The NCAA published a long article on Division I’s new enforcement structure and penalty matrix. The article touts the new structure’s stiffer penalties, more consistent guidelines, and maintained flexibility. But the devil is in the details, like this one:
In the postseason ban category, for example, the length of the ban can go from one to two years to two to four years if there are aggravating circumstances. Conversely, the range can be reduced to zero with mitigating factors.
Extraordinary circumstances are required to step outside of the penalty matrix. But within the matrix, the existence of aggravating and mitigating factors could give the Committee on Infractions the discretion to impose anywhere from zero to four years of a postseason ban. The NCAA Manual will have lengthy lists of mitigating and aggravating factors, which include “Other facts warranting a lower/higher penalty range”.
The working group admits there’s a “subjective element” to what looks to be formulaic. For example, one aggravating factor is if the “conduct or circumstances demonstrate an abuse of a position of trust”. What is a position of trust and whether it was violated is highly subjective. A coach with a clean record followed by a number of violations could be seen as building up then taking advantage of the trust of the institution.
Whether the penalty matrix is able to rein in an even larger and more diverse Committee on Infractions will not be known until there are enough cases under the new system to establish a trend. What should happen immediately are better explanations in the public reports about why penalties were imposed in a case and which facts the committee found significant. Even if cases remain inconsistent, at least then we will have a better understanding why.