SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to NCAA compliance, the University of Utah has a plan in place. Actually, it’s more of a system — and one that athletics director Dr. Chris Hill considers unique.
It’s set up for outside checks and balances by the school's legal department.
Utah compliance has a dotted line to Robert Payne of the office of general counsel, who reports quarterly to university president David W. Pershing. Both Hill and Payne receive compliance notifications.
“So when I speak to the coaches, how many times do you think I want Robert Payne to talk to the president and then have the president call me?” Hill said. “Zero.”
Hill explained that the university president has been independently informed of such things for more than a decade.
Payne isn’t the athletic department’s lawyer. He does, however, offer assistance and advice on NCAA compliance matters as associate general counsel for the U.
The compliance office is required to go over everything with Payne, he noted, and the legal department is good at investigating things, writing up reports and has relationships with national firms that specialize in compliance — offering advice and experts.
“I really like it,” Hill said of the system Utah has in place.
So, too, does Kate Charipar. She directs the compliance office on campus, leading a staff of four other full-time employees. They operate under a compliance pyramid that includes education; establishing and reviewing policies and procedures; monitoring; and enforcement.
“Everything that I have ever needed for this office and asked Chris Hill, or our office of general counsel, or the president for, we’ve been provided with,” Charipar said.
Charipar and her staff, who spend much of their time on rules interpretation and education, write waivers for student-athletes and coaches. The compliance office’s Web site describes their duties as upholding the integrity of the institution by promptly investigating any known or alleged rules violations and self-reporting any infractions that are confirmed.
“We serve as that benevolent force, that helpful person, that advocate that’s fighting on your behalf — that wants you to be able to do what you want to do,” Charipar said. “On the other side, we’re the monitoring force.”
It’s a fine line, she acknowledged, thus the most important part of their duties may very well be relationship building.
Charipar explained that coaches know the compliance office is doing everything they can to help them. There’s nothing personal about self-reporting violations to the NCAA. It’s what they do.
Up to this point, Utah has 22 minor violations through the 2013-14 academic year (which ends July 31). The only one currently awaiting a response from the NCAA has the recommendation for no penalty by both Utah’s compliance office and the Pac-12.
To put Utah’s number of self-reported NCAA violations in context, media reports indicate that Ohio State had 42 in 2013 and that Iowa State and Iowa reported 27 and 24, respectively, in a period from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of schools that have the same environment and that atmosphere of compliance, but we’re very, very lucky here that it comes from the president, it comes from Chris Hill,” said Charipar, who noted that it’s very easy to make a mistake because of the complicated NCAA rules. “Let’s just own up to it, get it taken care of. Because when it’s small, it’s small.”
Sometimes the big ones you hear about across the country, she added, is just a lot of small ones that never got addressed.
Hill stressed the importance of openness.
“Everybody in the country wants to run a clean program and that’s what we want to do and what we intend to do and we think we are,” Hill said. “You are going to have violations and that’s part of trying to run a clean program because that means you’re honest with each other and you get it forward. There’s nothing really hidden. So I feel good about that.
“I feel good about where we’re going. I feel we have a system in place and it’s not as much person specific as it is a system,” he continued.
According to a summary obtained by the Deseret News through a government records request, Utah’s 2013-14 self-reported violations included the football program receiving a letter of admonishment and rules education for putting impermissible stickers on envelopes to prospective student-athletes.
The men’s basketball program received similar punishment for having three assistant coaches engage in practice activities with the entire team at the same time. An assistant coach also allowed a student-athlete to stay with him for three nights prior to the player being able to move into the dorms, leading to rules education, a letter of admonishment and the student-athlete being deemed ineligible and being required to pay $100 to charity.
All matters were resolved without additional penalties or sanctions. Women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, women’s track, women’s swimming, men’s swimming, and baseball also had minor violations self-reported (social media, texting, etc.) and settled over the past academic year.
As members of the Pac-12, the Utes have the added resource of the conference’s enforcement office. Charipar said they serve as an advocate and monitor for member schools.
“It’s nice because at the University of Utah we haven’t dealt with every single issue that we could ever possibly deal with,” Charipar said. “But if you combine all 12 schools, we’ve all probably seen something really unique. So having somebody at the Pac-12 office who has seen all of those things . . . it can be very helpful.”
Hill acknowledged that the Pac-12 is an added resource to discuss issues. Utah’s system already includes bi-monthly meeting between Hill, Charipar and associate athletics director Kyle Brennan. President Pershing also meets with everyone each year and has everyone sign off on doing the right thing.
“The culture is good. So I don’t worry about it. Knock on wood,” Hill said. “I pay attention to it. But the system is really set up so there are no secrets within the department or university. It’s a good system.”
Hill noted that in his 27 years on campus the NCAA has visited just two or three times and not since an excessive meals for student-athletes investigation involving former basketball coach Rick Majerus in 2002.
Since then, Utah’s current system has been in place.
“One of the things that works well for us is a trust level with the coaches that we’re going to do the best we can for interpretation,” Hill said. “It’s almost a pro-active, if you will, service to the coaches.”