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NAAC Award For Gene Smith Sends Wrong Message

The National Association for Athletics Compliance (NAAC) is the compliance affiliate of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the main industry and professional group for athletics administrators. Like most professional organizations, NAAC recognizes outstanding achievement in its field by giving out awards at the annual convention. There’s the Frank Kara Leadership Award, NAAC’s highest honor. The Rising Star award recognizing a talented young compliance professional. Division II has its own award for compliance excellence.

Then there’s NAAC’s Organization Leadership Award. This award “was designed to honor organizational leaders who have demonstrated outstanding commitments to promoting compliance within their organizations and on a national level.” In 2013 that award will go to Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith.

The release touts Smith’s service on numerous NCAA committees, including those tasked with creating the new enforcement model which goes into effect August 1 and the review of the NCAA certification program, which is transforming into the Institutional Performance Program starting this year. And no one will argue that Ohio State has not focused more on compliance with some innovative (if not creepy) programs.

Last year presented a similar situation when Warde Manuel, the recently hired athletic director at Connecticut was given the same award. But while Manuel was the athletic director at a school which was on probation for major violations and about to be banned from the postseason for low APRs, all that damage had been done before he set foot on campus. His award was also focused on his work at Buffalo, where APR scores improved and Manuel was named to the NCAA’s Rules Working Group.

But it is less about the idea of eligibility for awards than the message that honoring Smith (and to a lesser extent Manuel) sends. That message is that compliance only matters when something goes wrong. That compliance is about being cops, fixers, or cleaners.

Some of the best and most difficult work in compliance is done at places that have not sniffed a major violation in years. It is easy to get coaches and staff members to commit to compliance when a bowl ban is fresh in their minds. Fighting complacency when coaches feel like they “aren’t one of those schools” is tougher. And the rewards, like simply staying out of the news or Committee on Infractions hearing room, are not as public.

NAAC should make ever effort to first promote the idea of compliance as an everyday practice, and that the compliance work most deserving of recognition is the work that keeps a violation from happening, not cleans up well after one. If after scouring the nation for examples of good work done to keep programs clean, not clean up after them, there is no one worthy of recognition, only then should NAAC consider achievements in dealing with major violations and probation.

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