5 28 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

The final judgment on Ameen Najjar, the former investigator whose actions led to one of the biggest embarrassments in NCAA history, is that he was motivated "out of a genuine interest in finding the facts" related to allegations against the University of Miami.

That's how he was characterized Monday in a report by attorney Ken Wainstein detailing how the NCAA's handling of the Miami case became, in the words of NCAA President Mark Emmert, a "debacle."

EMMERT: NCAA 'failed membership'

SHALALA: Miami president's strong statement

Najjar, who was fired last year, undoubtedly wanted the truth. The problem is he become so desperate to get it, he simply ignored the advice of the NCAA's legal staff and built an investigative strategy that fell outside the limits of the association's investigative powers.

And the question that now hovers over the entire NCAA, as it emerges with significant long-term questions about what kind of enforcement arm it wants to maintain, is whether Najjar was a rogue agent whose good intentions went too far or was part of a much more troubling investigative culture where the "gotcha" matters more than the organization's own boundaries.

"I've maintained for years and years that this process has operated out of any type of control or ethics or in many cases morals," said David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University and critic of NCAA enforcement practices. "These investigators are poorly supervised, I've felt, and sometimes even drunk on power where they've done things outside of what they were allowed to do. I think it has gone on for a long time."

That's the perception Emmert is now going to have to fight, despite the NCAA's best effort Monday to isolate this not as an overarching failure of integrity, but rather a series of bad decisions made by individuals on this case.

"Is there pressure on the enforcement staff to try and make cases? Of course there is," Emmert told USA TODAY Sports in an interview following his teleconference Monday. "But in any enforcement or regulatory process there's a right way and wrong way to get that evidence, and we have to be as starkly clear about that as we can."

It's worth nothing that the NCAA working with Maria Elena Perez, attorney for former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, is not inherently sinister. Because the NCAA has no subpoena power, it often relies on investigations that run parallel to legal proceedings so it can wring out as much information as possible.

Inside NCAA headquarters, the idea of hiring Perez to depose witnesses in Shapiro's bankruptcy proceedings seemed like such a potential vein of information that vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach went all the way up to Jim Isch — second in command of the entire organization — and got permission to go over budget to make it happen, according to the Wainstein report.

But when the NCAA's legal staff advised Najjar and Lach to nix the plan on very clear grounds that it fell outside the scope of NCAA procedures, it should have died right then.

"Understanding that there are at least three individuals that will not speak with us, but would be compelled to do so under the bankruptcy proceeding, our advice would be not to use a source's criminal attorney in this manner," NCAA deputy general counsel Naima M. Stevenson wrote in an e-mail to Najjar on Oct. 21, 2011.

So why would Najjar ignore the advice of the NCAA's own lawyers and come up with a plan to sidestep them? Why would Lach, who had taken the responsibility on herself to initially seek the lawyers' approval, not follow up with them when Najjar told her that his "work-around" had been approved?

Neither one returned phone messages left by USA TODAY Sports on Monday, but at minimum their actions indicate a fundamental willingness to disregard what would be considered a clear chain of command in most functional organizations.

And that speaks to an enforcement mentality that might need significant change, according to former Committee on Infractions chairman Gene Marsh.

"You definitely can feel from some — and it's not fair to characterize them all that way — but there are some people on their staff who are just zealots for making their case," said Marsh, an Alabama-based attorney. "So it leads to people overreaching; I don't think there's any doubt about it."

Marsh served on the committee until 2008, the end of his tenure coinciding with the early part of the investigation into the Southern California/Reggie Bush scandal. Part of the issue, he said, is the pressure that builds on the NCAA enforcement staff to crack a high-profile case — not just from the public, but within the NCAA membership. And in that environment, it becomes much easier for investigators to justify going over the line.

"Their investigators are just going to have to get comfortable with the idea their enforcement process has significant limitations, and they just have to live with that and not get into the mentality of 'Let's go try this angle or that angle,' " Marsh said. "There are going to be some violations they are sure happened, but they're not going to be able to get them. If you're going to do that line of work, you have to be comfortable with that."

Shining this much light on NCAA enforcement could spark a philosophical shift. The NCAA has hired Jonathan Duncan to replace Lach on an interim basis, and part of his job will be to "review the regulatory environment" in the national office and "engage the membership to probe broader, philosophical questions about the nature of the regulatory side, including the desired outcome of regulation and to what level the membership wants to be held accountable," according to the NCAA's news release.

The NCAA is engaged in an era of deregulation on several fronts. Last month, the Division I board of directors passed a series of proposals to reduce the size of the rulebook in recruiting, taking limits off things such as text messages and mailers to prospects. Though Emmert said the dialogue with membership hasn't yet started, it makes sense to reassess how the organization wants its enforcement to operate or perhaps even to outsource it to another entity.

"When you've got an investigatory and regulatory function you often wind up with, whether we like it or not, antagonistic relationships," Emmert said. "So we have to find a way to moderate that, recognizing this isn't a governmental agency, it's a membership organization. We need to get much greater clarity as what it is the membership wants and expects and sees as appropriate in that regard."

5 28 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/UARVBi