The Enforcement Working Group within the NCAA created a matrix of penalty guidelines that will go into effect for Division I athletics in August 2013. The major focus of the group when developing the guidelines and the penalties that go with the level of infraction was the need to squelch the "risk/reward" analysis NCAA members believed some people were conducting as they weighed the consequences of violating bylaws. In other words, the group wanted to send this message to potential violators: "Cheaters Beware!"

The group was tasked to combine stringent penalties with consistency of enforcement. For the most serious rules breakers, violators can expect a one- or two-year postseason ban, a fine of $5,000 plus 1 to 3 percent of the total budget for the affected sports program, and scholarship reductions of up to 25 percent of scholarship allocations in the affected sport.

The group didn't stop there, though. Other penalties can include suspending the head coach without pay, instituting a show-cause order for hiring a certain coach, plus limits on recruiting visits and other contact with recruits.

The group also added categories of aggravating and mitigating circumstances to the level of violation. In other words, penalties can get even tougher if there were aggravating circumstances attached to a rules violation, and possibly lesser penalties if mitigating circumstances were attached to the violation.

For example, aggravating circumstances could change a postseason ban from 1 to 2 years to 2 to 4 years. Aggravating circumstances could increase the financial penalty from $5,000 and 1 to 3 percent of the total budget for sport programs to $5,000 and 3 to 5 percent of the total budget. Regarding scholarship reductions, aggravating circumstances could increase the reduction from 25% to 50%. In addition, aggravating circumstances could restrict recruiting visits and off-campus recruiting restrictions to up to 50% of Recruiting Person Days (RPD) or Evaluation Days (ED). In the case of mitigating circumstances, penalties could be lowered in all categories.

If head coach suspension without pay is a part of the penalty to a school, then head coaches will think twice about the merits of breaking recruiting rules. If there is monetary damage to a coach, you know Mrs. Coach's Wife is going to have a lot to say to her "cheating" (in a way) spouse. And those postseason bans never go over well with administrators, alumni, and boosters.

Working Board member Robin Harris, the Executive Director of the Ivy League, said that the board got a clear message from constituents before the group began developing the matrix. "They wanted to see much tougher penalties, and they wanted more clarity on what the penalties are likely to be," she said.

Under current guidelines, in extraordinary cases, the members of the Infractions Committee can deviate from the matrix if they so choose. They can ramp up the penalties to whatever degree they wish. Contrastly, the committee can also deviate on the less-harm-side if they so choose. So the Penalty Matrix has direction, transparency, consistency, and the ability to deviate from the norm if the case arises.

The Penalty Matrix sets a new standard of conduct for NCAA Infractions Committee members. In the past, the committee focus was not to harm a school financially with penalties. With athletic budgets so tenuous, the committee thought that hurting a school's pocketbook was not the way to deal with penalties.

Well, that thought process was tossed to the wind. The prevailing feeling now is that hurting the pocketbook is the best way to halt rules breakers. Having to write a big, fat check to the NCAA for rules violations will make college presidents and athletic directors angry enough to take drastic measures within their athletic departments. Money talks, and in this case, money disappearing from the coffers of an athletic department or specific sports program, should help deter rules breakers in the future.

I like the matrix and the idea behind it. I believe the assorted penalty categories can be effective. Now, we'll have to wait and see what kind of deterrent this matrix has on would-be cheaters out there in college athletics. I look forward to seeing the statistics in three years on whether the number of infraction cases decreased after the program began in August 2013.

Author's Bio: 

Steve Brennan, a former educator and college basketball coach, has Masters degrees in Educational Administration and Sport Psychology, and a Doctorate in Performance and Health Psychology. He is the author of several books, including Six Psychological Factors for Success and The Recruiters Bible (3rd Edition). He is President of Peak Performance Consultants, and the President and CEO of the Center for Performance Enhancement Research and Education (CPERE). Steve is the developer of the Success Factors Scales, both Corporate and Athletics Editions. and