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NCAA Enforcement Arm Considers Use of Private Investigators

Could it be that stalking players while they are pumping gas isn't just for the Clay Travises and SporsByBrooks of the world? The enforcement arm of the NCAA is apparently considering the possibility of employing private investigators as standard practice during the course of their investigations. Per Dennis Dodd from CBS Sports:

NCAA enforcement may be going private – at least private investigator.

As the NCAA’s most feared division reinvents itself, that little nugget emerged during my recent conversation with enforcement director Julie Roe Lach. She has been with the NCAA for 14 years. But it was the last 12 months or so that have been the most challenging, with seemingly a scandal a week.

“Literally, if they could mobilize someone in a matter of hours as opposed to us putting someone on a plane it’s a timeliness issue,” Roe Lach said. “That, to me, is where we need to stay ahead of the curve.”

“We could. Our bylaws don’t preclude it,” Roe Lach said. “We’d have to be very careful how we do it.”

From the outset, in fairness this does make at least some small semblance of sense given the stated goal of a more effective investigatory power. The NCAA has grown increasingly frustrated in recent years over an apparent inability to effectively enforce its own rules, and more than a few have viewed this as undermining their legitimacy as an organization.

A basic inability of the enforcement arm to procure sufficient evidence to effectively prosecute wrongdoers has seemingly been a growing problem in recent years. The Cam Newton investigation, for example, was ultimately dropped not because anyone believed that there was no impropriety but simply because a lack of any firm, actionable evidence. Even the Reggie Bush scandal, easily the biggest institutional conviction obtained by the NCAA in recent years, was far from controversy-free, as admittedly the NCAA delivered harsh sanctions based upon very slight evidence of actual wrongdoing on the part of anyone associated with the university.

In general, there seems to be a growing sense that the current NCAA regulatory framework is simply not workable. As such, given these various issues, the NCAA in recent months has looked for ways to strengthen punishments for violators, simplify its notoriously complex rulebook, and find ways to increase its investigatory abilities.

To that last end, hiring private investigators is largely justified because the current team of investigators is clearly overtaxed and stretched too thin. By effectively outsourcing at least some portion of their investigations, the NCAA could cut its investigation-related costs and at the same time increase its response time from the moment they decide to look into a given situation until boots actually touch the ground. Private investigators, too, would likely entail greater anonymity than is normally afforded during the course of their investigations. If the NCAA legitimately wants to make their investigations more fruitful in terms of producing actual evidence of impropriety, the outsourcing proposed above certainly seems like a potentially effective solution on an initial glance.

Having said that, is this idea just plain bad for business?

College football is a business that literally generates billions of dollars, and one that has experienced strong, consistent growth at a time when nearly early other industry on the face of the planet has experienced declines in recent years. Given the importance of individual players in that billion-dollar industry and the near-countless sources of impermissible benefits -- coaches, agents, runners, marketers, students, boosters, trainers, sidewalk alums, business owners, etc. -- it's somewhat naive to think that, on some level, many players at many different institutions are not being paid in one form or another.

College football is already plagued with enough scandals as it is, and given that is increased surveillance really the best of ideas, especially at a time when there is a growing consensus that players should be paid? How much would the emphasis on widespread impropriety fuel further efforts to create ways to legally compensate players within the NCAA regulatory framework? How many current and future college football followers could ultimately be turned off to the sport due to a sense that the sport itself is simply too corrupt? Both are valid concerns, and neither necessarily has a simple, straightforward answer. Admittedly, this change in approach could certainly help enforcement, but one cannot help but speculate that this could be the opening of Pandora's Box.