The head of NCAA enforcement is "frustrated and disappointed" resolution in the sweeping college basketball scandal announced by the FBI 3 ½ years ago has taken so long.
Only one program (Oklahoma State) has been penalized since the FBI in September 2017 announced a broad federal investigation into the scandal that impacted approximately a dozen schools. Some of those are the sport's bluebloods – including Kansas, Louisville and Arizona – who continue to be under NCAA scrutiny and are almost resigned to severe sanctions. But there is no end in sight.
"I've said it before publicly and I'll say it here again -- I'm frustrated and disappointed those cases aren't resolved yet," enforcement chief Jon Duncan said via Zoom Friday during the NCAA Convention.
"It's no surprise we get that question here [when it will be over]," he added. "We get it multiple times each day."
Forty months after it began, the corruption and bribery scandal still stands as one of the biggest in college sports history. It resulted in the formation of the Commission on College Basketball headed by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that recommended several reforms.
One of those was the establishment of an independent third-party resolution panel to decide major cases. What was supposed to be a more fair, smoother way to decide cases has had the opposite effect. Cases referred to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) have actually slowed the process.
Those involved with the IARP are largely from the private sector or outside the NCAA.
That means the cases basically have to be "reinvestigated" by persons not altogether familiar with NCAA bylaws. Among the schools involved in the FBI scandal, NC State and Kansas have been referred to the IARP. Recent estimates have the Kansas case being decided before the 2021-2022 season. At that point the case will have lasted more two years since the notice of allegations was served.
Then there is the expense issue of law firms involved with those IARP cases billing the NCAA for their work.
"I'll share that enforcement is only one piece of a much broader infractions process … ," Duncan said. "What I can't speak to is what happens after notice of allegations are issued because that's when the enforcement staff really loses control over any case."
Duncan explained for the first 20 months or so after the FBI announcement the NCAA was told to stand down from investigating while the government's case took precedent.
"Everyone on the enforcement staff understood the urgency of those cases," Duncan said. "The minute those press conferences ended, that day we formed a number of investigative teams and were ready to move forward.
"We were encouraged pretty quickly [by federal officials] not to do that. For the [first] 20 months we were very limited in what we could do – if anything – while the criminal proceedings played out."
Last spring the NCAA got a "partially green light," from the government to proceed, Duncan said. Last June Oklahoma State received a one-year postseason ban and was put on probation for three years. Former assistant coach Lamont Evans was accused of Level I violations (the most egregious). The school is appealing.
The cases have dragged on so long that Auburn has self-imposed a postseason ban this season hoping to get ahead of the NCAA. Louisville fired Rick Pitino in October 2017 and is still awaiting its NCAA fate. The likes of NC State and Kansas continue to vigorously defend themselves.
In that time, some of the game's most powerful programs haven't been slowed in recruiting. In the case of LSU, the investigation has bled over into football. The school self-imposed a bowl ban in 2020.
Tigers basketball coach Will Wade still has his job despite being caught on an FBI wiretap admitting to making a "strong-ass offer" to a recruit. Wade was also suspended but returned 37 days later in 2019.
There have been other factors slowing down the process. The pandemic obviously had an impact. Because of the financial downturn in all college sports, the NCAA last fall laid off scores of its staff. Enforcement was at least impacted when some in Duncan's department departed.
Because the cases have dragged, there are sources the NCAA can no longer compel to interview – such as players who graduated or have left school. The NCAA was able to adopt some of the government's evidence as its own.
"I'll say that enforcement is only one piece of a much broader infractions process … What I can't speak to is what happens after," Duncan said.
Once a case is investigated by his department, it is handed off to the infractions committee for adjudication. That committee can then refer the case to the IARP. It's not clear yet if that's good or bad for schools. The IARP was established to streamline the process. So far, it hasn't. And there is no appeal following an IARP decision.
"They [cases] all live there now either with the infractions committee or infractions appeals committee or with the independent resolution path," Duncan said. "All of those are in the next phase of adjudication. We understand the need and desire of appropriate resolution of those cases."