Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich signed his five-year contract last Sunday and the verbiage in the contract caught some media members by surprise.
USA Today reporter Steve Berkowitz reported that the contract "has a lengthy exhibit laying out a 10-point set of responsibilities that Helfrich has in monitoring rules compliance and the terms of annual communication required to occur between Helfrich, the university president, the athletics director and the compliance director."
While every coach has some sort of contractual clause about his compliance responsibilities while employed at a school, one specific provision of Helfrich's contract raised my eyebrow.
According to Berkowitz, Helfrich's contract includes "a requirement that Helfrich 'actively look for red flags of potential violations.'"
Isn't that the job of a compliance staffer? (We'll answer that question in just a minute).
Moreover, since the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors adopted a new set of standards last October, head coaches may face individual penalties if their staff commits violations. The NCAA's more efficient enforcement program structure is outlined here but several points need to be highlighted.
Enhances head coach responsibility/accountability and potential consequences for head coaches who fail to direct their staffs and student-athletes to uphold NCAA bylaws. Penalties include imposed suspensions that can range from 10 percent of the season to an entire season.
Penalties in the previous structure relied on whether the head coach knew of the violations or whether there was a “presumption of knowledge.” But under the new structure, rather than focus on knowledge or the presumption of it, the bylaw will be amended to presume only responsibility. Accordingly, if a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.
In layman's terms, the head coach is presumed guilty unless he can prove otherwise. Yes, it's totally ridiculous and yet another example of how archaic and antiquated the NCAA's enforcement system really is in establishing guilt.
But Oregon has taken it to a new level. How, exactly, does one prove a coach is or is not "actively" looking for red flags of potential violations?
Is "actively" defined as constantly keeping a lookout for potential violations by asking student-athletes questions? Making surprise visits to student-athletes' dorms to check on the purchase date of that new Hi-def flat screen television? Having student-athletes submit bank statements for inspection?
If no one witnesses Helfrich actively looking for red flags, does that mean the school can claim he's not actively looking for potential violations? Or is there a log he fills out that details what he did and didn't see?
This should suffice, no?
"Mark's log, dated 2013.3.10: Today I didn't see any Ferraris or tricked-out Impalas in the parking lot although I was actively looking for them."
If no one notices Helfrich not watching student-athletes, does that technically mean he's not actively looking? Or does that mean that since technically no one noticed Helfrich not looking, he is presumed to be actively looking?
Fallen tree, meet forest.
If a student-athlete shows up to practice donning some new Bose headphones, is the onus on Helfrich to keep track of 100 players' choices of headphones and if one looks new or different, should he ask how the player paid for it?
Should Helfrich be actively monitoring the practice field's surrounding streets and parking lot and question a student-athlete's parent if she/he drops his/her son off in a $13,000 1996 Impala? I only ask because according to the NCAA, that's a potential red flag.
It has finally come down to head coaches becoming part-time fashion police and part-time traffic duty cop. And schools, which employ upwards of a dozen compliance officers, are now asking their head coaches to actively look for potential violations.
Strangely, employment opportunities for compliance officers at schools don't seem to have that same requirement of actively looking for potential violations. This employment opportunity (and this one) for an assistant athletic director in the Midwest was posted less than two weeks ago. Its requirements are highlighted below.
This position is responsible for the development, implementation, monitoring and reporting of all policies and procedures relative to a comprehensive NCAA Division II compliance program which includes, but is not limited to: recruiting; eligibility; financial aid; playing and practice seasons; amateurism; enforcement and all required reporting documents. This position will serve as a part of the Athletic Department management team.
Other responsibilities include but are not limited to the following:
•Overseeing Rules Education/Interpretations. •Creating and implementing specific educational presentations for all internal and external constituencies (e.g., coaches meetings, staff specific meetings, sport specific meetings, local merchants, institutional faculty/staff, donors, and student-athletes). •Sending timely educational reminders and information to coaches staff and student-athletes. •Updating and implementing new-employee orientation compliance materials. •Managing and gathering student athlete data and assisting with submitting required NCAA reports. •Serve as the senior compliance officer, being the first responder for all interpretative questions regarding all NCAA Bylaws and the point of contact with specific teams. •Providing oversight to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) operations and budget. •Game management responsibilities. •Overseeing other Athletic Department programs, events, personnel and initiatives. •Other duties as assigned by the Director for Athletics.
Nowhere does it mention that this assistant director of athletics must actively look for potential violations despite the obvious assumption that it should be part of the job requirement.
In essence, the men and women who are hired to keep a school compliant with the NCAA may not have the responsibility of actively looking for red flags.
But at the University of Oregon, the man hired to win football games—and don't fool yourselves, that is the unwritten No. 1 job requirement at all elite football programs—must actively be looking for red flags of potential violations.
We're not sure who is responsible for keeping his or her eyes on Coach Helfrich and judging whether or not he is actively looking for red flags, but we'll presume it's a compliance officer who should really be doing the same thing as asked of Helfrich. But since Helfrich's contract appears to have what we can presume is a condition of employment, he has now become an official spy for the Ducks because his job security may depend on it.
He no longer is being asked to be vigilant of potential violations like a traffic cop noticing a car speeding by at 60 miles per hour in a school zone. He is being asked to actively look for potential red flags like that highway patrolman who hides behind an abandoned car with a radar gun aimed at you while you're tearing through the desert on the I-15 between Barstow (Calif.) and Las Vegas.
And that should raise some red flags everywhere.