a minor mistake,” Lucier said. “When you’re a compliance person you’re kind of like, ‘wow, we haven’t reported one for a while.’ ”

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